"Malfoy?" Hermione called through the common room as she attempted to descend the stairs and strap on a warn-in sneaker at the same time. "Draco, are you still here?" She sighed in frustration at his lack of answer and paused in the center of the common room to lace and tie said sneaker. She was dressed in warm clothing, long jeans and a zip-up sweater, hoping to stop the late autumn frost from chapping her skin.
Hermione took to Draco's staircase two steps at a time, stopping to knock on the door, which was cracked open slightly as if closed in haste. Hermione had all but decided to peek into the room and validate Draco's absence when the door in front of her flew open as if sucked by some infinite vortex. Hermione had jumped backward with a start, but regained herself quickly and looked up into the wild eyes of said black hole.
Draco Malfoy was standing in the doorway, holding the knob. He was wearing dark stone washed jeans that seemed to be a size or so too large for him and were falling down despite his belt, which had been fastened in the front even though most of the belt loops were forgotten and squished beneath its leather binding. His white t-shirt was unbuttoned at the top and looked to be made of rice paper, as thin as she had ever seen, with a tiny label emblem stitched above the left chest pocket. It was half tucked into his jeans on one side, and half tucked into only his belt on the other. His slightly uncharacteristic muggle dress had forgone him shoes or socks, and his tie could be seen slithering under the bed.
What startled Hermione more than his disheveled clothing was his overall stance and demeanor. He was breathing raggedly and his normally reserved grey eyes had a wildness to them, which only complimented the forest of white-blond cowlicks that sprung from his head. Hermione could only assume that it was effect of his hair gel fetish and excessive contact to nervous hands.
The second he opened the door, Draco leaned his forehead against a hand, which was gripping the doorframe. Hermione couldn't speak at the sight of him and waited in silence for something to happen. Draco took a few pant-like breaths and lifted his head again to look at her. His eyes seemed slightly less wild, and softened at the sight of her.
"Well," he said, swallowing dryly. "What is it?"
Well, he sounds all right, Hermione noted to herself, as Draco's voice had no biting quality to it whatsoever, and in fact made the whole of him seem calmer.
"Um..." she stuttered, "I was, I was wondering if you were going to Hogsmeade today?" she asked, having some difficulty remembering what it was she had wanted. "I wanted to let Crookshanks run around the common room, but I'd rather he be in his crate if no one is here. You don't have to look after him or anything, I'd just feel... better."
Draco regarded her calmly as she spoke, bending his head again to rest his temple on his wrist. He was quiet when she finished, and blinked at her.
"Of course," she started again, a little less confident than before. "If you don't want him out here I can lock him up there anyway." On a normal day, Hermione would never have given Draco this option, because on a normal day Draco would have jumped at the chance to take it. Today he continued to regard her respectfully, now looking slightly more interested and even a bit sad. He sighed heavily as she fidgeted before him.
"I don't care what you do with your cat, Hermione. He can have the whole wing of the school if he wants it," he said, and turned to reenter his room. Hermione noticed that he shoved his hands into his hair as he walked back toward the bed. She frowned and tried to make herself forget about Malfoy and carry on with her day, but she was bothered by his long list of out-of-character behaviors that morning and could not force her feet to move from his landing. Draco seemed to have forgotten about her, as he was now lying face down on his bed, lamenting silently and, again, hyperventilating. Hermione took a step forward.
This time her appearance seemed to have an opposite affect; Draco was so startled by her voice that he jumped a clear foot in the air before rolling off of his bed and onto the floor. He cursed and Hermione took a few steps into his room.
"Oh, gosh I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I thought you knew I was there..." she said, helping him up off the floor and sitting beside him on the bed. Draco rubbed at his eyes for a few minutes, before dropping them between his knees and turning to her.
"Jesus, Granger. Give a guy a heart attack," he said, smiling and she smiled too. "Shouldn't you be in Hogsmeade with your friends anyway? Buying things and drinking butterbeer and having... fun? You'll miss the carriages." He sounded bitter.
"I'll walk if I miss the carriages. I'm not quite ready to leave yet."
"Hm," he grunted, and his body seemed to completely relax and fold over itself, sending his head to fall between the crossed arms over his knees. Hermione placed a gentle hand on his back.
"Draco," she said softly, leaning closer to him. "Are you all right?" A tremor wracked his body in the form of a course laugh.
"Of course I am. I've had worse falls than that one," he said and Hermione assumed him to be referring to his six years of Quidditch. She smiled half heartedly.
"I don't mean that," she said, in the same soft voice she had used before. Draco became increasingly aware of her hand on the curve of his back. The thin t-shirt gave little resistance and it felt almost as if she were touching his skin with her palm and tiny padded fingers. "Just in general," she continued. "All together... you're all right?" Draco's form dropped even lower, relaxed it seemed, though Hermione could feel his muscles tighten and tense as he moved. He dropped his head between his knees and moved them to hold it like a vice before lacing his fingers behind his neck, as one would do if they should feel faint. Hermione moved slightly closer, concern drawing her eyebrows toward the bridge of her nose.
Draco was quiet and Hermione waited for him to speak, lifting the hand on his back only to replace it immediately with the sharp intake of breath he took at the absence of it's soft pressure. Hermione moved her hand across his cotton t-shirt comfortingly, opening her mouth under the pretense of knowing what to say. Draco exhaled deeply and Hermione frowned, as she had not known that he had been holding his breath at all.
"Do you want the truth, Hermione?" he asked, but didn't wait for an answer. He sat up so that his elbows were again rested on his knees and turned to her, his face flushed from the pull of gravity on his arteries. "I have no idea," he said, looking straight into her eyes. Hermione stared back, and her hand ceased to make warm little circles over his spine. Draco turned away at this, looking abashedly at the gray carpet of his room. Once again, Hermione was left with nothing adequate to say. "Actually," Draco unexpectedly continued, looking up toward the mahogany bureau against the wall. "That's not true at all. There is most definitely something wrong with me." His face was rapidly losing color as the blood returned to a normal balance, and Hermione could see his sickly pale approaching again.
"Draco..." she started, but he refused to look at her. "You can talk to me. Maybe.. you'll feel better if you tell someone." At this, Draco jumped up from the bed and let out a nervous, whooping sort of laugh. Hermione stayed seated and looked at her abandoned hand before looking up to face him again. He was pacing, breathing heavily and lodging his fingers deep into his hair. Her heart leapt at the sight of him. He looked so troubled and unsure, so unlike the Draco Malfoy she had known for so long. Despite the fact that they had never truly been friends, she felt a deep insatiable pull to reach out to him; to help him.
Draco was talking like an announcer at a particularly involved Quidditch match.
"I can't tell you, are you kidding me? What good would that do? What could you possibly say? No. I won't. I've made up my mind. I've been doing that a lot, lately. What can I say, I'm impulsive..." he stopped and turned to her, pulling his hands from his hair. He looked genuinely curious, like a small child. "What are you still doing here?"
"I... I don't want to leave you like this," she admitted, still looking at him. He stared. "Do you... want me to leave?" she tried, speaking slowly. Draco shrugged. Hermione nodded softly. "All right. Why don't you come sit down, and we'll talk?" Immediately, he launched back into his reserved mode, pacing and shaking his head furiously.
"No. No, I can't."
"Because, Hermione," he spat. The sudden bite in his voice made her jump. He sighed and turned away again. "I can't get you mixed up in this. You're too nice, that's why you're asking. If you weren't, you would have left by now. I know you. You'll... you'll be sad. You'll blame yourself. I can't stand to have done it if I know you'll blame yourself."
"You can't... to have done what? Draco, you're starting to scare me a little. Just tell me what's so wrong."
"You don't have to be scared. It's me who should be scared. But I'm not. I'm not," he repeated, hugging himself and turning away from her. Hermione stood from the bed, finally succumbing to her desire to reach out to him. He didn't shy away when she touched his arm, but Hermione could feel him shaking violently underneath his thin clothing.
"Oh, Draco," she said, wrapping her arms around him and standing on tiptoes so that his head would fit beneath her chin. She held him to her and he continued to tremble, taking ragged breaths. It sounded very much like he wanted to continue hyperventilating, but was forcing himself to do otherwise.
"Why are you doing this?" he whispered, punctuated by his breathing. Hermione held him tighter.
"Draco, I am head girl and you are a student in distress. It's my job to want to help you," she said, unsure of what he would want or need to hear. Feeling him tense, she hurriedly continues. "And you're my coworker. And... my friend." She held him close with one hand and lifted the other to smooth some of his hair. "I care about you." Draco unfolded his arms from where they were curled around his body and embraced her tightly around the torso. Hermione whispered soft words of comfort into his ear as she steered him back toward the bed. She tried to have him sit, but he wordlessly refused to release her and awkwardly managed to bring her onto the bed, so that they were both lying beside one another.
Despite the situation, Hermione kicked off her sneakers so that they would not dirty his unmade sheets. As soon as her legs straightened, Draco trapped one between his own. One of his arms was now crushed under his body, and the other was holding Hermione tightly to him. He pressed his face to the top of her chest, just below the nape of her neck. He was still trembling and trying hard to breathe steadily.
"It's all right, Draco," she whispered to him, placing one of her hands in his unoccupied one that lay between them and using the other to smooth his hair. "We'll talk when you're ready."
"I'm sorry," he said and cleared his throat, making an attempt to compose himself. Hermione shushed him. He nuzzled her chest softly. "But... what about Hogsmeade?"
"You're more important than Hogsmeade."
Draco squeezed his eyes shut to hold back a sob, but Hermione moved her hand from his hair to press against his back and hold him close to her.
"It's all right to cry, Draco. You'll feel so much better, I promise," she said and Draco let the breath he was holding burst from him. "There, see? Better already." She smiled and Draco laughed dryly as a wayward tear trickled down his face. He sniffled softly and closed his eyes, digging his nose more deeply into Hermione's sternum. There was a long period of silence, and Hermione had almost decided that Draco had fallen asleep, when he opened his eyes and took a deep breath, tilting his face up to her.
"I just... I just feel like... like nothing matters. Like nothing I do can change anything," he said, and Hermione listened, but did not interrupt. Draco felt the urge to cry seize him again and pressed his nose to her. "It's started with this war. This impending doom. My father... he wants me to be on his side. To fight beside him in a blazing ring of dark glory and take down Dumbledore's people and Potter and everyone else. Everyone knows that. Everyone expects that." He took a stuttered sigh. "My mother... she wants me to go into hiding. She's my mother, she doesn't want me hurt-- she wants to send me away to some other school and some other country. And you..." He paused. "You want me to be good." Hermione shook her head and smoothed the hair from his forehead.
"I am in no position to tell you what to do, Draco," she said softly and she felt him hold her tighter. She waited a long time. "What do you want?"
"I don't know. That's it exactly!" Draco shivered. "I feel like it doesn't matter, that nothing I could do would make the world any better than it is. If I do what my father says, and devote myself to Voldemort what could possibly come of it? What happens when he's supreme ruler of the wizarding world? I might have to kill something. I've never killed anything in my life, Hermione. I know he'll do it for me if I can't. And then he'll kill me. And he'll have killed you, and he'll have killed everyone who doesn't know. Everyone who's naïve to all this shit. And I don't really think he can win. He's almost died a thousand times just trying to take over
"And my mother. She'll brand me a coward for eternity... and, then if Voldemort wins, what? He'll kill me for being traitorous. So, two out of three and I'm dead. That seems like it would make my decision easy, doesn't it? I should just join the light side, and be with you, and lock up all the death eaters and laugh manically when Voldemort says 'Curse you, Harry Potter!' and live happily ever after, right? Of course not. The wizarding world did not have peace before Voldemort and there is no way it's going to have peace even if he's destroyed. We'll just start another war about something stupid. Like,
"Draco, you're right. It's hard, there's no easy answer," Hermione said softly, her nose nestled in his spicy smelling ditchwater locks. Draco gave a dry laugh.
"I thought you might say something like that. So, now you understand why I had to do what I've done, don't you?" he asked and Hermione swore she felt his lips press to her skin. She squeezed the limp hand she had been holding and it came to life, squeezing back.
"Draco," Hermione said, trying to keep the hesitation from her voice. "What did you do?" He shook his head.
"That's not the question. The question is what should I have done? What side should I have taken? What fork in the road?"
"Well," she said, "You need to decide what is more important to you. What one thing you want to devote your life for. You're only one man, Draco. You can't save the world, but you can pick one thing that's worthy of your devotion and try as hard as you can to make that as good as possible. I've chosen Harry. I didn't have a choice, really. He was my friend and I wanted to save him. I still want to save him. Now I have to; I've chosen my destiny. There's no changing it now. You still have time, Draco. You can pick something that means the world to you."
He laughed in true humor, and she looked down to see a tiny smirk on his blanched face. He seemed to be getting chalky and paler as time went on.
"You regret choosing Harry?"
"Of course not," she said, but it didn't wipe the smirk from his lips. "I love Harry like a brother. Like a son, even-- I have to protect him. I could never live with myself if something happened to him and I knew there was something I could have done to stop it."
"I love you," Draco said with fierce resolve, pressing his lips with full force to her collarbone, and Hermione was taken aback.
"You don't mean that, Draco. You're just upset and..."
"No. I do, I mean it so much. You're such a beautiful person, Hermione. You're so selfless and kind and so unlike anyone I've ever known in my life."
"You said we were friends, didn't you? Can't friends grow closer?"
"Draco, you barely know me."
"It doesn't matter," he said sharply, but frowned and looked up at her when she shuddered. "You know me, Hermione. You know me better than... God you're the best friend I've ever had. I can't think of a single person who would have found me like you did, who would have seen that I was hurting and that I needed someone, and would have given up everything they had planned for the day to be with me. To comfort me, and let me... let me cry with them. I never cry, not in front of anyone. Not even... me. You listened to me. You didn't tell me what to do, you just listened. I know you want me to be good. As much as you say you want me to pick for myself, deep inside you want me to say I want to be good. That I want to save Potter with you. That I want to avenge Dumbledore. And still you say 'You have to decide for yourself'. God, Hermione, I love you so much." Hermione blinked when he finished and felt herself crying into his hair. She knew it was stupid to be so uplifted by his words, to feel that flutter of butterflies she'd read so much about, just because he was complimenting her. She knew it was stupid to entertain thoughts of kissing him and holding him like this and falling in love with him when he didn't know what he was saying. When he was just upset and speaking out of pure emotions like sadness and confusion. She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her lips to his hair again.
Hermione didn't notice Draco move his head until she felt flutter-like kisses all over her face as his lips traced her features like mice in a maze, unable to find the cheese of her lips. He pulled back just as he reached the tip of her nose and Hermione opened her eyes, disappointed that he had stopped before marking a kiss where she wanted one the most. Presently, the puzzled mice had followed all the twists and turns of their journey only to stand in front of their prize, staring at it though they were but inches away. Hermione decided that he was just timid, because things were moving so quickly. She decided he was just asking for permission, that he wanted to kiss her but didn't know how. She closed her eyes and pitched forward.
Draco turned his face so that she marked a kiss on his cheek and whispered, "No. I can't. I want to so much, but I can't." Hermione was puzzled and disappointed, but shook her head as Draco's tears began to fall down his face once more.
"No, it's all right," she whispered back, holding his face and bringing it forward to kiss his forehead. Draco shifted upward to rest his forehead against hers. He was quiet again, for a long time.
"Hermione," he said and she shushed him, but he shook his head and continued. "You know... how you said that I have to pick something to devote my life to? I pick you. I want you to be so happy, Hermione. Tell me anything you want, right now. Anything I can do."
"Draco..." she started, but the earnest look in his eyes kept her from denying him such a thing. "Right now, I just want you to get better. Tell me anything I can do to make that happen, and I'll be happy." Draco looked suddenly very sad. He shook his head, closing his eyes.
"I don't know if I can do that, Hermione," he said and paused for a moment. "I'm so tired. I'm so tired of everything and I'm just... I just... I want to go to bed."
"That's okay, Draco. You sleep now," she said, stroking the side of his face and coaxing him to close his eyes. "I'll be right here." Draco smiled somewhat sadly.
"Being here with you, like this... I almost regret what I've done. I almost wish things were different."
"Draco," Hermione said, pausing abruptly. "What did you do? I don't like it when you say things like that... it makes me think horrible things."
"I've done some horrible things, Hermione," he said, opening his eyes slightly to see the deeply worried expression of Hermione's.
"Please," she said. "Draco, tell me. You're scaring me."
"Shh," he said, and pressed a kiss to her cheek. "I've taken a potion," he admitted. He could see the tears begin to spill from her eyes as her fears were confirmed. "Once I go to sleep, I won't be waking up. It's why I couldn't kiss you, it's why I didn't go to Hogs-"
"Oh, Draco. Say you didn't. Say you're lying. You're not funny, not at all," she said, but she could tell from his face that he was far from trying to be funny. "We have to go see Snape. He can help you, there has to be a spell... or an antidote or something. Draco, please don't shake your head like that. Don't give up..." He was silent, and she stopped begging him soon, dissolving into tears as she held her face close to his.
"Hermione," he said, and she was at attention immediately, eyes open and overflowing. "I know you said... that you're supposed to be dedicated to Potter, but..." He sighed. "Can we pretend, just for today, that it's me? That I'm for you, and you're for me?" There was a hesitant pause. "Am I being selfish?"
"I'll do anything you want, Draco. Anything, just tell me."
"Well," he said, and seemed to blush despite the very pale color of his skin. "I've always thought you had a lovely singing voice. Sing me to sleep? Something I know."
"Draco, I don't want you to go to sleep yet," Hermione cried, pressing herself closer to him.
"Don't be scared, Hermione. Deep... deep in the soul of my heart, I really want to go. There's another world, a better one. I'll be so glad to go. To leave all of this behind. Everything but you. I want you with me when I leave. So, sing to me." Hermione was having trouble controlling the tears that were flowing down her face.
"But... I... all I know are muggle lullabies."
"Hm..." Draco said, kissing her a few times as he waited for inspiration. "What about that song everyone sings on New Year's Eve?" Hermione laughed softly and kissed his nose."That isn't a lullaby."
"That's all right," he said. "I've always liked New Year's Eve. You get a whole new start. You can fix things you've done wrong and screw up new things to fix next year..."
"All right then," she said and kissed each of his eyelids slowly as they closed. She held his hand tightly between hers.
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne
For auld lang syne my dear
For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne"
Hermione paused and could scarcely breathe. She tried to listen for the vital signs of his lungs and heart, but heard nothing.
"Draco?" she whispered, and he stirred slightly.
"Mmm. You're so beautiful. Keep singing... please, Hermione. I'm so tired."
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here's a hand, my trusty friend
And gie's a hand o'thine
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld... lang... syne"
"Draco?" Hermione said again, but this time she got no answer. She started immediately to panic. "Draco? No. No, Draco... wake up. Please wake up. Tell me you were lying, tell me you're okay. Draco!" She shook him hard. "Draco, you are being selfish! You're being a selfish bastard! You can't leave me!" She slapped him. Nothing. "Oh, Draco," she cried in lament, and dissolved to tears on his chest as a deep red mark appeared on his cheek.
She noticed, then, that his heart was still beating, despite his slumber. She could even hear soft snores emitting from his lips. It was then that Hermione recalled that he hadn't ever said that he would die, but only that he wouldn't wake.
Hermione was out of the bed in an instant and had levitated Draco behind her a second later. She directed him to the infirmary as quickly as she could, being careful to make sure he came to no harm along the way. It was there, being debriefed by Madam Pomfrey after having explained the situation, that Harry and Ron found her upon their return to the castle.
"Hermione!" they called in unison, dashing into the room.
"We wanted to ask why you hadn't come to Hogsmeade, like you said," Ron started.
"And Sir Nick said he saw you heading here just a while ago," Harry continued.
"And we thought something terrible must have happened to you!" Ron finished. They both stopped then, forgetting their worrisome quest to view the bed that the four of them were surrounding.
"Malfoy? What's he got to do with anything?" Ron asked and Hermione could hardly control herself from crying once more.
"Not, of course, that it is much of your business, Mr. Weasley, but Mr. Malfoy has suffered a self-inflicted Muertduermes episode. He shan't be waking up."
"But, Madam you said that sometimes they do wake up!" Hermione said, standing from the chair she had curled into at Draco's bedside.
"Only about once every thousand years, Miss Granger. In most cases, the subject will pass on in under a week. There really is very little hope. I have identified Mr. Malfoy's parents via floo and they have signed over his care, as there is nothing that can be done. I can't afford to keep him here for much more than a week. I'm afraid if Mr. Malfoy's condition doesn't... change at that time, I'll have to administer another potion." Hermione, at this point, was near tears.
"Isn't there something I can do? You can't just let him die. He's not dead. He's breathing. His heart is beating... he's thinking, see? His eyes are moving. He's dreaming."
"Miss Granger I'm afraid that unless you can find someone who would agree to take on full care of a very sick young man, there is nothing else I can do."
"I'll take him," Hermione said immediately. Harry and Ron's jaws dropped simultaneously.
"Miss Granger, that is a very big job for a girl your age," Madam Pomfrey said, but Hermione glared.
"What do you care? You're just going to kill him anyway!"
"Well, my word!" The nurse screamed in indignation. "If I were a teacher, I'd give you detention for that! Do what you want with him, Miss Granger. He's under your care now." She stormed out of the cubicle and back to her office.
"But Hermione," Harry started. "You don't even like Malfoy."
"Yeah," Ron said. "He's a git. He deserves whatever he gave himself."
"Maybe he wasn't pleasant, Ron, but for today, I'm dedicated to him. I never break a promise."
Hermione brought Draco back to his room and cleaned his sheets before lying him in bed and charming his disheveled muggle clothes into what she knew to be his favorite pajamas due to his constant wearing of them through the common room. She cleaned his room quietly, humming the tune to Auld lang syne as she worked, and kissed him softly on the forehead before going to the great hall for dinner. She returned moments later with a meal for herself, and a bowl of soup for Draco that she charmed to flow slowly into his mouth as he slept, at a pace that would not allow him to choke or scorch his throat.
When dinner was finished, she performed a scouring charm on them both, cleaned their teeth with magic, and changed into her own pajamas before climbing into bed beside him and moving his arms to hold her. He tightened this hold when she kissed him again, on the lips now that she was sure that there was no danger of poisoning herself as well. She even felt Draco respond to her actions, kissing her back with all the passion of a conscious lover.
"Goodnight, Draco. You selfish bastard."
A/N: I do not own Harry Potter or:
Sing me to sleep (sing me to sleep), I'm tired and I want to go bed
Sing me to sleep (sing me to sleep), And then leave me alone
Don't try to wake me in the morning, Cause I will be gone
Don't feel bad for me; I want you to know
Deep in the soul of my heart I will feel so glad to go
Sing me to sleep (sing me to sleep) I don't want to wake up on my own anymore
Sing to me (sing to me) I don't want to wake up on my own anymore
Don't feel bad for me; I want you to know
Deep in the soul of my heart I really want to go
There is another world, there is a better world and I must leave
I must leave
Asleep by The Smiths