Author: everysecondtues (fic journal tuesdayfic)
Summary: Draco's not okay, but he's getting better all the time.
Fandom: Harry Potter (books, diverges from canon after book four)
Pairing: Draco/Hermione (brief implication of Ron/Harry)
Disclaimer: JKR's characters, part of Riko's storyline.
Original story: Transition by riko
Notes: Thank you to my awesome beta, sahiya. Any mistakes or problems contained herein are my own entirely, but they're much less and the fic is much better because of her.
Transition (the "eight twisting steps to mudblood normal" remix)
The words had been tumbling around his head all day, you're joking you're joking, oh surely you are joking—from the too-long-too-short walk winding up the stairs from the dungeons and its comforts (and didn't snakes love burrows more than badgers, could appreciate the comfort and safety of dirt packed in at all sides until the rain came trickling in and they had to struggle their way slip-sliding up those muddy once safe walls to air and the unknown and the storm’s raging winds, or drown with those too stupid or blind to save themselves?); continuing into the achingly empty halls of Hogwarts at night, a suit of armor tipping its head in greeting almost in cadence with the please tell me that you're joking (and yet who would willingly go out into the air when they could still be swept away with the floods; wouldn’t drowning in your home, in the familiar, be smarter, safer, kinder than forcing yourself forward into a most certain death?); and coming to a stumbling halt in front of the gargoyle, those words a back-beat and refrain and suddenly surging to the front: Oh, you have got to be joking.
Draco didn’t know the password, but the door was open and the gargoyle had stepped neatly aside, a butler letting in an expected guest. The stairs waited patiently before him. Draco took a deep breath and tried to calm the words, the beat, the pulse of his heart pounding in his ears and surging through him, pushing him forward. He took the first step, the second, step after unsteady step, up and into the heart of the storm.
And there he was, standing in a tiny walk-up with its lack of magical protections its only real protection (and a secret keeper Draco wouldn't trust not to slip up if he weren't living with the guy's ex, and how reassuring that was), doing his level best not to pull out his wand and tidy up the place. God, couldn't Hermione have invested in a house elf or two? She was the one going on about their rights and working conditions—how better to know they were well treated than to employ them?
"I know it's not what you're used to," Granger said, tossing one of his bags to the floor of her flat with little regard for its contents, and never mind they were clothes, those were his belongings. "But you'll have to make do. We can't all be wealthy purebloods."
Draco bit back a sharp retort and reminded himself that if this is what it took to survive, he would endure; it was better than kneeling at an incompetent madman's feet and letting himself be branded, better than donning mask and cloak and not knowing when the final blow would fall, when the mad master would look and know and not forgive duplicity. If his father were here, it might . . . if his father were . . . if . . . . Draco tried not to dwell on the inconsequential. He was alive and in from the storm, out of the mud and blood and rain, breathing uneasy but free.
"Make yourself at home," Granger said, crossing into the bedroom and leaving puddling trails of water in her wake. The door closed and Draco was left alone in the living room with its adjoining kitchenette and space set aside for a rickety table and mismatched chairs. He wondered if he would have to sleep on the lumpy beige sofa (beige? Seriously?) and where he should stow the two footlockers strapped careless and clumsy across his shoulders, if he should just drop them with the one Granger had carried in the middle of the floor, and if it might not be worth the danger to dry off and warm his clothes, dissipate the icy water creeping down his neck and under his collar, and if he could even sit down, soaked as he was, or if the mudblood might not kill him now that wands were forbidden. His experience with hand to hand was mostly limited to getting punched in the face. Draco was becoming uncomfortably familiar with this helpless feeling, like standing at the bottom of the vale and staring up at the oncoming waves, wand nowhere in sight.
Granger reappeared with two fluffy pink towels of a size to bag and kidnap small children. Draco raised an eyebrow and decided against embarrassing them both with gratitude. "Pink?"
"You have a problem with it, you can air dry." Granger's eyes expressed a will to murder, and it was almost heartwarming, the way she made him feel right at home with hardly a word.
"No, no," Draco said, graciously taking a towel, "though if you make any comments about it complementing my coloring—"
"In your dreams, Malfoy," Granger snorted.
"Nightmares, more like," Draco muttered, wrapping up in the towel. It was like a blanket, soft and plush as any well-used teddy (not that Draco's had survived ten months and his tendency to chew up and destroy all the things he loved, so much like his father, his mother always said, voice like ice wrapped in silk). It practically wrapped itself around him, would have made him suspect magic if not for that nothing in the flat was magic for fear of it being traced. In such a dank and miserable flat, it was a light salve. Where had Granger found it? He resisted the urge to rub his face against the fabric, instead surreptitiously pinching a bit over his fingers, letting it rest comfortably against his skin.
"If you'd like to get out of your wet clothes—"
"If you think I'm going to strip for you—" Draco began, eyes wide.
Granger ignored him. "—Ron left some old clothes of his in a drawer in the guest room."
He couldn't even be relieved. Living like a muggle was worse than he'd thought. "Weasel's clothes?" Disbelief didn't even begin to cover it. Draco started to wonder if Granger had been paying attention at all, the past six years. If there was anything worse than that smugly insufferable git Potter, it was a smarmy blood traitor like the Weasel. Besides, his clothes probably had fleas or chizpurfles or scurvy or, or something.
Granger rolled her eyes and hooked a thumb at his bags. "You can always use the dryer for your clothes, if you'd like to wait that long."
"Quite right, I will," Draco said, starting for the bags. He stopped. ". . . What's a dryer?"
It was depressingly easy to learn to live like a complete squib and pauper when you didn't have time to do anything else. Apparently Draco's linchpin position in the war was that his mother was going over to the other side in return for knowing he was safe. And never mind that Draco was the other side now, there was just something wrong in her complete abandonment of his father's ideals and ambitions for something so small as family. It was wrong, and that's why his chest ached and his eyes felt dried out. He was angry at his mother's stupidity, that was all. If it had been something smart, like survival, like getting the hell out of there, he would have understand. But she stayed in the mud and blood and rising water for what? A few words maybe once every six months, less? Assurances of a protection she should have known they were offering freely to any man with a mark on his arm and the right sweet words of denouncement on his lips? He was angry, and that's why it felt like a cracked glass ball full of burning water was lodged in his chest, dripping out pain in slow drops and rivulets, why it pooled up the back of his throat like bile.
So he learned to live without using his wand for every convenience, learned to live (like a savage) without house elves and charms, pulling the cereal from the cupboard by hand because Granger wouldn't let him try cooking any more since the last time he'd nearly caught the oven on fire (and how was he to know it wouldn't turn itself off once the food was finished cooking, other than that he was in a muggle house and "muggle" apparently equaled inefficiency and insanely difficult to operate) and it was one of the few foods he could prepare without actually cooking. For a while, he would pull out all of the boxes to see what the possibilities were, spreading them out around him in a reminder of the strange world he now inhabited, all of the pictures static and the text bland and unmoving. Everything seemed so dead, so lifeless, that it seemed almost a mercy to kill them if this was their fate (but really anything was better than the cold waters lapping at your feet and leaching your warmth, than the ozone-tinged tang of air on your tongue from too many curses fired in too close a space, afterimages burning in your eyes and trying not to breath in the stench of blood and piss and shit, where they used to claw at themselves before letting go entirely).
After a while, the disturbingly still figures on the boxes grew to be almost normal, and he discovered that the kettle was at least designed to let him know when to move it off the burner, though he still scalded himself five times before he learned to let the tea cool or drop in a couple of ice cubes with the milk. Mostly, Granger left him alone, and he returned the favor when he watched her retire to her room on some evenings, clutching correspondence with pale, shaky hands. When he heard the sobs and sound of paper shredding from behind closed doors, he put on the kettle and comforted himself with the boiling of water and brewing of tea. If it were his mother, Granger wouldn't be so distraught, surely. On the worst of such occasions, as pot after pot of tea passed the hours and dawn tinged rosy through the windows, he left the last pot cooling on the burner before he retired to the guest room and his own troubled sleep.
(And if, sometimes, he woke to a pot of stew or some other small thing left on low, he didn't embarrass them both by drawing attention to it when he pulled it off the stove and carefully portioned it out in the dishes she tended to set out for him on the table.)
One thing (one of the few things, because Draco may have fallen far, but he wasn't a blood traitor, not yet) he was finding it easy to like about Granger was that she didn't pry and didn't expect any sympathy in return. They weren't friends, he knew, nothing like friends. More prisoners of circumstances, forced to share the same flat for the duration of what could be (had been) a very long war.
The doorknob was smooth and cool under his fingertips.
Best not to make things awkward. He withdrew to the kitchen, and if there was a tea tray set up outside her door twenty minutes later, laden with biscuits, a flowered teapot and cup, a few twists of sugar, and the lemon butter scones they'd been sent the previous day, if it was set back a foot so that she wouldn't trip on it coming out, well, that didn't have to mean anything at all. Draco didn't know where half the things in this odd place were supposed to go. A tea tray in the hallway, it was a mistake anyone could make two months into this cohabitation.
When she later sat down at the table and set out one of the scones and an extra cup, Draco didn't comment, simply took the cup and drank his tea black for once.
Two days later, when they got the news about his mother, she returned the favor, but instead of sugar and butter scones, there was milk and brandy. He exercised restraint and didn't throw the tray against the wall. He wouldn't want to clean it up, and they only had half a pint of milk left.
It wasn't easy, exactly, living with her. They'd fought and argued and screamed as the weeks passed, and she'd gotten in a right strop in their first month when he'd finally had enough and voiced what they both had to be thinking (because he couldn't be the only one seeing the way this war was going; she'd read the same articles he had once she'd collected the scattered, less important pieces of the Prophet from the kitchen floor) and demanded to know how sure she could be, really, that they were going to win. This was a drier bit of land than most, but Draco had no illusions about the weather outside their flimsy shelter. They didn't even like each other most days, dancing awkwardly around one another on her return each day and before she left each morning, and they tended to keep to their rooms on the days she stayed in with her books and research. So this made no sense, none at all, Draco knew, hands resting against the smooth wood of her door and breathing in the cool air breezing through the kitchen window. He took two steps away, determined to forget the matter entirely, and then she opened the door.
"Can I help you?"
"Sorry, I thought I'd heard—never mind."
She turned away, back to her room, and he stood a moment and watched her, the way her auburn hair swayed and bounced with each step, curls trailing down to her waist, slim fingers pushing it back behind an ear. He shivered and forced himself to take another chilled gulp of air. She closed the door.
He crossed back to the kitchen and shut the window, closed out the cold air reaching its fingers down his neck. It was for the best. The sky was dark, and it looked like rain.
And then one day he was seated at the kitchen table, fingering the previous day's Prophet and trying to decide whether a third cup was excessive or justified, and if he might not want to add some of that brandy considering the day could hold any number of outcomes. Not that he was worried, not at all (Granger had once punched him in the face), but maybe the tea with brandy would be a good idea, or perhaps just the brandy.
He'd pushed aside the teapot and was still contemplating the matter when Hermione came hurtling into the flat, grinning like a madwoman. She waved a letter at him, trembling all over. "Draco," she said, "Draco, you have to see this, straight from the west front."
He remembered all the tiny details for years. The grain of the wood floorboards was rough against his bare feet. The aftertaste of milk and Earl Grey coated his tongue. Hermione's hair was especially frizzy, as though she'd been through a tornado or fallen off a broom. Her skin was pale, with deep smudges of purple under her eyes, but her eyes were wide open and looked sharp and sparkling with a hundred spinning thoughts as always. Her clothes were caked with dirt, and a line of dried blood ran the length of her jaw. Their fingers bumped together as she handed him the letter. Her lips had turned down into a serious, more solemn expression, though they twitched at the corners.
The words and letters blurred together to form the simplest and most devastating and wonderful and terrible of messages: The war was over. They'd won.
The sudden beam of her smile was like the sun breaking through clouds, blinding and unexpectedly warm. Her fingers were tangled in his hair. Then she was kissing him, and he was clutching the soft cotton of her shirt, and they were kissing and kissing and kissing.
After, she traced the scars on his chest and shoulders, and he stared out the window. Idly fingering the spill of hair down her back, he wondered if the Malfoy assets were still frozen, or if his mother's sacrifice had been enough to clear their name, and where he would go if not. She said, voice casual for someone sprawled against him and touching him in places and ways he had previously forbidden all others, "You could stay, you know."
Draco's breath stuttered in his chest, but his own voice was just as calm, almost disinterested when he said, "I'm not interested in staying in your guest room forever."
"I'm not offering the guest bedroom," Hermione said, mouthing the side of his neck.
Draco closed his eyes, running his hands along her shoulderblades, her ribs, lower. "This offer," he said, swallowing. "How long is it open?" He opened his eyes to see her watching him, expression quizzical.
After a minute, she smiled again, moving her hands up to his face, cradling his head with careful hands. "Draco, you can always come back."
The Malfoy manner had been razed, and even now, months later, each inhalation brought with it the overwhelming stench of ash and old charcoal. The family cemetery, at least, was mostly untouched. His parents shared a tombstone, pale marble with tasteful flowing script giving simply their names and dates. The coffins six feet below were both empty—his father's body had been lost in the confusion of the building burning, and the Order had never found his mother's after she disappeared. The flowers in his hands were awkward, and the riot of colors looked strange when he laid them against the cream of the stone. His mind felt ordered, empty, compared to when he'd last fled these grounds.
He had no explanations, no excuses. He didn't feel himself reverting to old thoughts, old ways under the blank stare of stone. The jeans he was wearing remained oddly comfortable under the robes he wore out of deference to his father's memory.
The top of the stone was artistically uneven, edges cutting into his palms. There were any number of things he might have said, dark words lodged deep in his chest, but all of the important ones had already been said. The day was bright, sun beating down against him. The scent of fresh-cut flowers and growing grass underlay the smell of things burnt long ago. After several long moments of waiting for the right parting words to come, Draco gave it up as an exercise in futility.
He turned his back to the grounds and walked forward, away, toward some place he thought he might someday call home.
Which was how one winter he came to be standing here, in a crowded bookstore, staring at a children's book his mother read him when he was three and had yet to fear lightning and still loved the water and open air around him. He wondered what the Weasel—Weasley, Weasley, because this was for Hermione—had been read as a child, and if he could even appreciate anything more advanced Draco might pick out, wondering if Hermione might not forgive him boarding the train to go home, or merely locking himself in the men's loo and apparating away. Hermione's family was so much easier to deal with than her friends. How she could possibly think a joint Christmas between their households was a good idea, Draco had no idea. His only relief was that at least he had no reason to be worried about Weasley (worried about a Weasley—ha!) from what Hermione had told him.
Also, they were bringing the Christmas pudding, and Hermione had made the mistake of letting him help. If Draco had learned anything about muggle-style cooking, it was that he could at least take some spiteful joy in sharing it with others. His family had tended to be more straightforward about any ambivalence or dislike, and it was generally considered a good idea to bring a few antidotes and panaceas to dinner with you if you were less than certain about your current status in your hosts' affections.
Embroiled in his thoughts, he picked up the book and thumbed through the pages, watching Dot hop agilely from page to page, slobbering over a ball on one, then dropping it to take off after a squirrel on another.
"Interesting book?" asked Hermione, and he looked over, holding it up.
"I'd say it seems just about Weasley's level," was the first glib response that came to mind, holding up the book for her to see.
She smacked him in the shoulder with a book of her own with surprising disregard for the book's safety, and he shot it a betrayed look, as though Alice in Wonderland had demanded it rather than his own words goading her. She said something about playing nice, and he reminded her that wasn't quite the agreement. Hermione looked a bit disappointed, murmured, "That's not the answer I was looking for," and he was left with no choice but to reassure, really; that was why he leaned forward and brushed his lips against the soft skin of her cheek, let his fingers touch the curls of her hair.
Nonetheless embarrassed, he recommended they try the sports mags; Weasley might not share Draco's literary taste, but even Draco knew that Quidditch Illustrated was a safe bet. She took the olive branch for what it was, lips quirking, and moved that way, shoving her way brazenly through the crowd. He couldn't help but smile at her quickly disappearing figure. Turning back to the children's section, he shelved Dot's Adventure: Tenth Edition, fingers briefly trailing along the spine, and then followed, as ever, after her.