Chapter 1 : Part One
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I’ve always been a little intrigued by the old Celtic rituals of Samhain, and since it’s nearly Halloween, it seemed an appropriate time to write something. The lyrics at the start are from Rachael Yamagata’s song Sunday Afternoon, which I strongly recommend people listen to. Some inspiration was derived from it as well.
I can’t get enough
And you can’t decide
October 30th, 2004 – Present Day
Darkness rules the night, spread like a blanket to dim the burning light of the stars. It swallows up the sounds. Silence is a serenade to her listening ears. She’s awake, plagued with thoughts of tomorrow, of possibility. Her eyes fall in fleeting glances across the shadowed plains of the room. It’s not her room, and yet she feels at home here because it’s his room. And he has become home to her.
The light that falls in through the high windows is clean and pure, not the burning orange of Samhain that lingers on the cusp. Now is for the living, she knows. Tomorrow is when it changes, when the ghosts that haunt them in the dark parts of their minds can come free and haunt them beyond dreams. Once, this was what she wanted, what she craved. The remembered look in his bright blue gaze, his crooked grin and potty mouth, red hair like fire and a heart as warm. She doesn’t yearn for him in the way she did, like a crippling illness that made the act of drawing breath impossible.
She has learnt, over the years, to love in other ways—less perfect, perhaps—but just as fierce. She thinks the boy she remembers would have wanted that for her.
Hermione casts her gaze to the pale skin revealed in the white light. It is a contrast to the dark sheen of the sheets in which he’s tangled. His brow is smooth, his lips puckered. The man that holds her heart in his grip is sleeping, peacefully.
When they first came together, it wasn’t about them; it was about filling the void. It’s not about that now. He’s so much more to her than that, but she worries she’s alone. She worries that sometimes when the piercing grey of his eyes falls upon her that he sees another. She wonders whether he will ever feel healed the way she does, whether he will be freed from the grip of a former love. She’s not sure. She’ll know soon. If he goes to see her, to watch her white face in all its transparent and illusive glory, then Hermione will know.
And if that is the truth, then she will leave. Because she can’t live in a world in which his body breathes and his mind does not.
When one read about the act of war, it always seemed as though it was a spectacular affair, all wands blazing and agonised cries. It seemed quick. It wasn’t though. War was like disease, eating through the hearts and spirits of those on both sides. It festered until even those that survived its reign of terror were somehow irreparably damaged.
Hermione had known before many others that it was something she would have to face. She’d never believed in Divination, but there were some intrinsic truths in life that couldn’t be ignored. The fact that her best friend was the person he was—marked—meant that somewhere along the way she would be too. She’d made the decision, when she was far too young to know quite what it meant, that she would be by his side through it all. That’s what friends did.
She didn’t regret it either, though she often wondered about all the people that were lost—the ones she’d known and laughed with that no longer walked the grimy earth with her. She wondered if it were somehow possible that things could have ended up differently. She always came to the same conclusion though. No. They were all marked. A shared misfortune.
And yet, even as she accepted this, it made the facing of each new day harder than the last.
The past year had been spent, in the larger sense, entirely focused on battle strategies. Hermione didn’t see much of general warfare though; she had the fortune of missing out on the general death and decay. Her time, like Ron and Harry’s, was primarily spent in researching and the hunting for horcruxes. An endless attempt to win ground. There were times, however, in the lull and the quiet between missions, during which they stayed at headquarters. The Order of the Phoenix and its many other derivatives had taken up residence in 12 Grimmauld Place in addition to a number of other safe houses which had been established.
She used those times of quiet and reprieve to prepare. She spent hours amid the towering shelves of old and dusty tomes in the family library at Grimmauld Place. As to be expected, the subject matter covered in some of the books she found there spanned all manner of dark and twisted magic.
It wasn’t only information on horcruxes that she sought; much of her time was taken up in reading through the histories of the last war. She thought it prudent that, on this occasion, they avoid making the mistakes of the past. She knew that back then many witches and wizards had remained uninvolved. They were too scared to draw on the wrath of the Death Eaters and their Master. It wasn’t the same now. People were tired of living in terror, knew that without defeating Voldemort utterly, there would never be freedom from the fear of yet another return. So they raised their hands and put themselves forward for battle. Many were too young, like her. And then there were those even younger still. They all fought for something though. A future.
It was a particular demographic of witches and wizards this time around who made all of the difference. They were called the turncoats. She supposed they fought for redemption, freedom from their legacy. She could never be sure. Among these were the children of former Death Eaters, those raised with the disdain for non-purebloods, but not the conviction to kill them. There were two people in particular who stole the breath from others, spreading shock and unease in their wake.
The Malfoys—mother and son. They stayed at the Headquarters instead of one of the safe houses, as Ron had vehemently suggested. Hermione could only suppose that this was because they were deemed untrustworthy and in need of supervision. These doubts weren’t entirely without merit but, as it turned out, they were unnecessary.
In any case, neither Hermione nor her companions saw much of them during the earlier months after their defection. They tended to stay removed from the general pandemonium within the house, perhaps conscious of the lack of warm reception. Despite their heated proclamations of defection after the murder of Lucius Malfoy at the hands of his Master—the cruellest of lessons perhaps—there was an all pervasive lack of pity or concern for them.
With Lucius no longer alive to guide his family, and the bitter taste of loss on their tongues, they had sought out the Order on the promise of allegiance and assistance. Ample money to provide resources, the pledge of another pair of hands in battle, and the knowledge they had gained about Death Eater activities was what afforded them the little protection that times like these could offer.
Despite the fact that she was often away and Draco Malfoy was ever in the thick of battle—whether he wanted to be or not—she often saw him, passing by in the dark corridors of the former Black residence. Most people didn’t wonder too much about him, but the hollow look on his face and the expression of his eyes always seemed to linger in her mind when he was gone. They showed the kind of loss that she had never experienced. Though there were many that she knew who had died, her friends and her family were blessedly not among them.
She often thought that whatever kind of hateful person he had been back when life was trivial, the burden of loss and the fear for his mother had rendered him someone else entirely. He seemed to have guessed at the direction of her thoughts, because she often caught him casting dark looks at her. A kind of warning, she supposed, that he wanted nothing akin to pity. She didn’t pity him though; many people had lost loved ones, and none of those lost were the kind of person that Lucius Malfoy was—the kind that hurt others.
There wasn’t room for hatred within the walls of the old house, certainly not the kind directed at one’s cohabitants. It was something they all learned over time. Whatever quibbles and pains they had experienced in the past, they had to bury them deep to survive. Hatred was reserved for the battlefield, for fuelling curses that would ultimately save them all.
Hermione knew it took him longer to realise that because he didn’t have the friendship and security the rest of them did. He only had walls, and they were almost impenetrable. He didn’t turn his nose up at the peace offering though, when the time came before one particular raid and Harry turned to him and held out his hand. The look in his eyes was unreadable, but Hermione thought there was something of uncertainty their depths. Even Ron, her lovely Ron, did the same. She knew that it cost him something to make the offering, but the cost to do otherwise was far greater.
And they, all of them, were wise beyond their years.
It changed when Narcissa Malfoy died. She was his last bastion against the pain he buried, and what came knocking continually at his door. Hermione thought she saw the fight leave him that day on the battlefield. It was like a gust of wind, the roaring of battle fury, which rushed from his body as the older woman’s pale form crumpled lifeless to the ground. A blaze of green light that stole her essence. The shouting of curses, flashing lights and tumbling bodies had continued, but Hermione hadn’t seen it. She only saw him staring, shoulders hunched, in the middle of it all, gazing at the last of his kin.
That was the first time she knew loneliness: the crushing, bone-weary kind that ate away at the soul. She knew it in Draco Malfoy’s intense grey eyes as they held her own, in the window revealing all that was lost, bereft within him.
He didn’t want a friend, would never lower himself to beg for a voice in his ear to fill that stifling silence. She thought he needed it though. He spent his time fighting with a vengeance, a reckless sort of desire to eradicate those who had stolen all he knew. The times in between were spent in one of the small sitting rooms that afforded a view of grimy London from its window. The room was dark, dank, and he stood in it staring at the rain splattered scene beyond. She never figured out what he was looking for, what truth he sought beyond the glass.
She did know that, no matter what her friends thought, he needed something to pin him to reality, however unpleasant it might be. That was why she first crept into that room, about a week after he had buried the elegant Malfoy matriarch. She even prepared herself for the inevitable: a forceful reminder that she should leave.
It never came, though. In fact, he didn’t so much as glance in her direction. He knew she was there, though, for the floorboards creaked as she entered, and she hadn’t concealed the shifting of her clothes as she sat in one of the old armchairs. Still, in spite of her presence, he stood ramrod straight and stared beyond. Hermione passed the time by watching the way the flames from the half-lit hearth danced a pattern around the room and across his back. It cast a vision of heat and warmth over his partially concealed face.
Eventually, the warmth and the silence rendered her drowsy and she fell asleep. When she awoke some hours later, it was to complete darkness, the heat from the fireplace gone and a chill in the air. An old blanket was thrown over her curled form and there was no sign of Malfoy.
She took from that night that, whatever about his demeanour, some sort of appreciation for the quiet gesture existed. She went back to the little room quite often, soaking up the stillness with him. There was something therapeutic about it for her as well, the ability to unwind and forget about the day.
Ron didn’t really like that she did that, couldn’t understand the worth of her actions or her need to do it. But he knew it was important, somehow. When she went to his arms, she felt the heat of him soak right into her being. And with the beating of his heart against hers, she often wished that Malfoy knew this. It was the only true source of comfort in war.
Time was a funny thing. It could rush up around a person, push them swiftly through days and months no matter how they yearned to savour each second. On other occasions it stagnated—little fragments that seemed to fall away from the vast fabric. Those were the hardest to contend with. It made war, and the horrors one found there, all the more excruciating. Though it was the good moments—the freedom in forgetting—that sped by her, Hermione tried her best to relish each one.
Whenever she looked upon the young man, as she supposed he now was, with fair hair and a ghostly presence, she wondered how time passed for him. Slowly, she suspected, trapping him in its prison-like embrace.
It took a long time for him to emerge from the cocoon in which he sought numbness and escape from pain. Hermione wasn’t sure whether Draco Malfoy had mourned and recovered, or whether he just learnt to block it out better. Either way, he seemed to finally make the decision to live beyond the sallow walls of his quiet room, and away from the death strewn battlefield. He now lived in all the in-between moments.
Those were the ones that counted, she knew. The little details—remembered jokes and smiling faces over breakfast, when people forgot for a split second where they were and why. They were what counted in the vast spectrum of life. Life in war, in any case. And, she thought, wasn’t all of life a war in some respect? It was the mêlée for one’s life and for freedom, or the battle for a better job and house and love life. All the latter points were dreadfully important to Hermione once, to all of them she suspected. They were foreign concepts now.
Perhaps it was the length of time that had passed, and the way they had grown accustomed to this new rhythm of theirs, but war seemed normal. It was the mundane daily existence of their generation. And they were all jaded. It still hurt to think about the lives lost, but eventually one tuned it all out. It was like every moment spent beyond the safe walls of Grimmauld Place was time spent in another realm. But within the dark confines of the house, that was when they were living. That was real life.
Hermione had forged her special memories there. Time spent with Harry and Ginny, Ron and Neville playing exploding snap with Malfoy watching on, partly amused. More special still were the quiet moments with the boy she loved, the one she’d waited so long to be with. Ron Weasley always managed to say things that drove her mad, and follow them up with words so fumbled and sincere that they stole her breath. His touches were gentle and uncertain, like hers. They sent her heart scattering through her chest.
It was in that house, with its drab furnishings and howling paintings that she forged the map of her life with him. She thought of their future, when they could live in a world that was safe and secure. Those thoughts painted colour across her vision; they made the weariness abate. It was in this painted world that they went further than gentle kisses in the dark. He held her afterwards, shaking and giddy. She knew it would be like that always.
This was the time that was perfect. She knew that she would always cast her mind back to it, and recall that no matter how much death and loss and suffering coated their skin when they left that house, within its walls was something sacred. Something that couldn’t be taken away.
Humans were just as base as other animals, their instincts just as true. The difference was that they so often elected to ignore the vital signs. People followed the path of reason and logic, as she often did, and pretended that the prickling on the back of their necks didn’t signify that the body knew what the mind did not.
The residents of Grimmauld Place, those fighting the unending battles, had started to trust those instincts more. The necessity for survival made trust in the senses vital. This was how she knew, as the others had, that it was all drawing to some kind of close. The air around was thicker with the anticipation of it all, and harder to draw into their lungs.
The horcruxes, all baring the most inaccessible, Nagini, had been found and destroyed. That meant to all who knew of their existence that the time for the final battle, as it would be called, was drawing ever nearer. Harry was no longer able to stall for time in the hopes of preparation. He was as ready as he would ever be. It was a thought that scared her, because none of them were ready. How could one prepare for death, if that was their path? They thought that they had though. Like romantic heroes of the past, each of them—brave and righteous—held their wands aloft in the face of glorious death. They all thought that they were ready to go out and brave the common enemy once more, as they had many times before.
There was no glory in death though. There was only the siphoning of spirit from the body, then emptiness. Then loss.
The fighting waged for one night only. After nearly two years in the build-up, the end was swift and cataclysmic. Somehow Hermione had known it always would be. She’d also known—with those instincts she ignored—that she couldn’t get through the wreckage fully intact. Not when so many others had suffered in a way she had not.
And yet, even as she expected to feel the torment, in all of her most morbid imaginings she had never expected it to be him. It was her spirit they stole that night: the burning fire that had pushed her through every other battle and into this. Because they stole him. The most vibrant part of her that thudded in her chest. Ron. No more smiles, crooked and wide. No more warm hands, or comforting words and inappropriate jokes. He couldn’t be summed up, all that he was. He couldn’t be described, except to say that he was gone. And so, irrevocably, was she.
Hermione thought, at the time, whilst running through debris and bodies, ducking curses and throwing her own, that they would be okay. Somehow, impossibly, they would emerge triumphant, as they so deserved to be. And on paper, when the world sang of their success and cried out with relief, they would be. But she knew better, as did Harry who lost his best friend that night, and Ginny who lost her brother, and all the other people who lost their love and their hope and their reason for being. They all knew that there was no triumph. There was only the end of one chapter and the start of a new one.
Nobody won in war. They were all losers to the wrath and decay.
She tried not to blame him, Malfoy, for what happened, because consciously she knew it wasn’t his fault. But the bile that burnt her throat caused a poison she couldn’t deny. And it made her lash out at him, for he was the one to make the choice. And he picked her. Draco Malfoy had decided in a split second when a choice was vital that, for whatever reason, she was the one worth saving. Hermione. Not Ron. She also blamed herself for giving him a reason to choose her. And maybe that was the problem.
In reality it happened fast, but in her mind—when she cast it back over that moment in time—it moved with an agonising slowness. Voldemort was dead, and Harry the victor, but the fight remained for hours after that. Death Eaters crawled the grounds, raising their wands and cursing all before them, because their master was dead and so, shortly, would they be. They had nothing to lose.
Amid the confusion and furore she was taken out by an errant Stunning Spell; they still weren’t sure from whom, but it was likely friendly fire, because Death Eaters aimed to kill. Ron turned in realisation as did Malfoy. Time seemed to stagnate, as it so often did. Ron running to her. The watchful Death Eater. Two curses uttered in quick succession. One for her. One for Ron. There was only enough time for Malfoy to cast one Impedimenta charm, to send its target flying out of harm’s way. He chose her.
He told her later it was because she was unarmed and defenceless. But he knew that Ron only had eyes for her, hadn’t seen the curse coming until it stole the life from him.
Once released from the spell, realisation had struck and she collapsed over him, ignoring the crushing sound that pervaded the area. Her fingers, numb and frantic pushed and pulled at him. His name tumbled urgently from her lips. Please Ron. Please. But he wasn’t there anymore to hear her cry his name. He was somewhere else altogether. Gone to the kingdom of the lost, wherever that was.
Hours later, or perhaps minutes—time in its inimitable fashion had blurred into noise and colour that she couldn’t distinguish—she was back at the old and decrepit house in which each room was a story, a memory. She stood still and lifeless as the body of people swarmed around her with hugs to comfort both her and themselves. She found him in the back room, and she didn’t remember walking there herself.
He stood, as always, by the window, bathed in the orange glow of the fire and staring out beyond. Only this time he turned his attention to acknowledge her. It was a stare that seemed to burn through her walls and to the pit of her.
‘Why?’ The question emerged in a voice that was foreign.
He took a long time to respond, and the words were true but she hated him for them. ‘He wanted to save you. It was his choice as much as mine.’
Draco Malfoy cared nothing for what Ron wanted. She knew that; so did he. The words were a lie wrapped in truth. The bone locking pain started again, the heaving of her stomach followed and all she could think was that she had to block it out. Somehow.
She hunched over, her mind intent on closing it all out, when he made to leave the room. Though she barely recognised the softly whispered words as he was leaving, they made her hate him more. He made the decision, the one she didn’t think that she could live with.
His voice was unrecognisable as it formed the words. ‘I didn’t want it to be you.’
When the door opened for him to leave, the truth came knocking. Ron wasn’t gone, she thought. Not really. He couldn’t be. The words were a chant in her head and on her lips. Like broken glass, they shattered in the quiet space. Again and again. Malfoy moved forward then, and shook her firmly by the shoulders. The denial continued louder and louder and she fell against him. The sobs that wrenched from her shaking frame were the true sounds of war.
He wasn’t gone. He couldn’t be.