Chapter 31: The Faith in the Horizon
The day boy; the hunter; so steeped in sun, was raised to hear the change in the wind, to trust the steady beat of his footsteps; to recognize a prize that called to him; and so he drew the night girl close, and on his charge, they forged ahead. Boy and girl headed towards the castle in the distance, watching it come nearer and nearer as they drew to the edge of the forest, locked in a blind embrace.
They saw something coming towards them, and for a moment the night girl, her vision tampered, was helpless in sight of it: a shadow; a tremendous beast; a monster. The day boy, shielding the night girl, loosened his knife in his sheath, and drew an arrow from his quiver, lest his first shot fail; he drew it back and struck, and the arrow descended to pierce the monster's heart, prompting a loud, terrifying wail. But the night girl, who clung to the day boy's side, had suffered too long in darkness to put her trust blindly in an arrow's flight; she reached for the knife and buried it in the monster's heart, entombing the blade in its chest.
The monster, defeated by the product of its own hand - the boy it had gloried in the day, and the girl it had enslaved in the night - gave a shudder, falling as if it were a stone, and dissolved to rubble as the castle fell around it, buried amidst the wreckage of its gruesome regime. A great cloud came over the sun, and rain began to fall heavily, refreshing the earth; and from the ashes, boy and girl grew strong enough to rise.
For what force was night, and what blessing was day, and what did it matter, when girl and boy were joined? And so, together, night and day joined hands, and in the immortality of triumph, the sun rose anew. For the monster had looked upon them and seen them as its prey, never knowing the truth of its sightless error: that alone, boy and girl had feared the monster's wrath, but together they feared nothing, and thus rose eternal in their joining.
The running jump from the castle's edge into the lake was both imprecise and foolish, something they would never have considered had they possessed even a single wand between them, and Hermione's grip on Draco's fingers tightened painfully only to be ripped away as they cycled their arms through the air, ill-equipped to fly. They smacked hard against the water's surface and Draco, losing sight of the others, was fully submerged, the water ice cold and constricting; he thought he felt his lungs shrivel to nothing as he broke the surface with a gasp, instantly dragged back down.
His first instinct was to look for her. Beneath the surface of the lake the light from the clouded sun was extinguished and Draco was met with panic, with desperation and fear, before emerging from the water's ruptured surface to search for her. The sky was grey and tinted red, rubble from the crumbling castle raining down onto the lake; but Draco, familiar by now with destruction, dove back under without hesitation, struggling to aim himself somewhere they could land.
To say the water was murky was an understatement, but he spotted her, catching the glimpse of gold from her hair, just visible from afar; he kicked himself towards her, cursing his inexperience with water, and reached a hand out for hers.
Every wrong I ever committed -
She seemed to feel him coming towards her and she turned, finding him in the water. She surfaced with a gasp, everything but the rapid cycling of her legs momentarily disappearing from sight, and then forcefully dove towards him.
Every foolish decision I ever made -
Their outstretched hands met and missed, briefly, and he tried again, catching the tips of her fingers this time and letting her pull him up by his wrist.
Every truth I denied -
He launched them both to the surface, yanking her against him by the waist and treading water with his spare arm, both of them coughing up mouthfuls of lake water.
"We," he choked out, sputtering, "we have to get out - "
She nodded mutely, looking around, swiping at her eyes and putting her infallibly logical mind to use.
"There," she said, and pulled him in the direction of the nearest shore.
Every lie I believed -
It was difficult to swim together, perhaps stupid to even try, but Draco found he couldn't let go of her. He couldn't stand the thought of moments apart; of even the smallest chance of drifting.
"Wait," he gasped, pulling her back, and she turned, her eyes wide.
You are as much my punishment as you are my inevitability -
"I love you," he shouted. Partially because it needed to be shouted, because his ears were half-drowned and icily compromised; partially because it had built so long in his chest that his heart refused anything short of catapulting the words from his tongue. "Inevitability," he stammered, floating weightlessly beside her. "Inevitability, and - "
You are my privilege and my consequence -
She shook her head, grabbing his face and dragging his lips to hers.
You are my unrelenting fate.
Her fingers, frozen and half-blue, shook against his cheek.
"It doesn't matter," she spilled into his mouth, the words coursing through him as he held her against his chest, keeping them afloat. "Inevitable or not, I choose you," she said, and then, with her arms tight around his neck, she pressed her lips fiercely to his cheek; brutally, as if she thought the words were not enough. As if, by some impossibility, he wouldn't feel them channeling through his bones.
"I love you," she told him, and then it was less a kiss between them than a crash, an impact, the motion of the lake's surface yanking them together and prying them apart only to lose in its pursuits; to find them worthy foes to its churlish flippancy as they held on tight, steadfastly refusing to be parted.
A deathless Lord had tried and failed, he thought, his lips against hers. Let a wayward current try.
It took a moment to realize that the drops of water he kept wiping from her frozen cheek - and she from his - were coming from above; they squinted upwards as it began to rain, the castle crumbling in the distance. What had stood for centuries finally met its end, washed clean, and the broken stone shimmered from afar, the magic that had reigned there licking mournfully at the sides of its former walls before vanishing into nothing.
Draco held Hermione in his arms, watching their world fall, and then she looked up, meeting his eye.
"It's over," she said, letting the words out like a captive; setting them free.
Today, he thought, together.
"It's over," he agreed, resting his cheek against her forehead.
Eventually they were brought to shore; carelessly, as if the celestial hand that had cast them aside to begin with had grown tired of its game. They lurched onto the cold, pebbled beach to fall beside Theo and Harry, who already lay side by side staring at the water. Pieces of the castle sank into the lake, tumbling into it as they had done, and within moments, it was hard to imagine what had stood there before.
It was hard to remember, even, that once upon a time, they had met there as children; had spared moments for tedium and loathing; had learned who and what they were; had worried, foolishly, about the most trivial of things, like whether they bore snakes or lions over their hearts.
There was an emptiness, Hermione thought fleetingly; a shift in the air. A vacancy of sorts that she hadn't been expecting to feel, as though the air around her had been hollowed out. Their past was buried beneath crumbled layers of stone, and Hogwarts, as it had been in their lives and in their hearts, was long gone now.
For a moment, as the rain slowly ceased to fall, they simply mourned in silence.
For a very short moment, that is.
"Well," Theo drawled, drawing himself up on his elbows. "Personally, I think you made quite an unnecessary mess, Draco."
"Christ," Draco sighed. "Really?"
"I mean, I understand you have a flair for the dramatic," Theo continued, "but really, I - "
"For fuck's sake, shut up," Harry growled, and Theo broke off, astonished, as Harry leaned over, grabbing Theo's face in his hands and kissing him with what Hermione could only assume was a ruthless sort of desperation, one hand on Theo's cheek as the other twisted into the fabric of his shirt. Theo, in turn, lifted one hand to the back of Harry's head, twining his fingers through his unruly salt-and-pepper hair and drawing him closer until he abruptly froze, panting for breath, to surface with Harry's chest pressed against his.
"Oh my," Hermione murmured to Draco, who shrugged, seemingly unimpressed.
Theo, meanwhile, stared blankly up at Harry, his hand still cradling the back of Harry's head, and Harry, for his part, seemed somewhat entranced himself, forcing moisture to his mouth.
"Well," Theo began tentatively, and Harry shook his head, yanking himself free.
"I only get ten years with you," Harry warned, cutting Theo off sharply. "Don't waste a second of it trying to convince me it won't work."
Privately, Hermione thought that was rather a step forward for Harry.
"I wasn't going to," Theo replied without hesitation, sitting up. "I know we'll work, Potter."
Harry frowned. "Okay," he permitted, surprised. "Then - "
"I was just going to ask you where you learned to kiss like a fucking nancy," Theo concluded airily, and Harry groaned.
"I hate you," he snapped, backhanding Theo in the stomach.
"Rightly so," Draco muttered, as Hermione shook her head, pleasantly entertained.
"Love and hate," Theo mused, catching Harry's hand and pulling him into his arms again. "A fine line, don't you think?"
Harry let himself be pulled forward, bracing against Theo's chest. "Not nearly fine enough - "
"God," Draco groaned. "Can you two get a room?"
"And what room, pray tell, would that even be, O Purveyor of Mass Destruction?" Theo asked skeptically, waving a hand at the stone pyre that had once been Hogwarts. "Where on earth are we going, Draco?"
It was a spectacularly answerless question.
"We should find Blaise and Neville," Harry suggested, after a silent moment of collective deliberation. "Shouldn't we? And Pansy and Daphne - "
"Right," Hermione agreed, but she right or not, she was exhausted. Her feet, her lungs, her soul were heavy, and as much as she wanted news, she felt scarcely able to stand.
She felt different; dramatically altered. She pondered the strangeness of the air - the stillness of it - and realized with a start exactly what the vacancy was that she'd been unable to pinpoint. For once, she realized, there were no voices in her head.
Only her own, and then, in a rush of relief, Draco's.
"We'll find them," Draco determined briskly, and launched carefully to his feet, holding a hand out for Hermione at his side. "But first," he murmured, pulling her into him as she accepted his grip, "we should go home."
In a moment of startling realization, Hermione held her breath.
She wasn't sure, firstly, that she could remember the last time she'd been able to make the choice to go anywhere, much less to a place she thought of as home.
Nor was she sure, either, that she'd ever thought of it that way before; of Draco's home being hers. Strangely, though, it felt right.
She looked up, meeting Draco's eye, and spared him an unburdened smile.
"Home," she agreed, and they turned, aiming themselves further onto shore.
"Yeah, okay, but just as a reminder," Theo called after them, raising his voice, "how, exactly, are we going to get there?"
"They're having a moment," Harry growled. "Can you not?"
"Shut up, Potter, or I'll kiss you again - "
"Again? I kissed you, you giant dickhead - "
"Well, quite frankly, you could use some improvement - "
"It's not too late to drown you, Nott - "
"We don't have to take them with us, do we?" Draco murmured in Hermione's ear, slipping his arm around her waist.
She smiled again.
How strange, she thought, as her lips conjured the motion. How easily loss could give way to joy.
"Better than a Dark Lord," she reminded him, and together, they began their trudge through the forest.
Boy and girl had not gone far before they met the other huntsmen with whom they had been taught, and told them of the monster's defeat. The huntsmen, who had suffered, looked grave and yet uncertain of their futures; but still, gladness had shone through.
"Then let us bury the monster together," they said, "and with its absence, start anew."
When they finally arrived at the house on Palace Gardens Terrace, it had altered nearly beyond recognition from when they'd left it the morning prior. The second floor, which had been filled with bedrooms, had shrunk down to only two; the solarium was gone, and the dining room, and in its place was a comfortable living room, the fireplaces restored as they warmed beside it, spread across sofas and chairs.
They found the others waiting there for them, sharing tired smiles.
"What now?" Blaise asked, and Neville, and Pansy and Daphne and Hannah and Dean and Seamus and, surprisingly, a weathered Zacharias, as they shared their pieces of the story. Hermione and the others relayed the news that Hogwarts was gone; their friends, after a moment of disbelief, confirmed their requisite moments of success.
Everyone in the castle had gotten out before it fell, it seemed. The Snatchers - Cormac and Marcus and Oliver, among others - had helped to transport all the students and faculty to a series of hideouts protected by Order sympathizers.
"It never died," Neville told them. "Not really. The resistance was mismanaged and disorganized, but there were always people who believed something could eventually come from this."
"Alas, the failures of tyranny," Pansy lamented sarcastically. "A pity to find it so lacking in longevity."
The Death Eaters, in the meantime - the ones that hadn't been killed by Mulciber and Avery during the fight to get out of Hogwarts - had been arrested and detained, pending trials before the Wizengamot.
"The Warlocks were forced to make rulings in Voldemort's favor while he was in charge," Seamus explained, "but most of them did it because they were tortured or threatened, not out of loyalty to him. The foundation's still there."
"What about Mulciber?" Draco asked, and the others turned.
Daphne tilted her head, resting her cheek comfortingly against Pansy's shoulder.
"I'm going to do my best to keep him out of Azkaban," Pansy admitted slowly. "I owe him that much. Our marriage will - " she took a breath, holding it, and exhaled. "Our marriage will stand," she finished. "I'll stand with him."
Daphne's smile flickered, momentarily, and then steadied.
"I'll wait," she murmured, and Pansy turned, brushing her lips gratefully against Daphne's cheek.
Eventually, when their stories ran dry and their tongues grew tired, the night had turned into morning, and as the bottles turned into empty glasses, there seemed a general sense of finality in the air. A need, in a sense, to move forward.
"Well, we should be off," Neville said, gesturing for Hannah, Dean, and Seamus to follow before glancing down at Blaise. "We promised we'd help Cassius and the others with getting people home safely."
"And," Blaise added, rising to join him, "the Ministry is sure to be a mess. Power vacuum," he pointed out, shaking his head. "We should fill it with something good."
"When did you get so noble?" Daphne asked playfully, smiling up at him. Blaise shrugged.
"Don't worry," he assured her, smirking. "I doubt it'll stick."
They left through the Floo, agreeing they'd all talk soon. Hermione watched Blaise settle a fraternal hand on Neville's shoulder, both of them wearied and worn, and had the strangest feeling as she watched; that somehow, things would rebuild, stronger even than the foundation that had been torn apart.
Pansy, meanwhile, headed back to her house.
"I'll have to do some preparation for Darian's trial," she said, "and I should make sure he's doing okay, so - "
She trailed off, shrugging, and smiled weakly. Hermione, for her part, simply nodded back. There would be time, Hermione knew, to see Pansy again. To tell her she'd saved her life; to thank her for the gift of it.
In the moment, though, the shared glance was more than either of them were ready to say.
"What about you?" Hermione asked Daphne when she remained, her phoenix fluttered around her shoulder. "What are you going to do now?"
Daphne shrugged. "Live my own life," she said simply, glancing back at Zacharias. "Pansy still owns a lot of real estate, so she's got a flat for Zach and me to share for a bit. Have to teach him how to do - you know, most things," she added, and laughed a little as she beckoned for him to follow, looking freer and more unimaginably beautiful than Hermione had ever seen her. She held Daphne close and then let her go, certain she would soon find her footing.
Then, when it was only four of them, it was hard not to consider how each of them had changed from the first time Hermione had seen them in that house. Harry, firstly, was scarcely himself. The ten years that the knife had taken left him strangely aged, but beautifully so, and even with what the blade had taken, the tireless youth he'd always carried in his eyes hadn't managed to fade.
"Hey," Hermione murmured, nudging him. "Dead, is it?" she asked, gesturing to her shoulder, and Harry smiled, shifting the torn fabric aside and running his thumb over her skin.
"Worse," he said. "It's preening."
"Optimism," Hermione said, shaking her head. "Intolerable."
"I think it's earned the right to preen, actually," Harry said. "Maybe just a little?"
Hermione smiled, sliding her arms around his neck. "Bummer about the mai tais," she whispered in his ear, and he laughed; a joyful laugh, and one that shook both their shoulders, rumbling around in their chests. Behind him, she caught Theo's eye, and he stepped forward.
"Best fucking friends, Granger?" he asked, and her smile broadened.
"Something like that," she agreed, watching a rare show of sincerity spread across his face.
And then, when Harry had looked solemnly to Theo and both had gone, Hermione turned to Draco, watching the light from the dying fire dance along the edges of his face.
"A boy," she said, holding a hand out to him. "A boy so steeped in sun."
He lifted a brow, playing at offense.
"You," he informed her, taking her fingers and brushing his lips against them, "could have just told me I'd defeat the Dark Lord with a centaur's bow. Could have saved me all that moral quandary," he pointed out.
She laughed. "I wanted you to choose it," she said. "To choose your ending."
"Well," he permitted, resting a hand on the small of her back to lead her up the stairs, "as a divining horse once told me, nothing is ever certain." He took the stairs with a pointed deliberation, as if he wanted to memorize each step. "So I suppose endings aren't either," he concluded after a moment, shrugging.
"Do you think that's true?" she asked him, and he paused, glancing at her. "That nothing is certain, I mean."
He considered it, weighing it in his mind as he looked at her.
"No," he said eventually. "No, I think some things are inescapable."
Some things, she thought, staring up at him, are inevitable.
In that moment, the sun began to creep its way into through the glass, light summoned forth like tendrils from the window beside the stairs. Hermione reached up, brushing the pale glint of Draco's hair from his forehead, and watched the rising sun cast a shadow along the gilded edges of his face.
A boy, she thought again, a boy so steeped in sun -
She raised up on her toes and kissed him, tangling her breath with his, and felt that she tasted certainty, for at least one thing had always been true.
The boy, so steeped in sun - she will know him on sight.
There are some things a person knows by heart: the way the air smells after a rain; the number of steps to ascend a staircase in the dark of his home; the sound of his lover's pulse as she sleeps steadily beside him.
The pattern of his brother's footfall, when he wishes to not get caught.
"Where are you going?" Draco asked, catching Theo mid-stride as he headed down the hall.
Theo sighed, pivoting in place.
"I want my wand back," he supplied flatly, and Draco shook his head.
"You shouldn't go back there right now," he warned, but Theo shrugged.
"Why not?" he asked. "It's not like Voldemort's going to rise up and take it from me, is he?"
"Maybe he is," Draco countered. "What then?"
"Well," Theo remarked, turning to continue down the hall, "lucky you'll be with me, then, I suppose."
They had only one wand between them - lent to them in Hogsmeade for the process of getting home, and therefore not a wand of much use at all - but with the castle's enchantments destroyed, the apparation onto its grounds was fairly easy. They landed unsteadily in what had once been the Great Hall, and Draco instantly grimaced, uncertain if anything that remained would be worth finding.
"Accio wand," he attempted, but as he predicted, nothing happened. He waited, watching the outline of Theo's shoulders, as the other man bent to where the Dark Lord had fallen, sorting through the rubble.
"Hey," Draco said, stepping towards him. "Tell me something."
"Black isn't your color," Theo returned instantly, not looking up, shifting aside a pile of stone. "I think you could go with something softer."
"Not that," Draco sighed impatiently, gripping Theo's shoulder to pause him. "I meant - tell me about - " he hesitated. "The nightmare," he explained, feeling Theo go rigid beneath his touch. "The one he trapped you in. Granger said she saw the ghosts of people who died, but - " he trailed off, watching as Theo bristled apprehensively. "What did you see?"
Theo took several moments, steeling himself; Draco, for his part, knew even before he'd asked it that it would be an unfair question. He showed me what would hurt me most, Hermione had whispered sadly, and once she'd said it, Draco knew he needed Theo's answer. He felt he'd suffer in doubt - in shame - without it.
Eventually Theo turned, slowly looking up to meet Draco's eye.
"You want to know what I saw?" he asked, his voice abruptly hoarse. Draco nodded mutely, and Theo stood, leveling their gazes. "I saw you," he said quietly, and though it was what Draco had feared he'd say, the impact was no less bruising. "I saw you, suffering. I saw you leaving me to suffer. I saw us, over and over, each time as we had lived it." He paused, swallowing hard. "There is no torture like watching what I would allow you to do to me," Theo finished, his voice breaking, "and knowing what I would do for you, Draco." He broke off, forcefully shutting his eyes. "There is no torture worse than that."
"Theo," Draco said, reaching for him. "I - "
"Don't," Theo warned, shaking his head and stepping away.
Draco, at a loss, permitted him the distance.
"This worked for a time," Theo managed eventually, gesturing between them. "The two of us being our only means for survival. Cursed from birth," he recited with an unsettling laugh, letting the sound devolve to bitterness on his tongue. "But I don't just want to survive," he said, shaking his head. "I only have ten fucking years, Draco, and I want to live - "
"I know," Draco said, breathless. "And so do I, Theo, so do I - "
" - so this," Theo finished, holding a hand to his chest first and then stretching an arm out to Draco's. "This might be too heavy for me to carry around right now."
Draco, who knew Theo's heart better than anyone, felt it pounding mournfully in the space between them.
"What will you do, then?" Draco managed dazedly, and Theo shrugged.
"Potter wants to make sure Voldemort's threat was just a threat," he said, pulling uncertainly at his mouth. "Wants to make sure there are no more horcruxes."
Draco frowned. "How can he ever be sure of that?"
"I don't know," Theo said, "but he wants to try. And I want to go with him," he exhaled firmly. "I want him, and I want to get out, Draco - "
"Then go," Draco agreed, nodding blankly, because while any other option might have hurt him less, it would have been devastatingly selfish, and he couldn't bear to demand any more from his best friend. "You don't have a lot of time," he added, swallowing. "You should use it."
Theo blinked, the intent of the words sinking in.
"I won't be gone forever," he offered, stepping forward. "You're my best friend, Draco - you're my fucking brother. If you need me, if you need anything - "
"I need you to take your life back," Draco said, shaking his head. "I need you to not have taken that Mark for me; to have fought for your conscience from the beginning. And I need you to forgive me," he added painfully, his hand rising helplessly to the ache in his chest, "for asking more of you than I ever should have asked of anyone - "
"Don't," Theo said fiercely, closing the distance between them to throw his arms around Draco's neck, yanking him into his chest. "I meant it, Draco. I'm with you until we fucking die," he said flatly. "Which," he remarked at a mutter, "for me will be relatively soon, so - "
"Stop," Draco said, holding tight to the back of Theo's shirt. "Give me this," he pleaded, and he wasn't sure what he meant; only that he wanted a moment without irony, without falsehood, without bitterness or fear. "Just give me this."
It seemed like weeks before they pulled apart, and then Draco shook his head, ready to abandon the search.
"Those wands are destroyed," he told Theo, as gently as he could manage it. "I know you want it back, but there's no way it survived this."
"Well," Theo murmured, kneeling again, and Draco watched as he gathered a few splinters from the ground. "I suppose it's a lost cause, then."
Draco, without warning, suddenly recalled the motion of the Dark Lord's wand being swallowed up by the castle's toxic consumption; the wand, he realized, that had fallen to where they stood now.
"Ignotus Peverell's wand isn't the one you actually want, is it?" Draco asked, realizing that it was in fact quite another object Theo had come back for.
The Deathly Hallows, Draco thought, which would make the bearer invulnerable to death -
Invulnerable to death; appealing, presumably, to someone with a rather looming end date.
"It's just a story," Draco cautioned, feeling a sense of unease, but Theo turned, holding a warning finger to his lips.
"Don't tell Potter," he warned, and then, aptly - on the strength of another secret - they swore their fealty in a breath.
At first, the steps were clear: Hogwarts would have to be rebuilt.
Initially it was obvious who should do it. In a world struggling to regain its footing, Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger were, in simple terms, a glorified beacon of hope: a reformed Death Eater and a war-criminal-turned-war-hero who had somehow managed to find each other, and in so doing, had founded a revolution. It was almost literary in its appeal, and it seemed they were asked without reprieve to appear in public - to tell their stories, to help the world rebuild.
At first, they very much wanted to.
The first few weeks were an exhausting series of attempts to quell ongoing rebellions; to reestablish order by first reinstating the Ministry, and then gradually chipping away at the undue privileges allotted to Snatchers and privateers. This was trivial at first, a matter of public safety and then a matter of diplomacy, but gradually it was less a hero's obligation than a politician's weighty task, and Draco and Hermione, who were not untainted by their experiences, took a step back to heal. To find their footing in reality.
For them, it started with honesty.
Hermione told Draco of the voices she heard and the faces she saw, and though she never saw them again, she found that unlike before, she no longer feared their return. Instead, she wondered if every warm ray of sunshine were Luna visiting with a smile, or if every stray hum of bliss were Ginny quietly making herself at home. She saw her losses not as ghosts who came to haunt her but as bright flickers of her memory, and gradually, she learned to sleep through the night in Draco's arms.
Draco, by contrast, told Hermione of the blood on his hands and the responsibility he felt weighed on his soul; of the things that he had done and seen that he had feared so desperately that she could not love. She, then, held his face in her hands; told him she loved the man and not his history. Eventually, with her help, Draco cast his own ghosts from his shoulders, finally able to part with them knowing they could all find peace.
They healed, slowly. Together, they rebuilt.
By the time Blaise suggested they discuss the school, though, a certain longing had begun to fester in both Draco and Hermione; a distracting tug of yearning in their chests. When Hermione looked at Draco, she saw only the light from his edges; as if she could see him elsewhere, set amongst the stars. When Draco looked at Hermione, he couldn't help but think of her in shades of blue; in gold, wrapped tightly in the delicate rays of the sun.
When Blaise suggested a new castle be built as the founders had done, it seemed they would be obvious participants; but when they looked at each other, they only saw the freedom still to come.
"We should do it, shouldn't we?" Hermione murmured, her lips against the skin of Draco's chest. "I suppose we have a duty to rebuild it," she said, though what she meant was sadly, responsibility compels us yet again.
"It's an honor, in a way," Draco added, though his intent was honestly, it sounds exhausting.
"We did want our version of Hogwarts back," Hermione permitted. "We could do it right this time," she added, though she could have just as easily said I'm too shaken still, and too fragile, and too lost.
"Did we really want it back, or could we just as easily have a future that's entirely new?" he asked, and what he meant was all magic comes at a cost, and even when it's a price worth paying, this is a cost I don't think I can bear.
Hermione looked up, meeting his eye. "Who would do it if we didn't?" she asked, and she meant who would we trust not to screw things up?
Draco shrugged. "Blaise and Neville," he suggested, "and Pansy and Daphne. House loyalty aside, they all couldn't be more different," he added, by which he indicated fuck houses - they never worked anyway.
Hermione shifted, resting her chin on his chest. "I love you," she said, and that was her intent.
He leaned forward, drawing her lips to his.
"The only thing I want is to love you," he confessed, and those words, too, were sincere.
They marinated in silence for a moment, waiting, and then Hermione rose to her feet, walking towards the window. In her wake, the skin of her shoulders seemed to illuminate the room; and even though Draco knew on some practical level that she was just reflecting the light from the moon, he would have sworn on his life that it was Hermione herself who possessed a glow.
He looked up, catching a glimpse of the moon from the open window, and felt a slight smile as it cast a cool shadow on her skin.
"Marry me," he said, and in retrospect, he wished he had made it more of a question, but the words had fallen from his tongue with almost none of his permission. She turned, startled, and then the presence of mind to rise up and fall at her feet finally arrived and Draco took her hand, pressing his lips to her knuckles as he knelt down in front of her.
"Please," he murmured, "marry me. I can't promise it'll be easy," he said. "I can't promise that we won't argue, or that our pasts won't matter, or that we won't still encounter hate outside these walls - but I need you to know that I'm yours. I need you to know that I've been bound to you by years and years of nothing more than circumstance," he exhaled slowly, "and by forces out of my control, but I desperately want to change that." He kissed her hand again, closing his eyes. "I want to be bound to you by choice. By vow," he said, and bowed his head, apologetically. "I know it sounds stupid - I know we're young, and it's too soon, but - "
She cut him off, bending to wrap her arms around him, and a curtain of her curls - now back to their normal shade of golden-brown, much to his relief - floated around his shoulders, filling him with reverence that left him breathless, exalted, and spinning dazedly in her wake.
"Where would we go?" she asked, staring at him, and she meant when do we leave?
"Everywhere," he said, and kissed her; and with that, he promised: tonight.
With the monster defeated, the day boy and night girl were urged to rebuild; to reconstruct the castle as they'd known it, and to tell others of the story as they had lived it. But the day boy, having gained wisdom from the night girl's light, and courage from her spirit, would not set out until he had been joined to her by more than inevitability, or the careless whims of fate.
"For then, what monster could ever part us?" he implored her, kneeling before her with her hand clasped tight in his. "If ever two people could not be one without the other, those two are you and I. You have taught me to be a brave man in the dark, and in turn, I have looked after you; that I may show you that there is always light."
"They're not up there," Theo said, frowning, as he came down the stairs. "The bedroom's still there, but I don't know," he murmured uneasily. "The house is different."
"It's certainly quiet," Harry said, equally basking in confusion. "Did you see anything? A note, or something?"
"I haven't checked Draco's study," Theo permitted, gesturing for Harry to follow him down the hall. He opened the door slowly, checking inside, and then noticed the envelope on the desk. "Here," he said, handing it to Harry. "Granger's handwriting, with your name on it."
"Huh," Harry said, glancing over it. "This is dated a week ago."
"Explains why Daphne told us to check on them, then," Theo said, shrugging, and nudged Harry's hand as he eyed the outside of the envelope. "Open it faster, Potter, Christ," Theo sighed. "I only have ten years - "
"Will I ever get sick of that, I wonder?" Harry mused, shaking his head and glancing down. "Oh," he remarked, blinking with surprise as he scanned her letter. "Odd."
"What is it?" Theo asked, peering over his shoulder. "What'd she say?"
"Hush," Harry said, reaching back to wrap an arm around Theo's chest, drawing him in and holding him still. "I'm trying to read."
"Yes, well, if you could do me the fucking honor of reading faster - "
"Quiet," Harry warned, biting on Theo's ear and relishing the thrill up his own spine, wondering whether he'd ever tire of that particular sensation. "I'm reading, Nott."
Theo sighed, resting his chin on Harry's shoulder.
"Well?" he asked impatiently, after Harry lowered the page. "Anything interesting?"
"Yes, actually," Harry said, "if you speak fluent Hermione Granger. Which, coincidentally," he added pointedly, "I do."
"You're boring me," Theo complained, elbowing Harry in the ribs and ignoring the sharp thud to his own. "What is it?"
"It's a story," Harry replied, which clearly had not been what Theo was expecting.
"What story?" he demanded, and Harry pulled a bottle of Ogden's from Draco's desk, pouring them each a glass.
"Have you ever heard the story of the day boy and the night girl?" Harry asked, passing a glass to Theo and then settling himself back against the desk, strangely satisfied.
Theo shrugged. "What does it start with?"
"A boy raised only in the day," Harry said, "and a girl raised only in the night."
"Huh," Theo replied. "And what does it end with?"
Harry paused, glancing down at Hermione's letter in his hands, and smiled.
"Oh, you know," he said. "The usual."
And so the boy and girl were married, and though they were offered rewards beyond their imaginings for their triumphs over the monster, they chose instead each other; for they did not think they could explain in words the strange things they had learned. That light is light, in day or night, and that hope may bloom eternal; that even monsters will fail to stand against what is good, and yet may conjure strength where they seek to punish.
What a luxury it is to be in love, they thought, and to build a life from nothing; to have suffered as we have suffered, and still to rise as we have risen.
She hadn't worn white, and the ring wasn't a diamond, but still: it had been perfect.
The priest who agreed to do the ceremony for the two young wanderers had seemed surprised by the asking, wondering why they'd brought no friends or loved ones. He asked them why they'd chosen a tiny, roofless chapel in the Highlands when surely they'd want dancing - would want a party filled with the simple, noisy joy of two lives becoming one, as young wanderers often do.
They, in turn, replied that this was not a destination; merely a stopover on the journey.
"I promise to comfort you," he said to her, "and carry you when you're brought low."
"I promise to defend you," she said back, "and stand when you cannot."
"I promise to honor you," he said, "and take nothing for granted."
"I promise to have faith in you," she said, "even when you doubt."
"I promise that every day," they told each other, "you will know that you are loved."
"I promise to build my home with you," they swore, "and carry you in my heart."
Where would you be, a step back?
"Here," they promised each other. "Here, and sooner."
For all the moments passed in hesitation, in apprehension and mistrust, they built themselves another story. For every second spent in doubt, they wrote themselves anew. And when they had bound themselves to each other - when no force on earth could part them; not man nor lord nor hand of fate - it seemed to them that they'd been given the gift of a clean slate.
By the time they shared a bed that night, they each knew the shape of the other; had learned them like the thrum of their own pulse. He knew her by the intake of her breath, and she knew him by the motion of his touch, and whatever they had been before, they were all of that and more; they were inevitability, and they were punishment, and they were wonder and exultation and awe. He slid his hands along her waist and she dug her nails into his back and this was rapture, and it was hard-fought and hard-won, and they reveled in the reward of it; in the lives they took back from a monster.
There was one kiss in particular; one moment. Less, even. Just a beat of adoration, his hair falling forward onto her shoulder and her back arching towards his and nothing but gasps between them, when his eyes and hers found each other. For a moment - a fleeting pulse - they each spared a breath of veneration for the other, and she wanted for nothing while he found company in the resilience of her heart.
Life is so seldom about the heights and depths, after all; so rarely defined by the summits and the lulls. There are moments of beauty in the midst of floors and ceilings, and this, for them, was one. They were one, and elsewhere, the earth turned; the moon beckoned; the sun rose.
In their bed that evening, as the light from the candles flickered out, the night girl finally told the day boy the ending; their ending.
And as she spoke, he found he'd known the words by heart.
Hardly any time had passed before the night girl came to love the day best, because it was the crown of the day boy, and he more exalted than the moon; and the day boy came to love the night best, because it had borne the night girl, and she more brilliant than the sun.
"But perhaps," the night girl said to the day boy, "in love, shall we not come to find a day as much greater than this one as your day is greater than my night?"
And the day boy, who had learned faith in the horizon, promised her this:
"Let sun, or moon, or monsters come; for always, we will rise."
a/n: To Sally, without whom this story would not exist; to Shenans, who patiently endured my various struggles throughout its process; and to every person who has loved this story, and felt it as thoroughly as I have.
There are stories I write easily and stories that take pieces from my heart, and this one is the latter. As always, if you liked it, I appreciate recommendations to any friends, blogs, groups, etc, but this one in particular is a privilege just to have written. I have a weakness for fairytales, and I will consider it the honor of my fanfic career if I have given you one that will stay with you for a while.
As you might have noticed, there is no epilogue to this story because I've left it open for a sequel that features Theo and Harry. Similar to this one, it will be based on one overarching story with fairytales/myths/literature woven throughout, as well as flashbacks to their time apart. I likely will not begin it for some time (I'd like to get through some of my other stories first), but if you're interested, continue following this story and I will post here when I have begun it.
Find me on Spotify for a playlist that goes with the story, on Tumblr for updates on other ongoing works like How to Win Friends and Influence People and Nobility, and look out for part II of my Alpha graphic novel collaboration with Little Chmura at the end of August (go to: enter (dash) alpha dot com for more information).
It has been an honor to put these words down for you, and I truly hope you enjoyed the story.