When did I reach his front door? If he even was home, would he hear me knocking? I felt myself freeze, hand hovering just an inch from the door. Before I could knock, though, the door opened, apparently on its own. It took me a moment to realize I had to look down, at one of Malfoy's house elves.
"Ms. Granger? H-How can Kiki help you?"
"Hi, Kiki, is Draco home?" Before she could answer me, another voice floated over.
"It's alright, Kiki. You can go back to sleep." It still shocked me to see him be so kind to his elves. Apparently, he'd started treating them as real employees at his mother's request, after the war. At first, I thought it was a publicity thing, a ploy for their acquittal. After a while, it seemed Malfoy saw them as people, too.
Kiki did as her master asked, leaving us alone in the blink of an eye. Malfoy stepped to the side of the doorway, gesturing for me to follow him inside. The mansion was terrifyingly empty, and I realized I'd never been to the manor at night, after appropriate calling hours. It struck me how lonely the large building really was, how daunting. There was a chill in the air, but I wasn't entirely sure it was coming from outside more so than from the way Malfoy pointedly ignored me as we walked to his kitchen.
"Have you eaten anything?" His voice caught me off-guard, and of all the things he could have asked, I hadn't expected him to ask that.
"No…" My stomach growled suddenly, as if to affirm what I said. He gestured for me to sit, and I didn't have much choice but to do as he asked.
I watched him at the counter, rummaging through cupboards for food. It'd been over a year since he'd been in his manor, apparently, so I wondered if there was even any food in his cupboards. I supposed the elves had known to keep everything stocked and ready for his return. At the thought of this, my anger at being kept in the dark returned, and I was reminded of why I was even there in the first place.
"Malfoy." He seemed to be ignoring me again, not even registering that I'd spoken. "Malfoy we need to talk." Still no response. I got up, moving over to where he was still going through is cupboards. "Malfoy!"
He turned suddenly, making me jump back. "What? What is there to talk about, Granger?"
"I –" I wasn't really sure how to continue. It wasn't often I was left without words. Now, I didn't really know how to start what I wanted to say.
"You know, if you're going to show up at someone's house in the middle of the night, you should probably have a plan." He leaned back against the counter, arms crossed. How was he so calm? So relaxed?
"You mean like the one you had when you showed up at mine?" It was hard to contain my anger at this point, and his jab at my pride was enough to knock some bravado back into me. "What were you thinking, exactly? That you could just disappear after something like that?"
Any relaxation and calm left him, and instead he straightened back up again, opting to look away from me. I couldn't help the satisfaction I felt at striking a nerve. For a moment I thought he wouldn't respond, or that he'd kick me out. Instead, he sighed and turned back to face me, saying, "Essentially, yes. I thought I could disappear - that I would disappear."
It took me a moment to grasp what he was saying. My first thought was to be angry again, outraged that he thought he could do that to me and just run away. Then it sunk in. He thought he would disappear. He thought he wouldn't survive the mission. As realization dawned on me, my eyes met his. He knew I understood, that much I could tell, yet the rest of him was a total mystery again. Malfoy wasn't budging, not in the slightest, and I felt like we were back to square one, before being assigned to his case.
"You could have told me - warned me, said good-bye, anything was better than letting me think…" I couldn't finish the thought, unwilling to relive the abandonment, the pain, the loss. Anger awakening once more, I fought back what tears wanted to push through. "Anything would have been better, Malfoy."
"It was for your own good." He closed his eyes, resigned to whatever came next.
"My own good? How dare you assume to know what's in my best interest? Who do you think you are? Who gave you the authority to determine what is or isn't good for me?" With each question I threw like a dagger, he flinched. I'd never seen him look so tired, defeated. It almost made me want to apologize for the attack.
"Granger -" Almost.
"Because you've done a rubbish job of doing that! How could you think that sleeping with me and then disappearing - no, dying - would be for the best?" By now I'd closed whatever distance was left and shoved at his chest. I had hoped to hit him harder, like I'd done in third year, but my tirade had taken most of my energy. Exhaustion was making its way back to the surface, and I still hadn't eaten anything. I was running on fumes. A moment after the thought crossed me, I stumbled, my body forcing me to hold onto him to keep upright. Effortlessly, he caught me and led me back to the kitchen table.
"Eat something first, alright? Then you can yell at me all you like." Gently, he placed me in a chair, moving back to where he'd managed to grab some oatmeal and milk. With a wave of his wand, he prepared the simple meal, placing the bowl on the table in front of me and handing me a spoon. "After three days of not eating, I don't think your body could take much more."
I mumbled my gratitude, taking the spoon without looking at him. Staring at the bowl before me, I slowly began to eat, drawing out the silence between us to give myself time to think. The anger was ebbing again, replaced by a sort of calm sorrow, the kind that had settled in when I'd realized he wasn't going to come back. I was almost done with the oatmeal when I spoke, "Are you going to stay? In England? Or leave like your mother did?"
Afraid of the answer, I wasn't sure what I wanted him to say, or if that even mattered anymore. He took a moment before responding, and again I avoided looking at him. "I didn't think this far ahead. Like I said, I wasn't intending to survive."
"Where's your sense of self-preservation?" I finally looked up at him again, done with my oatmeal and pushing the plate away. With another wave of his wand, he moved the plate to the sink.
"Nonexistent, if the last few days are anything to go by." Again, he sighed. His exhaustion was beginning to peek through, as well, and I could tell he probably just wanted me to leave. Before I could really think about it, I got up to go. Maybe I could disappear, or at least make myself scarce and avoid encountering Malfoy. I was, after all, a grown woman. I could handle a break up, if that was even what this was.
"I should go…I, um, probably should have waited until morning. I'll show myself out." I got up, almost making it to the kitchen door before he caught up to me, grabbing me by the wrist.
"Wait - I never answered your question. About why…why I visited you that night." Being reminded of the 'visit' wasn't helping. I pulled my arm away, more like yanked it from his grip, almost hurting myself in the process.
"No, I get it. You wanted a shag before you died, one last hurrah, or whatever. I just don't know why it had to be me." Why did I say that? The words left me before I could control them, reel them back in. There was nothing I could do to take it back now, though. I had to get out, fast. Unfortunately, he was faster than me, cutting me off from the door. "Get out of the way, Malfoy."
"I asked you not to call me that."
"No. Now move."
"Or what?" He crossed his arms, waiting for my response. When it didn't come, he continued, "It was not meaningless." He sighed. "I don't think you could understand…"
Insulted, I spat back, "Try me."
"Do you know what it would have been like, had we gone public with some kind of relationship outside the professional? Public relationships between purebloods and muggleborns were scrutinized in my circles, but one between a war hero and a known ex-death eater? It would have been hell for both of us." The look in his eyes told me he wasn't lying. Hands in his pockets, he simply looked at me, expecting me to respond.
"That's what this was? You were worried what people would think? But you just couldn't help yourself and had to sleep with me?"
"I didn't see you putting up a fight. And it was more than that, Granger. I would be putting you in danger. Any remaining Death Eaters would have come after you, done anything to hurt me through you. I couldn't do that to you."
"I didn't put up a fight because I thought we could be something more!" My voice reverberated in the room, and I couldn't help the rant that followed. "I thought I would wake up next to you that morning. For the first time since the war, I thought everything was going to be okay. That we could be an example of how things could work, that you'd be there for me and I could be there for you. But you were too busy thinking about how I needed to be protected!" I was shaking now, furious that he could be so arrogant. "I fought in the war, just as hard as you, Harry, Ron, and countless others. I am NOT helpless! I don't need you, or anyone, to protect me."
Once again, the distance between us had disappeared. I wasn't sure if I'd made my way to him, or if he'd met me halfway, only that his hands were at my elbows, holding me steady, closer and more intimately than I thought he ever would again.