A Kingdom Beside the Sea
by everythursday

Pairing: Draco Malfoy/Hermione Granger
Rating:
NC-17
Warnings:
Moderate violence, swearing

Genre(s): Romance, Angst
Canon:
Through DH (EWE)
Artist:
inspired_ideas

Summary:
During a dual gone wrong, Draco is hit with a curse that begins to erase his memories. Stuck with Granger in a lopsided house beside the sea, Draco's life and mind begin to unravel as he struggles to hold on to who he is while losing who he had been.


Author's Notes: The letters are figurative representations of months - I was told to clarify. :) Biiiig thanks to Jenl3227 for jumping in as beta, getting it done quickly, and offering her thoughts! Thank you, Inspire, for all your patience and talent. Strictly 5% of this story is dedicated to M, for being a beautiful human being, as is. ;)

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.



Zero

We are born. A new, vibrant, screaming life emerging into the world. Later, when we are older and understand what a birth date truly is, we try to imagine ourselves as that kicking baby, new skin rubbed clean and red, bright and alive. But it still felt impossible. It still felt too miraculous to understand.



Draco jumped as a paper airplane hit off his cheek, and he reached up to snatch it from the air with a frown. Even after seven months, he still hadn't adjusted to the childish choice for sending office memos. He had thought it was a prank the first time he ever stepped into the Ministry as a kid and had waited for his father to comment on how incapable the Ministry was at anything.

He set the airplane down on his desk, letting it unfold itself, and glanced up at Granger's aggravated noise. She was shaking a newspaper over the rubbish bin, a drop of coffee trailing down the headline and smudging No Surprise: Ex-Death Eater Turned Inmate After Murder-Spree. His eyes flicked up to the movement by her head, and he smirked at the plane caught in her hair, the mass of curls barely holding on to decency at the end of their day. It would start to frizz up not an hour after she set her briefcase down, and children would flee at the sight of its shadow by five.

Another meeting at seven in the morning?” Gunns asked, and Draco looked down at the memo. Mark Gunns was an overenthusiastic ponce that inspired a thinly controlled annoyance in Draco, but if there was something they agreed on, it was the hell of mornings.

“You would think they would want us to get decent sleep. A good sleep equals productive work, right?” Jones threw the memo at her own rubbish bin and missed, which was less surprising than the state of Granger's hair. Jones reminded him of Longbottom – shaky at the knees, uncoordinated, and absolutely accident prone.

“It's our job.” Granger, of course. The killer of all joy, the obsessive workaholic, the most uptight swot of them all. She batted the airplane away from her hair, and her eyes flashed to his, already narrowed in a glare with her expectation of his amusement. She wasn't wrong – unfortunately, she rarely was. “We'll just go to sleep a little earlier, and then we'll be as productive as we should be.”

She had probably been the one to request the meeting – some new plan for organization, a list of complaints that had to be sorted out, and a dozen different ways to suck more funding from the Ministry. He hadn't cared about Granger's addiction to morning meetings for the first four months he worked at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. He hadn't been invited to them yet, as he hadn't been a real employee. After a short stint in jail, the Wizengamot ordered him to serve four months of community service every year for four years. It was his last community service run before he was a free man, and he spent the time keeping his head down, doing his work, and fighting with Granger.

Working with Granger hadn't been his ideal anything, but he dealt with it. People learned to deal with a lot of shit when it came to reaching freedom. There hadn't been enough room for ignorance, though. She filled it all up with her anger and accusations, and when they met his own, the space exploded. He would have rather been shoveling dragon feces for four months like he had his first run. Every day seemed to consist of icy silence from him, and then Granger with her face hot red and her frizz trying to eat them all alive.

He didn't know when that stopped exactly. Somewhere between the strain of worn vocal chords, adrenaline fueled blood, and clenched fists, they had reached a sort of understanding. She no longer screamed about the past, and he no longer had to yell back his defense for it. Now they argued over spilled ink, empty sugar bowls, and “stolen” quills. There were still big ones though, but those mostly had to do with Weasley, Pansy, and his beliefs on house-elves. In the way of the world, Draco was taller and would always see above her head, and Granger was too happy astride her high horse to not try looking down at him.

If he hadn't learned to tolerate her, he wouldn't have stayed after his four months were up. But he had, and a Ministry job looked a lot better for an ex-Death Eater than anything else would have. Well, beyond Nott's marriage to that little Muggle-born bint. Draco knew better, but Nott's wife was infatuated, and the public came around to it a hell of a lot quicker than they did a Malfoy helping magical creatures. It was a building block for Draco. The post-war world was practically apocalyptic for anyone with, or associated with anyone with, the fading mar of a skull and snake on their forearm.

He could deal with the crying house-elves. He could deal with old friends glaring at him when he was forced to go investigate abuse reports. He could deal with Jones' fumbling, Gunns' excitability, and being shoved into one office with three other people. It was Granger that forced him to break from the patience he had never been that great at anyway. And her meetings broke the restraint every time.

“Some people have lives that require later bed times,” he drawled, twirling a quill between his fingers.

“Don't pretend that you feel bad for them, Malfoy. We all know you only care about yourself.”

He returned her glare, and Gunns let out a long-suffering sigh before interrupting. “Well, end of the day. I guess I'll see you all in the morning.”

“Would you be happy with a meeting now, at the end of the day? When you're ready to get home but instead have to sit through an hour or more of department business. You still wouldn't be pleased. Besides, studies have shown--”

“It's perfectly acceptable to have a meeting scheduled when we're actually scheduled to work,” Draco argued, pushing back in his chair and pulling a drawer open behind him. He scanned through and dropped the folder into its slot, closing the drawer with a shove of his hand.

“Because that interrupts the work we have to do normally, which involves living things, you know. That's time that has to be concentrated on them, not department issues which can be scheduled differently. I don't know why people complain anyway. We're being productive and we get paid for extra time.” He raised an eyebrow at his briefcase, clicking it shut. “Oh, I forgot, you're disgustingly wealthy and it's more about reputation for you, isn't it?”

He shot her an annoyed look, pushing in his chair before following her to the closet. “What does that have to do with anything, Granger?”

“All right. Well, good night!” Jones called, flinging open the office door.

“Motivation, obviously. It's not like it helps your reputation in the public to attend meetings and waste more of your time. What do they care about you going to meetings?”

“If your asinine theory was even correct, you miss the point of building reputation within the actual department. Furthermore, Gunns and Jones are motivated by salary and they still aren't joining your one-witch club of All Work, All the Time.” He set his briefcase on the floor, accepting his cloak when she held it out to him with ink-stained fingers.

He glanced at the smudges of black on her skin and rubbed a thumb into the fabric of his cloak, but couldn't tell if she left a stain. She pulled her cloak on, fastening it quickly, and his lips twitched when she attempted to pat down her hair. Perhaps with a load of magic, a few hours, and Potter's luck, it could look presentable before she terrorized the public.

“I don't understand why people don't find their work to be relevant. Honestly. This is the way you can impact the world and people's lives. Why not care about that? How could you not?” She shook her head sadly as he pushed the brooch of his cloak through the loop with one hand, grabbing his briefcase with the other.

“Because it's rubbish.” Her head snapped towards him, offended, and he gave her a patronizing look. “If you recall our meeting last week--”

“We're not counting that.”

He snorted, pulling open the door and glaring at the back of her head as she stepped through. “It was thirty minutes of my life I'm never getting back – we're counting it.”

“One time. One time. All right, John spoke for far too long about bathroom breaks--”

“About his bathroom issues, with far more detail than--”

“Some people have serious problems with...” she paused, waved her hand, “digestion and...such.”

“Right,” he drawled, his heart spasming for just a second before he realized the man was lifting his wand to bring a dozen scrubbing brushes to the wall. “I noticed that you took notes about it for five minutes before you realized what he was even talking about.”

“That is not true! I was paying attention!”

“Granger, it wasn't until he started talking about corn that you even lifted your head.” His lips curled as the doors to the lift opened and revealed a packed space. Granger reached across him, hitting the button for the doors to close and smiling apologetically at the annoyed frowns aimed at them. Draco scowled back.

“Well... You're a prat.”

“Clever and witty. No wonder you have nothing else to do but work.”

“Cheerful and nice. No wonder you have nothing else to do but annoy me.”

“Admit it, Granger. I'm the only interesting thing about your day.”

“If you mean the only part I want to Scourgify out of existence.”

“You're breaking my heart.”

She gasped loudly and he jumped, his eyes darting around them. “We have to document this! Someone, quick, grab a quill and camera. Malfoy just realized he had a heart!”

He looked at her maliciously, taking a step away from her as all the eyes in the corridor turned towards them. “Completely original. It's embarrassing to know you.”

“Knowing you makes me want to rip out my own brain to forget it.”

“Will you do that at the meeting tomorrow, then? Fuck, I'll even show up an hour early.”

He smirked as she glared at him, both of them stepping into the lift.


One

That first year of existence might be one of the hardest – we just don't remember. Everything in the world is foreign and strange. Something as unexplainable as your own being and needs. A person is just an open vessel of feeling, with no sense made of their emotions or those forced upon them. Instinct is sharper than some will ever have it again, but socialization begins. This is what you should be, do, feel, battling with the rawest form of self we ever own.



“What is that?”

“It's called cof-fee, Malfoy. It's a drink that you consume for--”

“Granger...” He stared at the giant mug, still steaming and filled to the top. He didn't see any other bags or briefcases around, the library seemingly empty of people or salvation. “Shit.”

“What?”

“You expect me to stay.”

She looked up from the folders she had requested by Floo that he bring to her, surprise littering her eyes. “Yes,” she said slowly, sighing when he groaned. “You know--”

“It's a Friday. A Friday night. You know there's a whole outside world--”

“Malfoy, you were--”

“Right there, Granger. Right out the window. Do you see? People. Out. On a Friday night.”

“And yet you showed up in front of the fireplace not a minute after I asked the house-elf to get you.”

He should just allow her access to Floo in to the fireplace in his wing of the manor, and then he could have shoved the folders at her and sent her on her way. Then again, he'd probably end up finding Granger stalking around his house or banging on his bedroom door at some forsaken hour of the morning.

“Because it's only eight, and only hungry or desperate people go out before eight,” he snapped. He had no plans for the night, but he wasn't going to let onto that. As far as she was concerned, he was doing a world dive and Apparating to one pub in every country while entertaining a bloody harem.

“So, again, you weren't out--”

“I just told you--”

“I know,” she said, rolling her eyes when he looked at her like it should all be obvious then. “I meant because you're desperate. So, since you're not out before eight, you must not be going out... You know, because...” He got what she was trying to say, but he continued staring at her, letting awkwardness sink into her skin. There was little else anyone had to do to make someone feel stupid. “Since it's... Yeah? ...It was a joke, Malfoy.”

“It was a terrible joke.” He raised an eyebrow, tapping a finger against the stack of books on the table. “Stick to reading, Granger. The world is safe that way.”

“This from the one who plans to go out and do God knows what tonight.” She must have been building up some sort of tolerance against his slow destruction of her self-esteem, because she gestured towards the coffee instead of telling him they were done.

He rubbed a knuckle across the line of his eyebrow, agitation building up in his chest. “Listen, Granger. I agree that it's very pathetic that you're spending your weekend in a library, and I understand if you're a bit lonely, but I'm not--”

“I'm doing important work, and I'm not lonely--”

“Oh, I hadn't seen your cat winding through the stacks, so I figured your only companion was...” He took a step back at the blur that came over her eyes before she looked down, and belatedly remembered her being intolerable for two weeks after her cat died. That was three months ago, though – how long did it take to get over the death of an animal?

Granger was far too sensitive about everything. Every interaction with her was like running through a maze of Devil's Snare. It was best to not do it at all, but if you end up there, you had better watch where you step, and make it quick, efficient, and never look back.

He picked up the coffee and took a sip, waiting for her to pull herself together. Her emotions always made him uncomfortable. He would have thought her weak if he hadn't known any better. He should take it as an opportunity to leave, but that twinge of something in his chest made him stay, even if he refused to name it.

“The point is that Binny is at Mungo's being treated for injuries. He was so badly beaten that he couldn't walk, or breathe, or see. That's worth my Friday night, Malfoy. Sorry if you'd rather go out and get drunk--”

“Shit. I can barely hear you from that pedestal of goodness and self-righteousness you've placed yourself on,” he drawled, glaring at her.

She glared back, smoothing her hands over the paperwork in front of her. “You handled the interviews and inspection three weeks ago--”

“You're blaming--”

“No. God, how paranoid are you? Not everyone is out to destroy you, you know. You know the case. I need you to tell me everything – that's why you're here.”

He made a sound of agitation, pulling out the chair and sitting down. “Does this mean I get to come in an hour later on Monday?”

“I think not. And why are you asking me? I'm not the boss.”

He nodded slowly. “Good, Granger. You're finally starting to become aware of reality. Now a little work on that attitude, and-- What was that?”

“I will throw my quill at you, I said. I have exceptional aim.”

“Sure you do.” He pulled one of the folders towards him, flipping it open as he scrutinized her. “You went on a date with that bloke from finances?”

She looked up in surprise. “How did you know?”

“You told me something about it during the week.” He had just barely been paying attention. She had a habit of chattering once you got her onto something.

“I told you he asked – I didn't say I was going.”

“Your hair,” Draco muttered. “Away from work, you usually wear,” he surveyed her shirt, remembering the jeans he had seen when he walked up to the table, “your current outfit, and your hair is all... Well, I'm sure you know by now.”

“So you knew I went by the state of my hair?” she asked, and he hummed in response, flipping through the folder. “What are you, Detective Malfoy? I see the tag line already – Detecting the Worthless when it's Worth Something to You. Yes, I went on a date with that bloke from finances.”

He had opened his mouth to come back at her detective comment, but he smirked when she admitted she had gone on the date. It was a well known fact that the man was boring in every way a person could be, but he had a fetish for watching women eat – which usually ended in his foot pushing up between their thighs halfway through dinner. Unfortunately for Granger, she never paid attention to gossip – Draco had recognized it as a great source for valuable information a long time ago.

Draco's head jerked up when something flicked off his forehead. He reached up to rub the spot, sending a death look at Granger's glare.

“You knew!” she accused. “You knew and didn't tell me!”

“I have no idea what you're talking about, you insane twit.”

“I even warned you about Bitsy--”

“Betsy.” That hadn't gone well for him.

“I think it was Birtsy, actually, but--”

“Ah, yes. I remember the cawing noises you made at me during your warning.”

“--return the favor-- I made the noises because she's called the vulture. Because she tracks you down and then-- It's not nice, really.”

“But fitting. That bint stalked me for three weeks after.”

“Oddly. She usually stops before then. I--”

He smirked smugly, shrugging a shoulder. “I didn't say I blamed her for wanting more, but--”

“Hard not to after what was likely a short performance.” She smiled sweetly at him, which he found nearly as annoying as her statement.

“There's nothing short about it, Granger,” he said, leveling a look at her.

She opened her mouth, red appearing at the tip of her ears before looking down at the folder. “Anyway – you should have warned me. It's what you're supposed to do.”

“I don't hear you warning people every time you're about to enter a room. If you don't give people a chance to escape--”

“Give me back my paper clip.”

“So you can aim for the eyes?”

“We might be getting too close. You're starting to see through my plans.”

He scoffed, snatching the folder away from her and tossing her the one he was done with. “I could see through your plans if I was a retarded monkey you just met.”

“Retarded is an extremely offensive term, and give me back the fold--”

“Oh, my apologies. How do you describe yourself? Mentally challenged?”

He caught the next paper clip with a smirk.





Two

The first few years of life might be something like a hard night at the pub. A person knew they existed then – that there had been years of existence, with a lot of learning and discovery, but it was nothing. A space filled to the brim with nothing of recollection. But those early years in life are when our teeth push out from our gums, we learn movement, we figure out what crying gets, we learn how to walk. Basic things we carry for the rest of our lives, so ingrained within our makeup that the knowledge of how it got there is left for someone else to remember.



His head might have been on fire. It felt compressed, hot air boiling his brain, fighting for release against the confines of his skull. His alarm was going off, a constant ehr, ehr, ehr that made the pain pulse harder than his heart.

Fuck. “Fuck,” he cracked, his arm shooting out towards the alarm. It got tangled in the blankets, and several thuds sounded from the floor as his arm whacked into everything on the bedside table. He held his breath, hoping that the fall just smashed the alarm to pieces, but it continued from somewhere below him.

With a long, rasping groan, he yanked the blankets down from his head and rolled over onto his side, opening bleary eyes. White exploded in his vision and he cursed again, feeling along the floor. Watch, parchment, book, wand. He wrapped stiff fingers around the length of hawthorn and aimed in the general direction of the windows, flicking his wand to close the curtains. The bright red across his eyelids faded to a burnt maroon, and he exhaled softly, reaching up to cradle his head.

How many drinks had he had last night? He usually didn't allow himself to get that intoxicated in public, preferring to take it somewhere private once his shoulders started swaying. Blaise, Greg, and Pansy weren't ever going to let him live it down if he did something embarrassing, or shagged a--

Draco opened his eyes in apprehension, straining to look over his shoulder and to the other side of the bed. Empty, thankfully. Not a sign of knickers or-- The fingers that had just closed around the blaring alarm relaxed, the clock hitting the floor again as his gaze swept up the bed. His eyes widened, his breath freezing in his chest as he reached out, intending to poke his wand into a fold in the blanket to pull it down. Instead, the faint light in the room caught his skin, and his breath shuddered out heavily.

He flung himself back, moving quicker than he would have thought himself capable of a few minutes ago. His blind momentum and the snag of the blankets had him falling to the floor in thuds and bangs, but he didn't even register the jolt that shot up his spine. He scampered back, away from the bed, the blankets, the blood.

“What the fuck, what the fuck,” he breathed, repeated, racing to his feet, throwing the bedding from him in frantic movements. Ehr, ehr, ehr.

His arm was splattered in blood, slashes of it dried and flaking across his right hand. There was more on the side of his shirt, the leg of his trousers, and covering the tip of the trainers he was still wearing. A memory flashed in his head then, making the pain soar, and he doubled over as he clutched his head, a loud moan tearing up from his throat.

It was dark, but there had been faded yellow lights on cobblestone, a narrow alley. Draco saw his fringe in front of his eyes, his body turned to the side, and blood spraying at him with the angry slashes of his wand. The man in front of him was pale, soaked in red, eyes wide and black on Draco's. Black, wide, shining, terrified eyes. He could hear the man's voice, his cries, and saw the spell split open skin and stain Draco's own before the man fell, dull and boneless. It was covered with a blurry film of intoxication, but there was no denying what it was. What...what it was.

“No. No. No, no, no, no.” Draco shook his head violently, staggering back with the dizziness, and banging off the wall.

There was no way. There was no possible way that ever happened. He... It must have been self-defense. It had to have been. The man must have...tried to attack him. To kill him. Draco couldn't kill. He knew he couldn't kill as clearly as he knew the times he was supposed to. His failure in that was one of the most defining things of his existence.

He would have been convinced it was some foggy dream if it weren't for the blood. Dark red, but somehow as bright as the sun against his sight. He fisted his shirt, his breath coming fast and uneven. Panic. The alarm clock now sounded like that warning noise towns would set off when the Death Eaters appeared. Set your wards, hide your children, grab your wands, ehr-uh, ehr-uh, ehr-uh. Draco felt it hollow out his guts, a rush of cold bursting across his shoulders as he tore his shirt off. He tripped over the alarm, barely catching his balance as he fumbled with his belt.

He had to get them off. He had to get it away from him -- make it unreal, make it unbelievable. This wasn't his life. He had woken up as someone else. It never happened at all. Hooking his fingers under the waist of his trousers and shorts, he brought them to his ankles in a hard shove, ripping his trainers off. He barely looked – could hardly see – as he pointed his wand at the trail of dirty clothes, erasing them from the world in one pulse of his heart.

He caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror, platinum locks in disarray, half his face and neck speckled red. He pretended he didn't see it and that it was some tangled vision from the light of the bathroom. It wasn't real, because it couldn't be. It was some dream he was having - a darker nightmare than he had had in months.

Not bothering to regulate the temperature, Draco jumped under the spray of water, his face crumpled with the pain in his head. It felt like he was going to explode from the brain and chest, all down the walls of the shower. His hands shook as he brought them to his skin and dug his nails in, rubbing and scraping his skin a raw red. What was he going to do? What the fuck am I going to do?

 

Three

They say you learn the easiest when you are young. A blank parchment, waiting to be filled in, colored, made into something relevant and human. Draco had seen pictures from when he was three. Standing in front of some expensively decorated, meaningless corner, his hair floppy and his cheeks burnt red with youth and joy. Chubby, sticky fingers wrapped around letter blocks he was just beginning to recognize the shape and pronunciation of. Knowledge is ever expanding at that age, forming a vocabulary you know the sounds of, but some you could hardly guess the meaning for. Drawing room, hexes, Bludger, firewhisky, squeaking, Azkaban, fuck, banquet, formal, Mudblood, Mudblood, Mudblood.



Draco ran a hand through his hair three times, smoothing it back, trying to keep the strands in place. His other hand ran down the buttons on his robe, secure to his waist, keeping his two-days worn and wrinkled clothing hidden under pressed fabric. He kept his expression as composed and blank as he could manage, concentrating on the corridor in front of him. His eyes were wide to take in every detail, to spot the tiniest twitch of movement. They felt strained, pulled tight at the back of his eyeballs, and his racing heartbeat was too loud for his ears. He needed to be able to hear running or quick steps three dozen offices away.

He didn't know how much they knew. He didn't know if they knew anything at all, but he wasn't risking it. Blaise and Greg had sent him owls yesterday, oblivious to anything, and Draco didn't know how to take that. It meant they hadn't witnessed anything, so no one could get the information from them – which was good if the wrong person was digging for it, but bad if it had happened to be self-defense. It had to be self-defense. He couldn't have just...just done that. He just couldn't remember it. He couldn't remember beyond that five seconds of a mind-fuck, and now someone was dead and no one was going to believe a word he said about it.

Death Eaters were never innocent. Even if it had been self-defense, they would still try to throw him in a cell for it. And he couldn't prove innocence – not through Veritaserum, Legilimency, or torture. Because he didn't know, and the five seconds he remembered would burn guilty all across his already sullied name. He had barely escaped Azkaban when he hadn't...

Draco took a deep breath, clearing his thoughts. He had to go into the office, get the folder, and get out. Quick, smooth, and... He stopped two steps from his office door, his hand pausing in the air as he stared at the floor. There was a thin crack of light barely escaping into the dimmer corridor, but it was enough to know someone was inside.

Granger. He would bet all the Galleons currently piled on his bed that it was Granger. He hesitated, running through his options, but remembered that he hadn't showed up for work today. Biting back a groan, he turned quickly, heading down the corridor. He would have to wait somewhere. An office? He wasn't going to hide out in the loo like some third-year tosser afraid of Snape. He certainly wasn't hiding from Granger – he was keeping away from her obnoxious-- Shit.

Draco sped up his steps when he heard the office door swing open behind him. Eight more and he would reach the corner and be able to step out of sight. He should have worn something with a hood. Her--

“Malfoy.” No. “Malfoy.” No. Five, four, three. “Malfoy!”

Draco pulled up short with a curse, turning to face her. She lifted her chin under his attention, but her annoyance wavered to hesitancy when she saw him stalking back towards her. He watched her arms freeze and then drop from their journey to cross over her chest, and her head lowered again. Good. Shut the fuck up, good.

“Where were you today?” Her voice grew stronger with each word, with each tap of his shoes. “We all have sick days, Malfoy, but you didn't Floo or owl to let us know you weren't coming in!”

He shot his gaze to the other side of the corridor and then down to the end, half-expecting the other late workers to burst out from their offices, wands drawn, accusations flying as quickly as the spells. She was too loud, and she was just blowing this all to hell. His arm pulled back, fingers quick and light near his wand, and her eyes flashed to the movement.

Granger's eyebrows drew down, surveying the wrinkled state of his trousers as his pace blew his robes back. “Were you in hospital? Because you don't look injured.” Her voice was climbing, gaining a shrill quality that felt like nails tearing down the sides of his brain. Any second. Any second they would come. “You're not bloody, or bruised, or broken – so let me hear it, Mal--”

She let out a squeak of sound somewhere around his neck as he grabbed her arm with one hand, the doorknob with the other, and stepped into her. Forced her back, through the opening door, and went in with her. She yanked hard on her arm, and his grip was so tight that he might have been feeling the curve of her bone as she slipped a little from the clamp of his fingers.

She yanked again, harder, and her fist smacked into his shoulder just as he slammed the door behind them. “Shut up,” he hissed, and she went still.

Her head pulled up but he didn't look at her, his eyes steady on the silver cabinet beside her desk. She was secondary, a distraction, an obstacle to overcome. He needed that folder, but there was no way he could get it without getting her out of the office.

Her fingers wrapped around his wrist, gentle in comparison to the hold he had on her, and it snapped his eyes to hers. Her hand was soft and warm, and something about that was disturbing to him. It was enough to make him rip his hand away from her, but he still felt her heat, sunk into his skin.

“What is it? Did something happen?”

She was standing too close to him, but the door behind him prevented him from stepping back. He felt invaded, and it added to the sensation of exposure he had felt the second he stepped into the Ministry. He swallowed, keeping his eyes on her so he didn't glance at the cabinet in subconscious want and blow everything. Plans shot through his head – he could lie to her, say something happened on a different floor (potion accident, unregistered wand, what else, what else?), but while that might have forced her to leave, she would get security as well. He couldn't have that – not until he was so far gone that they could never find him.

“I've had a bad day, Granger.” He'd had a bad three days. He'd had a bad fucking life, and he felt like he had just made the biggest understatement of its years. “I don't need your voice stabbing into my eardrums.”

He recognized the change coming over her face. At Hogwarts, he had only seen the final result. But after the past seven months, he learned to see exactly when it was happening. Her eyes flicked back and forth between his as if to be sure he was serious, her eyebrows slowly drawing together, and then her nose wrinkled and flared. He automatically dropped his gaze to her mouth as she stepped back, and saw that it was pursed. Angry, then, not furious.

“You had a bad day? Do you have any idea the workload we have to take on when you aren't here?” Good. Let her see how much stupid shit he had to do every day. “It's not even the amount of work – it's your organizational skills. Or lack of them, I should say!”

“Stop yelling,” he whispered harshly, seconds from digging his palm into her mouth, trapping her obnoxious voice in silence.

“All your strange little notes on each case – which, Guppy is not a 'sexual sadist'! He has...certain issues with dressing up in--”

“Granger--”

“--knickers, and then beats himself because it's against her rules,” she spat.

He was about to ask her if she would appreciate a house-elf dressing up in her knickers, but realized the bleeding heart would likely buy Guppy his own collection for it. “I had personal issues.”

“You have a lot of issues!” she yelled, and then something like guilt and uncertainty twisted her expression. He wanted her to simmer in it as long as possible. A guilty Granger was a quiet one. “I...I hope no one passed away.”

He could have laughed. Not a funny sort of laugh, but one of the laughs reserved for when your entire world breaks apart and there's no stopping it. One of those laughs that come before harder, deeper emotions – rage, grief, hopelessness. He stared back at her, cold and blank, and let his eyes burn her. Let them push against that shining well of brown until she broke it. “I'll return to work tomorrow.”

He hoped tomorrow would find him a world away.

She took another step back, her hands running down the sides of her shirt. She looked hesitant, and he wondered how hard she would push. “You smell like whisky.”

Draco blinked at her, surprised. Here she had assumed someone close to him had died, and she was pointing out the scent of his mourning. Rude little twat. “You smell like ink and sweat.” He said it with a savage disgust, as if she smelt like feces and rot, and it worked on her. Turned her cheeks red and twisted her fingers around one another. She usually smelt like ink, coffee, and old books – he didn't mind it.

“Maybe you should take tomorrow off.” She looked at the floor as she said it, her tone practicing casual.

He opened his mouth, his tongue pausing at the line of his teeth. Yes, he would take tomorrow off. If no one was suspicious of him yet, it would give him an extra day before they were. “I will.”

She looked up at him, waited a second, and then nodded. Her arm crossed her stomach, then her chest as she scratched a spot on her shoulder. There was pity when she looked up at him, and he glared back at it. Glared like he could set fire inside her eyes and burn it out. But it stayed, and he took it like a wave crashing against his chest. “Was it someone you were very close to?”

Close enough to kill, Granger. How's that? Doesn't it fit like all the answer you ever wanted seven months ago, slinging your accusations and beliefs into my fucked up, Death Eater face. She'd have loved the taste of it on her tongue. He could see the way her eyes would have lit up, and that smug, swotty smile on her face, as she inevitably announced how right she had been to anyone who would listen. But now...after everything that forced the tunnel of the past from her eyes, after all those conversations that had almost been easy, her laughter provoked by him, her casual morning greetings and the banana nut muffin she would leave for him on the tray.

Draco didn't know if he would call her a friend. She was Granger – and that had come to be more than it ever was before, but it's not like he ever invited her to his house. He had run into her a couple times, acknowledged her with some brief nod to her smile. She had talked to him in an Apothecary for a half hour last week, and he somehow ended up at a table drinking coffee with her for an hour. He'd been to the pub with her after work on accident and pretended-accident, and he ate lunch with her in the office since he had no where else to go. He might have even had some rather wicked thoughts a few times when she leaned too far over her desk, ran towards some emergency, or stretched back with her wrists crossed in the air and her shirt straining. But she wasn't a friend. He still had trouble coming to terms with the Granger that was and the one that is. The Mudblood to the Muggle-born. That's how he saw it is in his head, in the path of his life and beliefs. Knowing her outside of the past still felt too surreal.

Pity, back again, and he tore his eyes from it.

“If you can't make it on Wednesday, send an owl.” He gave her a nod, and she caught his sleeve when he turned to leave. “I'm sorry. For whatever happened. And if you need...”

He stared at her and her hand slowly dropped from him. The mess of curls, the ink-stained fingers, the wide eyes. He realized it might very well be the last he ever saw of her, and he wasn't sure how he felt about it. He wasn't sure if there was even enough room to feel anything about it at all, but there was something there. Some sort of small oddity to his panic that hadn't been before. It was annoying the hell out of him. He wanted to suffocate it, snuff it out to leave just the sharp edges that belonged on the more important things.

“All right.” He gave her another nod, catching the squint of her eyes as the last thing he would see of her before he turned.

“Okay.”

He opened the door, stepping out into the corridor, and he might have glanced from the corner of his vision to see the bounce of her curls as he shut the door. He would return in a few hours, after she left, and then he wouldn't be back again.



Four

Children learn how to get what they want very quickly. They might not be able to reach it, hold it, eat it, own it – but they manage to convince someone who can to make it the same for them. We cry, shout, stomp, throw a fit, smile, and then it's ours. It further proved Draco's belief that all humans, at their core, are selfish beyond doubt and, at times, beyond reason. I want, I want, I want, I have, I have, I have. As children, we learn to lie and manipulate almost instinctively, and always early on. He figured where some would have stopped at knowing, he had built and sharpened it like a weapon.



Draco almost fumbled the suitcase, his grip strange and less firm with smaller hands. He had to lean farther than he thought he would as he placed it on the desk, sliding it across the polished wood. The man in front of him sat back, blowing out a heavy breath through his grin, and the weighty woman by the wall stepped forward to open the case.

He stopped himself from running his fingers through his darker hair, the bad trait a nervous one, and kept his new features relaxed. He felt like he had wet skin slapped over his bones, meat, and tissue. Horribly uncomfortable, out of place, and completely alien. He wanted to shake it from him wildly, but his face and posture remained impassive.

“Very good,” the man across from him muttered, nodded, grinned. “Very good.”



M

Home doesn't really mean anything yet, when we're kids. It's a place with rooms we recognize and our parents' faces around different corners. It has our toys, our bed, the tree at the back that looks like a giant monster. It's where we sleep, eat, bathe, and take off sliding down the halls. When someone says home, we know the place we will go to when we are wet, tired, worn, and hungry. But it's just a familiar place, with familiar things we call ours. It's not a home until we're older. Until we have formed a thousand memories in a thousand different places within it. When we learn the comfort it can bring compared to other places.

It isn't home until we have gone out into the world, been destroyed, and return wet, tired, worn, and hungry. It is then that it gains definition, or that we find it can't ever be our home at all. It is when we need it the most that it truly becomes it. Sometimes we build a dozen homes throughout our lives, and some may never know one at all. But we're always searching – looking for the one we can start, a way to go back to the one we have, or how to ever find the one that we have lost.



Draco spun the key in his fingers, staring down at the glinting brass, and then huffed derisively. He looked up at the room in front of him, empty save for the worn floorboards and dull, faded yellow wallpaper. The house was ridiculously small. A living room, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen. He used to get lost in Malfoy Manor when he was a child. He figured it would take him three bottles of Firewhisky for it to happen here.

It didn't matter. All he needed was a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom as far as he was concerned. He should have bought a shack, but he was used to having far more than he needed. He would keep the rest of the rooms empty, though. He hadn't been able to take any money from his vault, not wanting to leave behind a trail, so it had only been the money he had in the manor. He was guessing it would last him a few years, but he really had no idea what things cost. Not in the wizarding world and certainly not the Muggle one. He would have to make it last as long as possible.

Shoving the key and quill Portkey into his pocket, he pushed his luggage away from the door with his foot. Drawing his wand, he left the house to head for the tree line, mentally going through the spells again.



Five

Some believe that self is established through our mothers, while others believe we establish it ourselves. We look in the mirror and see that we are different than the people around us. The size, shape, and color of our bodies and face that set us apart. It is not your mother, or the person down the street, or the people who come to visit. I raise my arm, I smile, I look and see, that is I, me, myself. We can't understand why, or all the ways of how, or even who we truly are. But we establish the basics. I am Draco. I am Draco. I am a boy, my hair is white, and I am Draco. We learn the name that the world will call us. That label to cover the absolute everything of who we are. But we just know the sound, the reflection. It doesn't even come close to making sense yet.

Platinum hair, adorable cheeks, and grey eyes, he remembered his mother saying, remembered catching her smile in the mirror as she fixed his shirt. Wiltshire, yes, that's right. And your name is Draco, yes. And you're a Malfoy – don't forget that. Your name, your class, and your blood. A pause, a hand over his hair, a brush of a thumb down his cheek. Draco Malfoy, a pure-blood, son to Lucius and Narcissa, and our only heir.



Draco's eyes flicked quickly all around the doors in front of him, searching for a knob or handle. He slowed his steps, wondering if doors somehow worked differently in the Muggle world, and looked through the glass to be sure no one was watching him. He didn't need to come off looking like a complete dolt in front of a Muggle. He put his hand out to try pushing them open when they jolted, and he snapped his arm back. Whir and the doors slid open, bursting hot air onto his winter-weary cheeks.

He gave them a look of scrutiny and then stepped forward quickly as they started to shut, the movement sending them back open again. It must have been the electricity he read about, when he was studying up on the Muggle world before he came. The house he bought didn't have electricity, being as far into the woods as Draco could find. He hadn't cared until he got a headache every time he used his wand. He wondered if that was something in the Muggle world to stop people from performing magic. It annoyed the fuck out of him – the headache, where he was, that there might actually be something setup to prevent him from performing magic properly. Guarding against his magic, his birthright. Every headache just boiled the anger into something less controllable, though there was shit all he could do about it. Draco wasn't good with pain – he never had been.

He made it four steps into the supermarket before he faltered, losing the confidence of his steps. An awkwardness settled around his shoulders, pulling him tight with perplexed unknowing, and he eyed the people warily. The only robe in sight was of pink, fuzzy terrycloth over pajamas. Aisles of food spread out before him, children running, idle chatter, and wheels rolling. Beep, beep, beep from his left, with a mass of people purchasing food and a row of red vests counting the costs. To his right was a display of wilting flowers, cards and tiny balloons on the racks above it. Saturday Sale was spinning on a sign above his head, and French was a constant murmur from above him, the voice cackling through speakers.

Draco almost stepped back. Almost turned on his heel and headed straight out the strange doors, back into a private spot to Portkey to the house. But then he remembered that he was starving, and that these were Muggles. He was out of place, but this world was his – all of it. He might not be able to cast a spell in front of them, but he shouldn't feel like he was in over his head. It was the Muggles who should feek like that. Draco was a wizard. He was more powerful than their fists and guns, so he could handle their supermarkets.

He forced his apprehension down, raising his chin with a stoic expression, and stepped towards the aisles.



O.

His first memory of potions, of the scent of tangled ingredients and magic, was when he was five. He spotted his father through a crack in the study door, the cauldron boiling noisily in the corner. He remembered it being so high above him, and his father towering higher still when he said something. Draco could never remember what, but he remembered the rumble of his voice against his young eardrums, and the chair he pulled up for Draco to climb. His tiny hands had been clutched over the top of the curving frame, and then his father had let him stir, exchanging smirks through that heady scent.



Draco pushed his fingers to his temple, his brow furrowing as he tried to remember what the potion had been. He couldn't even remember the smell now. It had been intoxicating he knew, but...dark? Or...

“Shit,” he cursed, his headache doubling as the water boiled over the pot.

He squatted down, rubbing his temple as he squinted at the dial. It had taken him several minutes just to figure out how to get more than the clickclickclick. He had let the pot sit there, assuming that it was working and that Muggles had invented the most annoying way to cook anything. Clickclickclickclick, a strange scent wafting up into the air. His impatience had him fiddling with it a few minutes later, and the fire came close to burning his face off when it finally exploded to life. Fucking Muggle inventions.

He turned the dial so the flames mellowed and then grabbed the box of noodles off the counter. He poured them into the water, jumping back when it sloshed up and burnt his hand, spirals skidding across the floor. Draco muttered angrily, glaring at the space for three seconds before he realized he was waiting for a house-elf to appear. He threw the box back onto the counter and sighed heavily, curving his fingers around his forehead as he closed his eyes.

Was this his life? Would there ever be a point in which he could go back without ending up in a prison cell? Would he be eighty by the time the wizarding world forgot his name? Wizards lived a long time, but he couldn't put up with nearly sixty years of this. It was going to kill him. One day the flames would just burst out and set his whole body on fire. Or those supermarket carts would crush him to death, because judging by his bruised thigh and cut ankle, the Muggles didn't know shit about steering or looking in front of them. One of these headaches would finally put his brain to rest, and no one would even find him. He'd rot to bones on the kitchen floor, and no one would ever know.

It was the first time in two years that cold self-loathing collided with loneliness, and his fingers wrapped tight on the edge of the counter. Was it worth it? The empty house, in the middle of nowhere, with no one but himself – was freedom worth that? He felt small again, like he had after sixth-year, after the war. Just a speck of life, with his failures and mistakes there to dig into his chest.



Six

It's just a piece of wood. Your magic controls it. You control it. And the things that you control can never be greater than you are, Draco. Do you understand? A tilting of the world, a steadying hand, the barest hint of his father's smile. Be careful. Always keep your control. Losing it will only hurt yourself in the end.



Draco stared down at the tree stump, counting fifty rings in five breaths before looking up at the branch on top of it. He wasn't made for physical work. Sure, he flew in Quidditch, but that was mostly about hand-eye coordination and control over anything truly physical. He had still ran laps several times a week, did exercises to build up muscle, keeping himself in shape. Being upright on a broom left them nearly weightless, but some moves required strength. He couldn't hang upside down from a broom, speeding to a blur, without being strong enough to hold all his weight against gravity with one hand and his legs. It didn't require a Beater's arms, but he was pleased with the definition that had come.

It allowed him to swing the axe easily over his shoulder. The hand-eye coordination brought it onto the branch, the strength behind his swing split it, and he managed to pull the blade from the tree stump with a foot shoved against the rim and a hard tug. He was proud of himself. Even laughed at the fucking shit he had yelled when he didn't find an endless supply of firewood anywhere. Had breathed in the relief at not having to deal with a cramped brain for resorting to magic.

Then swing fifteen happened. For all the strength, coordination, and control it took to hold himself to a broom while rolling into a tricky catch, or zipping upside down through the air and keeping on a clear path towards a flickering goal – it didn't exactly last ten minutes. His arms were burning. Sweat was starting to slide from his temples and between his shoulder blades, and his hands felt raw. The burning weakness in his arms made the axe heavier to lift, hard to slam down, and threw him off until all that effort was wasted by missing the damn branch in the first place.

He made it to swing thirty-four before he dropped the axe. He would have swung that thing clear off the cliffs at the back of the house, straight down the long drop and into the sea. But he didn't have the strength left for that, so it thunked at his feet, and his arms hung dully at his sides. Dull, tingling, numb.

It would be cold for another month, at least. Perhaps more with the wind blowing in from the water. He collapsed on the tree stump, running his fingers over his battered palms, and glared at the logs. He contemplated which was worse – the pain in his arms or the pain in his head whenever he used magic. He tried not to think about it too much. He was still pretending his drunken night of self-pity never happened, so he'd rather not bring himself to another.



A.

Don't fight with your hands, Draco. It's for Muggles and Mudbloods. You're a wizard, a pure-blood, and a Malfoy. Your magic will be powerful and enough to defend yourself. A tap to his lip, the cut mending, but instead he had been concentrated on the line of a frown on his father's face. His dad had tapped the end of his wand under Draco's chin, lifting his face to take in the seriousness on his father's. Unless you absolutely have to. Let nothing stop you from protecting the things you believe in, and the things you care about. No matter what you have to do or sacrifice to protect that.



If Draco wasn't so aware of it constantly, he might have fallen from that dazed lull into sleep despite the vibrations. But his paranoia and fear were sharpened to a fine point, and it stabbed him in the chest during the second rattle of the paperweight on the windowsill. He shot up straight, his eyes wide in the blue of twilight, and his earlier exhaustion was replaced with the rush of adrenaline. He lurched and scrambled out of the bed, his feet and legs getting tangled in the blankets. There were two seconds of spinning arms and slamming feet, and he was sure he was about to smash his face off the ground or slam his head into the wall, but he caught himself. He hardly even registered it had happened, hardly registered the crash in the other room, the panic soaring too high and taking over his brain.

He sailed across the room but turned to look out the doorway of his bedroom as he passed it, eyes connecting with someone else's. It wasn't until he cleared to the other side of the room, snatching two boxes and his wand from the top of the dresser, that his brain pieced together the image of wide eyes and static curls. He hadn't thought it would have included her. He had hoped it wouldn't. His mind flashed to images of Potter, of an army of Aurors surrounding the house as he popped open the lid of the box.

“I know you have my report!”

Draco froze, his fingers hovering over the ring that would have taken him to Germany. Her what? Her report? His mind blanked out for a moment and he stared unseeingly at the silver on black velvet. She... A report. Not murderer, or killer, or even you can't hide from us. She was... Draco held his breath, waiting to hear something beyond his pounding pulse, but he only heard Granger's heavy breathing. Only Granger.

Draco shut the lid on the box, wrapping a fist around it and his wand, and pushed the other box into his pocket. His heart felt like it was preparing to leave by way of tearing open his chest, and his entire body was vibrating with awareness. One unrecognizable sound, one movement, and he would be gone. He took seven steps backwards, keeping his wand at his left to block it from view with his body. He turned his head towards the wall, watching her come into view when he reached the doorway. His eyebrows were furrowed with his confusion, and then one hiked up at the dirty look she was giving him.

“Your...report.” All disbelief because this moment wasn't possible. It didn't even exist. Maybe he had fallen asleep.

Her eyes flicked down, a faint pink emerging on her cheeks as her gaze shot to the side, and he remembered he wasn't wearing a shirt. Granger cleared her throat, and he watched her wand smack into her leg as she glared at him. “Yes, my report. You stole it and I want. It. Back.”

He looked at her like the purpose of her existence was both disturbing and curious. “Granger...”

Now.”

“You...you came here for your report?” He couldn't even wrap his head around it. At the fact that she was standing in the living room. She wasn't here to try dragging him back to the Ministry, to look at him with her face all twisted in disappointment, to yell about how right she had been and how she shouldn't have ever thought she might have been wrong. She wasn't even here to try to talk to him about what happened, what went wrong, and his feelings. She was here...she was actually here for her report.

It took longer than it should have for him to even know what the fuck she was going on about. That report had been her life for months now. She was constantly adding to it, revising, talking about it, reading through it. He couldn't count the amount of times he told her to seek therapy for her obsession with it, but freeing house-elves had been her own private mission since...third-year? Fourth? He couldn't remember now.

She threw out her arm, shrugged her shoulders, shook her head. “Why else?” But then she paused, suspicion in the look she gave him, because it didn't take someone with Granger's brains to know a person didn't disappear without good reason.

He should have felt relief. It should have been glowing from his skin with how much pressure it released from his bones. Instead, he was angry. Pissed off beyond belief. She had burst into the house, where he was hiding, with her bullshit accusation, and jeopardized everything. He had no idea how she had found him, but she had, and he could only guess at the trail she had left behind. She could have told any-- No. She wouldn't have told anyone. Her friends would have refused her coming here by herself, and she would have thought she could handle it on her own and just talk to him about it. But she could have told someone else. She could have made it obvious to anyone who looked. She could go back, angry, and tell everyone.

She had no right to come here. To violate his privacy, to shatter what little he had built to keep him safe. For rubbish. For absolute bullshit.

His eyes narrowed, his head tilting to the left. “I don't have your report.”

“You're lying!” she yelled, jabbing her finger into the air at him. “Just be honest with me, Malfoy. Give it back to me, and we can settle it like mature adults.”

He slipped the box and his wand into his pocket, turning fully towards her, his jaw clenching. A dozen actions and outcomes were swirling through his mind, but he only settled on one. He couldn't let her leave. Not yet – not until he figured this out. He hadn't wanted to leave France yet, for various reasons. But he couldn't have her walk out of here now. Not when she had got herself knee-deep in his circumstances and location. He couldn't risk it. He knew she wouldn't keep the secret. Maybe she would for awhile, if he asked her to, but if she found out what he did... Draco had to protect himself and his freedom.

“You come here, now, for a report?”

“For months of research, work, and a hope for house-elves, yes, I come here! I wouldn't even have to be here if you hadn't stolen my report from me, for whatever horrible reasons, and you're an idiot if you thought I was just going to let you have it! If you wanted to--”

“Granger.” He raised an eyebrow, amusement flashing through him despite all that anger. “I don't have--”

“Stop lying! You left at the same time it just happened to--”

“Check.” She gave him a look of confusion. “Check,” he repeated. “Check my house.”

He took up the doorway of his bedroom, crossing his arms as she narrowed her eyes. She walked stiffly towards him, like he knew the action would provoke her to do. “Move out of the way then.”

He snorted, taking a step back and to the side, and throwing his arm out as if to say All of this is yours. She glared at him as he ran his fingers through his hair, the strands sticking straight back in the air, locks escaping to flop across his forehead. He practiced ease, a complete lack of concern, boredom ruling his expression.

She made it one step past the doorway before he collided into her. He heard her gasp, saw the streak of colors rush in his vision, and they both crashed to the ground. Hot air exploded across his cheek, and he heard the sound of something cracking off the floorboards. Some people grew disorientated with panic, but if he knew it was coming, Draco grew sharper. Scents, sights, sounds – he categorized them distantly, focusing on the goal. Her hands – there, her wand – here. His panic made him quicker, stronger, openaliveangry.

His fingers were hot and hard, pulling down her arm towards her hand – towards her wand. She violently tugged against the push of his weight to turn herself fully onto her back, and shot the heel of her palm into his forehead. His head reeled back on a curse, his neck straining, and his stomach vibrated with a growl against the heaving motion of hers. He wrapped his fingers around her wrist, and he felt her arm tremble as she pushed back against him, before her knuckles slammed into the floor. She hissed at the crack, and he ignored her knee as it aimed for his hip and ribs.

“Malf-- What are...you...doing?” she forced out, fighting against him.

His other hand was trying to wrench hers out from halfway underneath her, and she bucked against him, grunting words in her anger. He yanked harder, and her arm flew out with no resistance. His grip weakened with his surprise, and he realized it was her intention when her arm pulled easily from him.

She angled the tip of her wand at his face, and breathed, “Stupefy!”

He smacked his hand into hers, the burst of red exploding into the leg of his bed. He met her eyes for a second, dark and angry, and the hard line of his jaw twitched. He gripped her hand so hard he might have been close to breaking the knuckles, and his other hand left her arm to grab her wand. She smacked her free hand into the side of his face, shoving it up, slapping, as she tried to yank down her other arm. Draco cursed at the stinging in his face, hissed when she dug her nails into his wrist, but the wand began to slide in her clenched grip. She tried to throw herself up, to turn them, but he only jolted up and back down on top of her. She wasn't strong enough, and she knew it judging by her frantic breath. He felt his skin give way under her nails as he growled through his teeth, and then his hand shot from hers, her wand in his fist.

He pulled off of her so quickly that she looked startled, his heart pounding in his throat and his hands jittery with zapping energy. Her hand had flashed down to grab his arm, but it ripped away from her as quickly as the rest of him had. He caught a glimpse of her bloody fingertips when he spun for the door, his knees shaky and his breath trembling. He heard her get to her feet, pound out two steps, when he slammed the door behind him. He ripped his wand from his pocket, a chorus of fuck, fuck, fucks in his mind, muttering the spells to lock her in. His head pulled back as something slapped into the door, the furious beats of his heart skipping when he heard the rattle of the doorknob, but nothing moved.

He kept concentrated, rolling the tip of his wand through the blood she had drawn with her nails, and continued his list of incantations. Pain was ripping through his head, boiling pressure in his skull until he thought it might burst, and the spells sounded like deep groans of pain. He finished in an explosion of white behind his eyelids, and he collapsed against the door, unaware of anything but the agony for several seconds.

He clutched his head, panting for breath, willing the pain to fade. He wanted to smash his head off the wall just to knock him unconscious, to escape from it, but he clutched his head harder instead.

“Malfoy,” she cracked, rattling the knob. “Malfoy! If you don't open this door right now, I will break it down and bring the Ministry here quicker than you can take your last breath!”

His panting stopped, leaving them in silence, and then resumed without a word from him. The torture was just beginning to fade, but every sound was like a knife into his skull. He needed to get up the stairs, to the other room, and find the potion. It never made it go away completely, but it settled it into a hard ache instead of this. This feeling that his brain was tearing open, erasing all his thoughts. He struggled to find oxygen, a way out from that blinding white. He had to concentrate on...something. What was he... Granger. He had to make sure it worked.

He jumped when a loud crash sounded in the room, dragging a moan from his chest. He heard her running, something pounding in time to the pulses of pain, and he staggered back from the door. She sounded like she was on the verge of hyperventilating, and that could only mean that the wards had gone up.

“Make me a prisoner? You could go to Azkaban for this! Or worse! Let me out right now. Right now and I might pretend this didn't happen! Malfoy! Malfoy, you--”

The world faded to black, muffled sound, and he felt a breeze against his neck before everything fell away.



Chapter Two

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