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Chapter 1: .
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
The first time it is no more than a game.
They meet at her home, not as silent lovers or longing companions - they meet as mere acquaintances, the callous hatred from their youth replaced with a gentle indifference. It permeates in the air between them, this understanding, it exists between all who were there that night, who saw the green flashes of death (and what a funny thing, that in the muggle world green means go, carry on as you are, and to wizards it is the colour of the end, the cessation of everything at once).
But what remains from their past are the memories, the biting words, the harsh sting of betrayals and prejudices and scars they have left on each other without even being aware of it, the ones they used to wear like badges, medals of excellence in their artful craft of making the other bleed.
They're old enough, have seen enough, to learn that hatred is a game for children, that petty fights and meaningless insults are the least efficient ways to wound - adults have much more effective ways of harming one another, and words mean little and less under the cloak of twilight and an understanding that in the end they are the only ones who can.
The second time he comes to her, it is raining.
A minor detail, but in her mind it sticks out as a painfully obvious symbol, a warning clear in it's meaning - run away, don't let him in, lock the door and hide, never trust a snake. And she doesn't trust him, has long moved beyond the concept, but sometimes she likes to pretend that she does, that she might be able to if she tries hard enough, if she closes her eyes and turns the blond hair red, the gray eyes blue, the sharp gaze to a soft smile.
But the image only brings her pain, a different kind of pain from the man in front of her. His pain brings solace, the knowledge that in the loneliness of her twisted reality she is not alone, that he is there, that the wounds they leave on each others souls, hidden by the casing of soft flesh, are not wounds made in anger, but in shared remorse, in indulgent comprehension.
The other image rips her heart out, guilt grappling onto her tendons, shredding her to pieces as she closes her eyes just a touch too long, long enough that he grips her arm, the gentle bruisng enough to bring her back to reality.
To the ones outside - to Harry, to Ginny, to Luna - she is the strong one. Here, in a darkness that conceals her better than her old friend's invisibility cloak, she no longer pretends. Not now.
They do not speak - it is a rule laid down the first time, not in words but in silent kisses, promises of clandestine compliance. Sometimes she thinks she hears him mumble under his breath, not so much words as reverent prayers, apologies, begging. She would shove him away, scold him but she understands, these are the things he cannot bring himself to say when he is alone, when the weight of his past crushes him, when he is left to face the tragedy of his reality.
She offers him this one shard of solace, simply because sometimes she catches herself doing the same.
When he leaves he does not say goodbye, and she acts as though she does not notice. She simply listens to his footsteps, near-silent on her cold wooden flooring, him fumbling in the darkness, the effortless grace of his youth long gone now that he walks with a limp and cannot stand for more than an hour at a time.
(Never fully healed, any of them, and they never will be. She carries her own disfigurements as well as he, the only difference is that hers cannot be seen).
He is gone, and the rain stops. She thinks it incredibly curious, but doesn't wonder.
"Are you very afraid?"
The nights they spend together now are often spent simply lying, the nights when she is too broken to move and his arms are like crutches, holding her shattered bones in place. These are the nights she allows him to speak, the nights where she longs for anything to pull her back above the surface, the nights where his voice seems to be the only thing that can.
These are the nights that he always shows, without fail, without call or request or plea.
His breath flutters against her forehead, the soft fabric of his muggle t-shirt rubbing against her arm, and she thinks it strange to see him wearing something that is not traditional wizard clothing. She remembers at school, back when the sight of her in a pair of jeans would send him into a fit of mocking laughter, as if her clothes were an accurate representation of the type of person she was. It is a surprise, although she supposes her eleven-year-old self wouldn't have predicted him lying in her bed, comforting her, easing her erratic breathing as she finds comfort in his hold.
"Of what?" she asks, not quite understanding his question, breathing finally at the point where she can speak again. Thank you, but she cannot bring herself to speak the words out loud, not even now.
He thinks about it for a moment, running his hand up and down her arm as he contemplates. Thank you. "Of what's coming, the storm. You know it can't stay like this for long, we've always known it."
She has; anyone who hasn't is fooling themselves. Winning one war doesn't grant eternal peace, not in a world where humans are quite literally built for destruction. Magic can heal, yes, magic can save, but magic can also burn, burn so hot it destroys everything it's path. Magic can give, but it can take away just as easily, and in the hands of mere mortals such a power cannot simply be constrained, the desire for evil cannot always be shoved aside for good.
Because they are weak and so terribly human, and the power of god in the hands of man will never be less than a curse.
"Of course I am," she replies after a short while, and this is a very new thing, Hermione Granger admitting that she is scared, to him on top of everything. But when she thinks about it it is rather suiting - of everyone she is the one person who she has never feared, not of, and not for. "I am afraid of everything. I'm afraid of my own fear, afraid that when the time comes I'll be to scared to do anything but...fear."
He doesn't say anything then, try to comfort her with hollow terms of endearment that they both know he doesn't mean. He simply holds her, holds her because he has nothing else to hold on to, or because he's just as afraid as she is, or because his arms are already there and now it seems pointless to let them go.
But whatever the case he holds her, and he doesn't leave until she wakes in the morning to an empty bed and a scribbled promise on a old piece of notebook paper that he'll try to come back soon, he promises.
She doesn't believe him, but she doesn't care.
He's gotten too close now, wormed his way under her skin, slithering into her blood stream, trailing into her consciousness and subconscious until he haunts both dreams and reality, and although she wills herself to be rid of him she finds she simply can't.
It's been days, weeks, a month, and the rights side of her bed remains empty and cold. She can almost convince herself that she doesn't miss him - not so much him, but the thought of him, the company he provides, the feeling of his arms piecing her back together under the hushed promise of nighttime. She can almost convince herself that she doesn't need him, that she never will, but she can't, not when she's so alone, not when she owes him so much already.
"I am afraid," she whispers, and she's calling him now, disbelieving that she is stooping so low but unable to help herself, not anymore, not now that her pride is gone.
There is a picture of Ronald that sits on her desk, a muggle picture, and he's staring at the camera like he hasn't a clue what it is and it's true, he likely doesn't, and his brows are furrowed and his hair is a flame and he's smiling, not for the picture but for her, and he's so entirely alive that she looks at it and weeps until her legs cannot support her body, until she forgets why she's crying, until she looks at the photograph and can no longer place a name to the face, until it's all just lines.
"I am afraid," she murmurs again, begging, pleading for something, anything, but her flat remains cased in the eerie silence it prides itself on, and no one comes, and she is defeated.
Another moment, and she realizes it's raining again. This time she can't help but laugh.
He comes to her a week later with a gash across his cheek and bruises under his eyes, but she doesn't ask him where he was, what happened, is he okay, does he need to get to the hospital?
She doesn't ask because she doesn't care, not about Draco Malfoy, not about the broken boy or the crippled man, or the fact that now she can see his blood, dried upon the cheek, and that it's the same colour as hers after all.
"Are you afraid?" she asks, and he says that yes, he is afraid, and she diffuses her anger and takes him in her arms because she knows, she knows so well it hurts her too.
She rocks him like a child, their roles reversed, him collapsing in her gentle hold and she squeezes, not tight enough to hurt, but just as a reminder that she is there, that she knows, that together they wander this jarring reality, blind but for each others touch, that they may not love each other, may not even know what that word means any more, but that she thinks maybe if they try hard enough they can pretend to, like a game, like they're acting.
They will wake up in the morning and he will be beside her, sleeping softly, sunlight reflecting through the halo of his white hair like he is an angel and she is his keeper, blessed by his presence. She will make him a cup of tea and breakfast, and he will kiss her on the forehead and ruffle his hair before he heads to the office, and she will sit at home alone and await his return, desperate until their little play can start back up again.
They could do this but they won't, and he will be gone once again in the morning, and she will go about her day and smile and laugh and hurt, hurt until the night when he can mend her broken bones once more.
But now is her turn to mend him, and as she holds him in her arms she bites back her selfish desire to weep along with him.
"I love you," she tells him as he cries, just to try the words out, to see how they feel as they roll off her tongue and into the stale air of her tiny London flat. "I love you, Draco Malfoy," and they feel cheap in her mouth, taste like lies and desperation, and she knows he knows they're not real, but he stops his tears and she thinks they may be enough.
He returns them, vacant and pathetic, but he attempts a smile as he does, his cut lip splitting as he ignores the pain.
She thinks that they have come to an agreement of sorts just then, between the lines of their false professions, an understanding deeper than the one they shared just a moment ago. It is not much, but for now it will be enough.
They dance around one another like shadows, challenging, testing, biting.
They comfort and they wound, they heal and they destroy, they give and they take away, and it is twisted but it is also life, and as the days go by in a blur she finds she has no complaints.
One day she puts the picture on her desk in the drawer, face down, alone in a dark mass of crumpled up parchment and old quills, and she's gotten to be a good enough liar that she can act like it doesn't cut her deeper than any fear she's ever known.
(I am Hermione Granger, and I am afraid).
A/N: sorry for the angst...whoops! Poem is XVII by Pablo Neruda, and it's amazing and beautiful and ugh. Just ugh.