It had been precisely a month since Hermione had started working at Malfoy Manor, and there had been no more sudden sleepovers or unexpected conversation about the past. Hermione was more relieved than she could say – that night had been an odd one to say the least.

Lately, Draco had been strangely indifferent to her presence as if her being there made absolutely no difference in his life presently. She only supposed that as his strength was beginning to fade, so was his arrogance. He spoke to her a little about Hogwarts and his experiences there which had obviously differed a great deal from Hermione’s. Once or twice he even mentioned serving the Dark Lord and what it was like to be spoken to by him. From what she heard, Hermione gathered it was not a pleasant experience.

Today, Hermione bustled around searching for her mittens and gloves. The bearable October weather had settled uncaringly into incessant snow and cold. Hermione was not a fan and neither was Draco. He had begun staring moodily out into the drab outside from the big picture window in his bedroom and he mentioned the ‘putrid’ weather every time Hermione arrived.

Hermione found her winter wear next to Ron’s Daily Prophet and she realized he must have left them there for her. She smiled at her husband’s thoughtfulness as she Apparated to the Malfoy Manor gate. Before the war, there hadn’t really been a need for a gate in front of the manor as people didn’t dare enter the grounds without permission. Almost everyone feared the Malfoys but now, they were just a broken family with a dying son. They’re power that had looked so solid and unbreakable for was not invincible.

Hermione walked through the gate and past the pure white peacocks huddled by the house trying to get warm. She whipped out her wand and cast a warming spell over them in passing. She huffed in annoyance as she did so at the elder Malfoys’ carelessness for their animals. As she entered the foyer, she noticed the house seemed strangely empty and lonely as if waiting for something and she knew it wasn’t her.

She glanced around anxiously before realizing this was the perfect time to do some hunting around. She felt slightly bad since she hadn’t seen Draco for two days and she really ought to see how he was, but a job was a job and it had to be done. Harry was expecting real results wasn’t he? She stepped carefully to the left and into the parlor with the decorative carpeting and wallpaper. She rolled her eyes because it was clear this room contained enough exquisite furniture to pay for an entire new school.

The room seemed to sense her presence immediately and it seemed to shrink down on her. She walked gently and headed towards a mahogany cabinet in the left far corner. It seemed innocent enough, but then, so did a lot of things in this world that really weren’t at all. Hermione hesitated and bit her lip before lifting a small hand gracefully towards the handle. She looked around before shrugging and opening the heavy door that unexpectedly opened easily and threw her off balance.

The cabinet’s interior was very dark and shrouded in apparently disuse. Its objects were thrown around haphazardly as if placed there in a hurry. She wrinkled her nose in distaste of the musty smell that was radiating from the dirty cabinet shelves. Hermione groaned and began pushing things around, hunting for she did not know what.

As her eyes roamed the shelves something caught her eye in the back of the cabinet. She reached back tentatively and picked it up with care – it was a highly decorated box. Suddenly a noise behind her made her startle and she whipped around still holding the container.

In front of her stood Narcissa Malfoy whom she hadn’t even seen since she’d begun working at the manor. At the same time, it was clear she had caught her looking through a cabinet that did not belong to her and Hermione knew what Malfoys did to people who trespassed.

“Er…hello,” she said awkwardly.

Narcissa walked menacingly towards her with her long wand at her side. “Well if it isn’t the little Granger girl snooping around in our private belongings. How utterly predictable,” she said dryly.

Hermione stood her ground. “You know as well as I do that I’m here to help your son.” She hoped that point would deflect her current situation.

“A lot of good you’ve been doing him,” Narcissa huffed. “He’s dying,” she said as if indifferent.

“You don’t care,” Hermione said, slightly surprised. From what she knew of Draco’s mother, she cared a great deal for Draco. At least, when he had been whole.

Narcissa waved her wand distractedly. “Of course I care. When you say he’s dying enough though it loses its meaning.”

“He has,” Hermione paused, “time.”

“That,” Narcissa said pointedly, “seems to be all any of us have around here anymore.” Her eyes developed a distant quality to them but then she recovered as her eyes found Hermione’s again. “You’ll pay for this,” she said with a hint of the same arrogance that she once could afford to portray. She raised her wand and pointed it directly at Hermione’s heart which was currently beating out of her chest. Surely, anyone within a mile radius could hear it at the moment.

Narcissa’s eyes narrowed and it was clear she was rummaging through her mind for an appropriate curse for the situation. She parted her mouth slightly – apparently she’d found the right one. Hermione hunched her shoulders in defense and turned her head.

“Mother,” an authoritative voice called, “stop.”

Hermione turned toward the source of the voice. Draco stood in the entryway to the room leaning heavily on his cane and yet somehow he still seemed to command the situation. Narcissa too looked towards her son and her shoulders seemed to fall heavy with sorrow.

“She did nothing wrong,” Draco continued. “She was doing her job. And mother, we can’t afford any mistakes and what you just almost attempted would have been the worst. Besides,” he paused heavily, “I need her.”

Narcissa bent her wrist and collected her white silk robes around her as if cold. She nodded coldly at Hermione and stuck her nose to the air as she walked past Draco passing a hand over his hair gently. Draco never moved his eyes from Hermione’s face.

“Sorry about that,” he said gruffly. He turned and pressed on his cane as he moved to go upstairs to his room.

Hermione recovered herself and pressed a hand to her chest to steady herself. She glanced briefly at the trouble causing box in her hand before tossing it without regard back in the cabinet which she closed roughly. Her hair flopped loosely in her face as she walked quickly up the staircase and into Draco’s room where he was already seated in front of the window.

“Awful weather,” he grunted.

“Draco,” Hermione said grumpily.

He ignored her. “I’m getting worse…much worse,” he said weakly. “I’m tired of waiting to die and I’m tired of wishing for things I can never have now. I’m so tired.”

“What do you wish for?” Hermione asked, truly curious.

“A lot of things,” he said shrugging. “I want to keep my family’s name and get married…have a family. I want to live.”

Hermione walked gently across the room and sat next to him on the seat where she looked out into the cold as well. “Thank you,” she said calmly.

“Why are you always doing that? Thanking me?” he asked chillingly.

Hermione smiled. “You’ve given me a lot more than you know. If I had waited around for you instead of moving on and marrying Ron, I don’t know what would have happened to me. Now, I have to thank you for saving my life as well.” She looked sideways at him. “You’ve given me a lot more than you now. You’ve given me life.”

He grunted. “I’ll tell you what would have happened if you’d waited for me. You’d still be waiting, and I’d pull you along at the end of my rope until it would come to this and you’d cry over my broken body as you watched me go. Yours, but never truly.”

Hermione reached over a hand and placed it hesitantly on his skinny knee. He flinched. “I am all those things. I’ve always been on the end of your rope and I’ve always been yours if you wanted me.” In a moment of truth, clarity had never been more real to Hermione and even though she’d never admitted these things to herself, as she said them aloud she knew them to be honest. “You never did though. And I thank you for that.”

Draco rested his elbows on his legs and placed his head in his hands as if so extremely pained he could no longer stay upright. “I’m a bad person,” he said simply.

“Yes,” Hermione said.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, so quietly Hermione wasn’t sure he’d said anything at all. “I’m sorry.”

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