"Words were invented to
"Lady waiting in library, Mister Potter," reported Kritzer as Harry stepped into the door, returning from a cancelled Quidditch match in Hereford.
Kritzer shrugged trying to upset his too-wide too-long lop-sided scarf. "Kritzer remember not. Lady. Often come."
It had to be Hermione.
Harry smiled to himself as he strode to the library; it seemed too far away. He hadn't thought she would come. She had said so three days ago, explaining to him with irrelevant and unnecessary detail that she was following the match with Ron and Luna at their place. He was grateful for the knowledge though, too grateful, and it tormented the rest of his mind to wonder who she was entertaining on all the other days and even more nights that she had not accounted for.
He threw open the double doors of the library. There was a figure sitting in the large red leather chair – one that Hermione would never sit in. The figure was wearing red high-heels and a short, red dress. There was a distinct lack of books around her.
It, of course, wasn't Hermione.
It took Harry a moment to remember the woman's name. He should know it since she had been gracing every Wizarding tabloid even before she dragged him into the limelight again by giving rather lurid interviews about things she shouldn't know about.
She smiled radiantly, got up and wrapped her arms briefly around him. "Harry. I didn't know you had such a beautiful library."
"You shouldn't be in here."
"Why not? It is an absolutely gorgeous place. And what is it with all these books set out on the table. I can't believe you're actually reading some of this drivel. Harry, surely you are so much more interesting a person," she teased.
"We broke up."
"Oh, Harry! Honestly! Don't tell me you took that little interview seriously. I don't hate you. We just had a little spat, that's all. Couples have them all the time, it's just that ours is more public than most. We have to survive that, put it behind us. We're stronger than that. Our love is stronger than that."
Harry frowned; he fisted his hands in wild attempt to leash his anger. He hated the way she used the word "we", as though it meant something larger and bigger than the both of them.
She contaminated the place with her presence. It was where Hermione worked and where he watched her work. It was where he forgot about the rest of the world and its petty problems and assured himself that the one person he held dear was safe and happy. It was the place where he could pretend that his victory against Voldemort did indeed solve all problems and if the farce didn't see real; his inadequacies felt inconsequential.
It was a place where being "just Harry" was enough, where it was almost warm.
Hermione's presence lingered here. Even before she had stepped back into his life, he could almost imagine her there between these books, by that table or clambering up those ladders. Sometimes in those wool-wound moments of waking, his mind would trick him into believing she was there, fervently working just beneath the skylight with sunlight streaming around her, an angel's nimbus. Though this library was much unlike that of Hogwarts, he could relive here the too brief, too distant memories they shared under Madame Pince's hawklike gaze.
This was where he felt closest to her because she, in her own way, felt at home beside the books. She he could never share her home, he had decided to carve his as close to hers as possible, hoping that some of the blazing life within her would be infectious.
"Oh, Harry, don't frown so. I am after all going to live here one day, don't you think I should at least be given a tour of your little home? It's so cosy in here. I could hardly believe you have never shown me this place before, it's so cute."
"You shouldn't be here," he repeated.
Fingernails dug into his palm. The urgency of hexes squirmed on his tongue.
"Why?" She repeated. Irritation was starting to creep into her face.
"It's..." He wanted to say sacred, for that was what it was to him. He had never thought a place, especially a place in a house that once belonged to Voldemort, could become so dear to him, he who had sworn not to become attached to anything ever again.
"You don't want to share anything with me. You don't tell me anything about yourself."
"I assumed you knew everything. After all, that's what you told the gutter press."
"I was merely trying to entertain them. You shouldn't take it so seriously, Harry. They were simply begging for an interview and-"
"Just get out of the library." His voice became low and angry.
"Do I not belong here Harry? I've never even been in your mansion during..."
"You..." Harry could feel the raw magic, wild dangerous magic, gathering around him. He could feel it sizzle on his skin and at the ends of his fingers. Heat drained out, leaving the solid cold inside him. Vivid flashes of colour danced before his eyes in flickers.
She didn't let him interrupt her. There was rage in her voice, but it was a calm, feline, sensual rage, designed to provoke feelings of another nature from him. "Tell me I don't just belong to your bed. You never stay afterwards. You never..."
He had never known magic to be cold, but there it was, spiralling in little tempests inside his fisted hands, swarming at roots of his hair and seeping out from beneath his fingernails. It was trapped hissing and solid like a cold knot of ice beneath his tongue and behind his firmly gritted teeth.
"GET OUT OF HERE! JUST GO! YOU..."
Rebecca tried to touch him, but the cold magic lashed at her hand, leaving black frost-bitten flesh. Her eyes widened with fear and she rushed out of the library. He personally flung open all the windows despite the growing cold of late autumn, but her annoying mixture of uncomplimenting fragrances lingered, the same way her taint remained. His vision of Hermione in the library seemed scarred with the knowledge that some other woman, some worthless woman, had sat in the same chair, tread on the same floor and leafed through the same books.
Harry moved the grate with his bare hands, the pain and heat was only an afterthought as he studied his burnt hand with disinterest. He huddled by the fire and waited for the frigid anger still knotted inside him to melt. The anger was not destructive, there was no need to rip or throw or hurt, but was a patient enemy, slowing taking over him. He hated the thought that one inconsequential woman could anger him so much simply by being in the library, that he allowed her the chance of getting close, that he hadn't guarded properly this sacred space. He hated the feeling of the anger, the cold and gathering magic.
He tried wash away the anger with memories, the thought of brown snowflakes-speckled hair and cheeks flushed pink by the cold. Deft hands writing a letter he now wished was his as her voice guided him through labyrinthine problems. He tried to remember the toilet, the irregular dripping of water in leaky toilets as he watched her concocted a potion. The bright eyes focused, and the bewilderment in them melting into understanding. He remembered the long silences they shared then, comfortable silences that need no words to augment them.
This was how Hermione found him, leaning too close into the enormous fireplace almost ready to crawl inside the inviting flames. He heard the dull thud of her books hitting the floor as she dropped them and her footsteps as she rushed across the library to him.
He felt her arms around him, pulling him back. It was painful, blissful and torturous all at once. But one thing was certain: the cold had receded back within the depths.
The words she whispered were lost to him, muffled by singed clothes, but their comforting murmur was enough. Somehow she guided him off the brick fireplace and back onto the thick carpet of the library. The fireplace seemed a world of its own; separate from the book-lined library. It was colder so far from the fire, but her warmth enveloped him, nursed him.
Hermione unfurled his hands and stroked a gentle finger on the burns from wrestling with the grate. Harry winced in pain; with warmth, the numbness retreated.
"Why?" She didn't have to finish her question. There was horror in her voice, and pain, as though she too shared the pain.
"It was cold."
"Let me." She cradled his hand in hers. "Acio!" she summoned her bag and revealed the first aid kit she kept at the bottom. It was a habit she had formed after the fourth year, carrying some amount of medical aid wherever she went in case he'd "do something silly." The collection expanded as the years slipped by, as the dangers he faced and her understanding of healing grew.
"And her?" she asked, probing further.
"She tried to come in here," said Harry simply. He hoped his voice didn't betray his anger.
"No, not just her. Why any of them?"
"They only keep for a week. That one was way past her sell by date."
"We're talking about women, not tinned fruit or fresh meat." It was the first time she rebuked him for a long time.
Harry shrugged. "I believe in the now. Too much has happened for me to want things to last, to be able to afford that. Life is too mercurial. Too many 'what if's. What if she dies tomorrow? What if I die tomorrow? I don't want to live with regrets. I loved her. At that moment, at that place, I loved her. I didn't promise her any tomorrows.
"They are always perfect moments. Ones full of love. Warmth. I don't want to sully them with all the tomorrows that won't work. When the morning comes, I'll realise that she's not perfect, that I'm not perfect, that we're not perfect for each other. I know that now it doesn't matter. I live for that perfect moment and it's enough."
"Harry..." It wasn't pity that coloured her voice and Harry was glad; he didn't want pity. She took a deep breath and held it for a moment before letting it out. He knew she was swallowing words. She continued to rummage through her kit for salve. She found the purple tortoiseshell box, opened it and sniffed at the contents.
Hermione warmed the green paste in her palm before applying it to his burns. It smelt of sea-weed and was the texture of overripe avocado, but it soothed the pain.
Hermione was beautiful that way. Concentrated. Her eyes dark with intent, bright with unshed tears and soft with worry. Half-biting her lower lip. Her hands weaving through long bandages that trailed like dawn's trailing ribbons in the firelight. Shadows played against her features, dappling her skin with snatches of flame, but the warmth she radiated was independent of the fire in the grate. Her hair didn't flow as much as it tangled. Firelight gave it luminance and haloed her with feathery, flickering light. Somewhere in the windswept tangle, he told himself, was a rainbow, like within the seemingly drab feather of a peahen.
He could smell her, a mixture of old leather, parchment and iron gall ink. And pumpkin pie. She must have been baking earlier with Luna; she had spoken of culinary experiments with the mad chef.
She had the same sense of purpose as in the library, but this time, it was because of him. She was this way for him, because of him.
Ridiculously he considered burning himself once a day to evoke this side of her. To have her near enough that her breath warms him. To have her hands on his. To have her notice him.
"There. Done," said Hermione, tying a neat knot with the bandage.
"Stay, Hermione." He blurted out the words without thinking, without considering how her lingering here a few more moments wasn't worth loosing her forever.
There was a long silence. She was waiting for him explain; he had overstepped again.
"Your project," he amended. "We can start it now..."
"It can wait, Harry," she said, gently. "You need to rest. And you're hardly in the condition to fiddle with quills."
She turned. He couldn't see her leave, but he could feel with agonizing slowness her walk towards the door. He told himself he need only hold tongue a moment longer, then surrender himself to frustrated begging and regrets. He could hear her footsteps, the soft leather of her shoes on the soft, carpeted floor, her robes whispering susurrus nonsense as she walked and eventually the slow creak of the door.
He knew he was right; if she stayed, she may never return. He knew it.
"No, stay." The words escaped before he could bite them back.
He heard the extended creak of the door as she teetered with a hand holding it half open. Her robes no longer whispered and her footsteps ceased.
"As long as... just a moment if you will... it's so cold when you leave." He sounded pathetic.
"Harry..." He could discern no meaning from his own name, but he could hear her smile in it.
He heard the door close and for a long moment he thought she had left, until he heard her footsteps and saw her again, in front of him, as though she had never intended to leave. She smiled with a soft radiance far warmer, far brighter than dull firelight and sat down again.
"Why do you always leave?"
"You never asked me to stay," she answered simply, as though the reason was self-evident.
Kritzer had at some point snuck in with an enormous tray and left it by the door. That house elf was getting too nosy for his own good, but at that moment, Harry felt disinclined to complain. In a muted clatter of chinaware, Hermione carried the oversized tray over to where he sat. He listened carefully for her footsteps, dreading the thought that she may still change her mind and leave.
"Bite," she said, holding a sandwich to his lips.
Harry looked at her strangely and reached a hand to take the offending food from her. He immediately regretted trying to open his fist; pain seared.
"Don't move. They're wrapped into dumpling for a reason. Just eat," she reprimanded.
"Hermione, I'm not-" he protested.
"You've burned your fingers," she said in her no-nonsense voice. "Now don't move them."
They ate that way. Her feeding him in between bites of her own. She made encouraging noises deep within her throat, but otherwise said nothing. Harry's mouth was otherwise occupied.
To have her fingers so close to his lips was a strangely sensual experience. He had the urge to nibble at her fingers or plant wet, messy, sucking kisses on them. He had always acknowledged that she had beautiful hands, long-fingered elegant hands, calloused at the first joint of the middle finger on her right hand, where a quill was frequently cushioned. She held them tightly, nervously as she scribbled, as though afraid they would start penning words of its own accord.
Those were the hands of a writer, an academic, smelling of the iron gall ink she was so fond of. There weren't any fresh stains, but there was a rather large mottled purple shape that vaguely resembled a rabbit when he squinted hard enough by her left wrist.
Their meal ended with hot chocolate; Kritzer wasn't trusting him with liqueur. He was grateful for the hot, velvety texture of it. It also kept his wits, his mind. Most nights he didn't want to remember, to be fully himself, but now, Hermione's presence had changed that. He wanted - needed - to relish and hoard every moment with her.
Kritzer appeared at the opportune moment and collected the remains of their meal. Hermione thanked him profusely for the meal and Harry mumbled his thanks. Kritzer was silent, the very image of a demure, obedient house elf until he gave Harry a roguishly suggestive wink before scampering away with the tray again.
"I do pay him proper wages, you-"
"I know, Harry."
Conversation dried up after that. The silence between them was no longer the comfortable understanding of before. The arid desert of speechlessness was a vast wasteland on which they stood on opposite sides. His mouth was just as dry.
He wondered if he had never disappeared into the war and hovered by her like the spectre he was, would words have vaporised into a heavy miasma of discomfort this way? Would she have grown bored of him? Would they simply run out of things to speak about? Was friendship just an endless list of conversational topics?
Did they need words? Why couldn't it be the way it was before?
"If..." he didn't finish the sentence. He hadn't realised he had mused aloud before the word escaped his tongue and she pounced on it, like a cat who had been stalking all along.
"I thought you didn't like that word."
"I was only thinking... what if..." His voice was hoarse with emotion. "What if I never left. If I never vanished to face Voldemort alone, if I let you join me or if I found you again sooner..."
"Harry..." The candelabra of flickering candles were a constellation of stars in her eyes, giving them an unearthly luminance. His reflection was obscured in them, lost in the pinpoints of light.
The unspoken question hung between them, the question that she had been waiting to ask and him dreading to answer. The question that had lurked in the shadows, never as tangible as now, yet never completely disappearing.
"Why did you disappear, Harry? Why did you never write?" She had finally given it voice.
"I had to find out from the Daily Prophet, Harry... Why wasn't I there beside you? Why wasn't I fighting there with you? Why wasn't I there watching your back, binding your wounds, keeping watch when you slept? Why?" Hermione was shaking, trembling.
"Why wasn't I there, Harry? I kept asking myself that. Why wasn't I there to protect you when you got that?" She raised a hand brushed her fingertips against the scar on this forehead, what had once been a lightning bolt and was now a jagged X. The magic-charred flesh had died far too long ago. It was sensitive to hatred, to pain, to the dark arts, warned him of danger ever since he gained it, but was as responsive as stone to Hermione's fingers tracing its shape. He only knew of her touch, seeing her hand in front of face, like the way one knew only of light on one's skin by sight alone and never by touch, though sometime, sometimes one could almost feel it. Her hand was too close to his face, so close that it near seemed ethereal. His other uncovered eye traitorously chose to ignore it as his mind blurred what each eye saw together.
Magic bristled. Residual anger-born magic still lingered and crackled in the air as other stronger emotions took hold. Magic in its most organic form, still shapeless and unfocussed by wand or word, blazed.
"It's been written. I must face Voldemort alone. You know, the final showdown between the champion of light and the Dark Lord. The cataclysmic battle between the embodiment of good and evil. That drivel prophesised by Trelawney does have an edge of truth to it. Fate would conspire to eliminate you; you're not supposed to be there when I-"
"Harry, I don't believ-"
"And after that... you weren't-"
"I was there, Harry. Just because you couldn't see me, doesn't mean I wasn't there. After I read the article in the Daily Prophet about Voldemort being in Egypt I rushed there. I knew you would need me, but I couldn't find you."
Harry smiled wryly, bitterly. The only thing that had sustained him through the long, dangerous trek across the desert had been the vision of Hermione curled up safely in an armchair in her room with a book and a mug of hot tea, the knowledge that she was safe.
"I was recruited by the Temple a week after Halloween, amid the post-Voldemort celebrations. They said you were calling out for..." she paused, swallowed, "...me."
"They said you needed me, so I stayed, did everything I could. I watched you when you sleep, held your hand when you reached out searching in the night, led you back to the bed when you sleepwalked... cut your nails when they grew too long, spoke to you, wiped your brow, changed your sheets, washed them... I... Harry..."
"I owe you-"
"No," she interrupted him with vehemence. "I'm not here asking for payment, calling in a debt of favours. Harry, If one of us is indebted to the other, its me. I wasn't there when you faced him."
"You were, Hermione. You were here." Harry guided her hand and nudged her fingers to his temples. He wanted to place them on his heart, but that would imply too much. There were boundaries between them. He had to remember that. His skin tingled where her fingertips touched him. Magic gathered, flourished, flickered. His own reared and clawed the empty, empty air in frustration.
"Afterwards, when you awoke, I waited for you to look for me. I didn't want to... I needed to know that you still wanted me around. Three months casts long shadows of doubt, Harry. Three months is a very long time when one's afraid, when one's worrying, when one's in lo..." She breathed the last word. Harry could barely make it out. "I lingered, but you didn't need me anymore. You didn't recognise me. Maybe it was the robes or... you didn't recognise me."
The memory of his days in the Temple made sense again. The familiar young woman in the long white robes , wreathed in flowers, with her hair covered by a white coif, who flitted at the edge of his memory, smelling faintly of herbs and iron gall ink, was Hermione. "I did, but they called you Harmonia, I didn't... I couldn't..."
"I know it sounds stupid, but I spent so much of those three months seeing you in everything. So much of everything reminded me of you, I thought... I thought I was hallucinating."
It was true. In the shadows of her absence, everything had taken on her guise. The patterns in the sand, the way a stranger moved her hands, the dark, damp shape of spilt water on sand. The gnarled brambles that wrought a thorny, angular wall around Voldemort's makeshift fortress. The reflection of sky on distant sand had given the impression of periwinkle blue.
"Harmonia was a demigoddess, wife to the hero who founded Thebes. There is a shrine dedicated to her at the far corner of the temple, naming her child of Isis, whom the Romans associated with Venus. When you spoke my name, they thought it was in prayer, the way Odysseus would have invoked Athena and when the found me... they thought I was an incarnation of her."
She lowered her gaze briefly, her hair slipped over her face and behind that veil of tangled hair Harry saw again in her the white-robed priestess who haunted his days in the Temple of Isis. The one whose robes were edged with white embroidering of knotted olive branches. White on white. Only when the sunlight was the brightest and the shadows were the darkest could he make out the intricate patterns on her robe. And in the stagnant boredom of his hospitalised days, he found himself tracing the patterns with an idle finger. He felt like telling her that he remembered that, trace that pattern on her skin and tell her that he remembered, that he had noticed...
"At first, I told myself to write to you, to call you, to tell you... but then, I was scared. I didn't want to know you had moved on, found new friends, got married. I didn't want to know your research plans were falling apart, that your wallet was stolen, that last Saturday's dinner burnt. I wanted to preserve that perfect memory of you."
He tried avoid her gaze, shaping thoughts into words was hard enough. Her hands here clasp tightly together on her lap, fingernails biting into flesh. He thought of baby pink dragon-scales, like those on the neck of the one rode. He thought of the little red crescents it left in his skin where she had clung onto him in fear. He thought of the red furrows they left on her face when she watched him play Quidditch.
"I didn't want to let reality touch my memory of you, Hermione. It was special, it was... sacred... I was scared. I didn't even want the real you to touch it. I wanted to think of you and know you were happy, content, with books. I didn't want to know you were unhappy..."
"I was, Harry. I was unhappy, very unhappy. You abandoned me." She didn't speak the words as an accusation, but rather with a resignation to the fact.
"And... I'm not perfect, Hermione, I realised that in the desert. I'm not a hero, I'm just the bloke things happen to and things get to me, things I can't hex away. I'm not a great wizard. I didn't want you to find you. I didn't want you to realise that, realise that I couldn't be and will never be everything that you think I am..."
"Harry... You don't have to be perfect. I never expected, never wanted you to be... Harry..."
This was the same mouth that bubbled with excited, nervous words when they first met, the same mouth he had seen enunciate thousands of spells, dictate Potions homework and History of Magic notes, the same mouth that brushed against his cheek and lingered for a moment too long. These were the lips she gnawed on when she was thinking hard, behind them the same neat, even teeth.
Magic gathered and called for her - beckoning, beseeching, begging. He sensed that magic nestled inside her, curled as a great cat by a fire.
Her eyes met his and this time he didn't shy away. Her eyes weren't their daylight brown that he remembered, but the warm red-gold hues of living flame ensnared inside amber. The firelight refracted in them and hinted at the labyrinth behind them, the place that he had thought he knew. She once told him that ambers were the golden tears of an abandoned goddess, searching the world for her beloved. She once told him that amber was fossilised tree sap - the ancient blood of ancient tree immortalised in stone.
And blood was memory. But this wasn't the black blood that caked in one's hair, seeped beneath one's fingernails and clawed its way under one's skin. This wasn't the blood that oozed from fresh wounds and bloomed red roses on one's skin. Neither was it the blood one choked on, spat out like a foul aftertaste and plagued one's senses with its metallic taste long after it had been washed away.
This was ancient sorrow eternalised through memory. Not diluted by time nor numbed by distance, but only remade and wrought again into something rare and beautiful, though no less painful. The ancient trees with all its memories of those nameless giants nibbling on its leaves and small creatures nestled beneath its bark, was still within amber, remembering and mourning.
He tried to peruse from her eyes their past and divine their future, but he could not read them.
Hands still loosely cupped to protect the burns inside, he raised it to graze that unbandaged bit of flesh near his wrist along the side of her face. It was a clumsy gesture, but she leaned into his half-fisted hand, eyes-half closed.
What was an innocent, caring became something far more sensual. Magic swirled, trickled from his skin to hers where flesh met flesh, warming, blazing.
Harry kissed her.
Impulsively. Foolishly. Selfishly. Unthinkingly. Desperately.
She tasted of that iron gall ink, of the pumpkin pie that they had just eaten, of the essence - the quintessence - that was Hermione, beyond and above the four earthly elements of breathy air and bitter earth and gingery fire and lively water, intoxicating in its intensity.
She moaned his name, rolling it out until the syllables became palatable on his lips. Warm, magic-laced breath.
Magic purled and eddied around them, between them and where their lips brush it flowed; tendrils of liquid lightning slithered through that tenuous connection. It whispered, lapped at their nerves in small curling waves, sprawling a lacework of effervesce against their skin, like underwater sunlight on smooth, dark sand.
Hermione lost balance and fell into him. Without breaking the kiss he gathered her into his arms, pressed her against him, willing his body to remember the soft contours of hers, to remake himself around her.
Some wild fluttering thing within her knew his pulse better than he did.
Magic fused. It was like sharing spells, only more intense, more intimate. He willed that if stayed close enough, some part of her magic will forget to whom it belonged and that when she left, he could remember.
They parted for breath.
"Your hands... burns..." she objected weakly.
Magic crackled and spat and burned. Snake-tongued, it lanced through the air. His magic - or was it him? - growled, impatient; magic had no patience for foreplay. Their inborn magics, the source of power that welled inside them, buried in the marrow of their beings, that made the, shaped them, fuelled them and was them, hungered.
He quieted her with light kisses, murmured, "I'll just have to use something else, wouldn't I?" and ran his tongue along the curve of her ear just to make himself perfectly clear.
For the first time in what was much too long, Harry woke up with a smile tugging at his lips. The realisation and the panic and the regret all came later. He was still warm, still happy, still half-dreaming.
The idyll was soon shattered; the bed was empty. There was a note on the pillow beside him.
There's something I want you to see. Meet me at five twenty three on the roof of-
He crumpled it and thrust the note into the fire. Excuses.
He had held her too close. He had wandered too far and allowed himself to tumble right over the mile-high wall he had raised to divide friendship and the something else which he barely understood. There were two types of women in his life: those who shared his bed at night and disappeared at dawn; and Hermione.
None of those other women whose names he could barely remember had even come close to touching his magic, to warming anything beyond his skin. They were distant, physical unpleasantries that he needed to fill cold, empty nights, but the relief they brought was fleeting, leaving a bitter aftertaste. They were not "perfect moments," but moments of perfect deception.
But Hermione had stirred the magic inside, that core spark that was twin and mirror to his soul, that defined him. She had kindled flame in the cold ashes, breathed life into the barren graveyard of his mind.
Their magics had mated and grown into something bigger than the both of them. When she threaded her fingers into his hair, wrapped her legs around him and arched her back with his name on her lips; their magics spiralled in the air in a intricate mating flight, like that of the gryphons in the days when they still ruled the sky. They made thick the air with memories to bear their weight, screeched passion and summoned wind to tail their flight. They soared upward in ever tightening circles, tails trailing in long plumes, necks outstretched, wings beating in perfect rhythm. Their wings sliced through gauzy clouds and blotted out the sun, gilding themselves a aureole, ever upward until the air was too thin to hold them. And finally they met mid-flight, clung onto one another and wings spread and tails entwined, talons embedded in the other's skin, they dropped together. Plummeting, they rode the currents of the air, relinquishing control to rapture of flight and fall. They parted before meeting the horizon and climbed again upward.
Exhausted and entangled, it took them a long time to sort out whose heart was whose and in whom each of magics belonged. But their magics had amalgamated; re-forged and welded together in the painstakingly twisting, knotting patterns of damascened steel, strong in its folding and re-folding of soft iron with brittle steel. Swirls of his darkness intertwined with her light, creating not grey by a myriad of new colours that one could not only see, by feel. Like the iridescent streaks of dark oil on puddles, separate yet not separable.
They had shared something too volatile, too powerful to be constant.
The air was still thick with memories. He remembered her whispering of arcane words, shaping the magics between them into a river of stars, a flurry of rosemary flowers and a constellations of crystalline snow. He remembered the sultry serpentine syllables that he sibilated.
He remembered her beneath him, around him, beside him. Her half-closed eyes had for a moment seemed emerald green as she threw her head back in ecstasy.
He had fragments of memories that rightfully weren't his, borrowed in the moments of soul-sharing and neglected to return. He remembered the exotic smells of Snape's private stores and the shelves crowded with tinted glass bottles and red-capped jars. Paper-and-string packets labelled in smeared ink crammed into any and all possible spaces between bottles and jars. One in particular supported the uneven shelf, wedged underneath a regal paw. He remembered too many instances of time-turning. The tying, untying and re-tying of knots deep inside his stomach, lurching forward and panicked disorientation.
She had disentangled herself from him as he slept, but as carelessly as she had left her sash coiled around the bedpost, she had forgotten fragments of herself and taken instead a part of him.
He found the second note not long afterwards. It sat on his desk, unobtrusively waiting for him to look up and notice it. The same way she had waited for him to see her. Written on a torn piece of parchment, it seemed rushed, but the care with which the letters had been formed belied its purpose.
I know for you, the chance for a "perfect moment" comes often and easily, but for me, it only came once. It was that five minutes, that dawn, on that rooftop. I waited for you until noon, but you never came. I had something to say to you, but you couldn't - wouldn't - hear me.Hermione
Enclosed with the note was the peahen feather quill he had given her one year ago on Halloween.
The thickness of the lettering indicated a fraying quill; it hadn't been written with the peahen feather one he had given her. It was a blow that hurt more than all the contents of the letter itself. The slightly battered eagle feather quill, the one that he had she had given him for his birthday all those years ago, still resting in its inkpot, stared back at him with accusingly.
He waited in his empty library, toying with the peahen feather quill.
Books seemed to have a way of remembering. All places did, but books remembered better than any, like staining blood and magic-scared flesh, they remembered. The cracking leather and the yellowing pages had an acute memory of things, albeit a strange chronology and even stranger perspective on time.
Words. "Walks by the lake" is only four words, but they held so many memories, far too distant and far too painful to revisit. Four words and so much silence, like the comfortable silence between them, when meanings would simply melt into gesture and expression and she would simply understand.
Four words could mean an eternity in memory. Some books knew this and remembered, yet others could not begin to comprehend what four simple, far too simple words could hold in their black angular strokes on page. Months could be skimmed through within a sentence, yet some moments lasted chapters.
He had sometimes wished to live the elastic time of books, yet the knowledge that some may belittle his seemingly empty memories for their lack of words made him rethink such a fantasy. In books, he could forgo his waiting, skip through the years of loneliness in a page, jump to the end where she would have finally returned. It would be easier that way.
But then how could anyone but he and she who shared those memories with him understand that all too often, the epic battles paled in comparison to the peaceful, painful, poetic moments in between? How could seven years be written off with the same seeming unimportance as the walks by the lake? The long moments of wordlessness between them and their ten thousand silent ways to speak with silence. The tight-throated twistings of tongue and the sounds stunted by swallowing, stuttering and shivering. The silence that waits after a question, the silence that labours, pregnant with words and the comfortable silence of mute understanding. They understood each other without the space between them cluttered with convolutions, conceits or contrivance, allowed meaning to simply melt into gestures.
If all he remembered from those beloved moments, those moments without words was merely "a walk by the lake" or "a kiss on the cheek," then he would rather remember it his way, every detail etched in vivid memory, not squashed in the little space between the lines and endure the long years of emptiness that were part and parcel of real time.
The books would make her come back and when she did, she would ask for her quill back.
She would arrive tomorrow, as though nothing had ever happened. She would come in again, with her arm hooked around a small pile of books. She would smile, unwind her pumpkin scarf and drape it on her chair. She would wave off his help as she always did as she piled books precariously high beside herself. She would welcome him back into their little project and surrounded by mountain after mountain of books they would talk about the Founding Four and Hogwarts and what they thought the impact of Helga's relationship with Salazar had on his decision to build a Secret Chamber. They would discuss how Godric had known Rowena since they were eleven and how they contributed to the development of Apparating; whether Salazar had a hidden agenda when he joined the founding Four and the origins of his fascination for snakes.
And things would return to the way they were. As though she had never left, as though they had never shared souls and mingled magics. He would be able to look up again from whatever he was working on and find her eyes again as though they were just friends. She would laugh with at their mistake, tease him for his inability between the sheets and tell him about her love life - preferably the lack of one.
This time, he'd look up a little more often, shut tighter the doors when she was there and speak less of the past. This time he'd joke more, watch her smile before averting his gaze and lend her books. This time, perhaps, she would stay.
It was Halloween again. The year had slipped by too quickly, too slowly, too painfully, too insensibly. A heady concoction of contradictory emotions. It had been long year, a year without moments, perfect or otherwise. It was a blur of parties and cocktails, of various women hanging off his arm; the only memories that were distinct were those of the library remembering Hermione.
It had been too long, much too long. He couldn't remember her, only the act of remembering her. He could recall her face, her voice, her idiosyncrasies, but clearer still was the memory of himself remembering. He had perused, dissected and analysed every memory he had of her. He had unmade them, remade them, but no longer could he remember the making of them, the actual event itself with enough clarity.
He hungered for something to make those memories real again. He had at first barred himself into the library, that sacred place within the house, but somehow the memories of that perfect night were corrupted by the knowledge that it was the last, the only. His hope, which she carried within her, was gone. Uprooted, his memories were dying. He came out again, attended social functions in hope of finding something: a gesture, a murmur, a whisper of fabric, a thoughtless gnawing of lower lip, the idle quoting of a book or something that would feed his memory. Something that would breathe life into scraps of story which had been reduced to a mere collage of mental photographs that didn't even move. Something that would make real those recollections, giving blood and sinew and heartbeat to those skeletal remains of the past.
Still, Harry didn't know why he was there, on the rooftop of a Muggle building, celebrating something he didn't believe in, surrounded by oversized billboards.
It was all Kritzer's fault, naturally. It had always been. After Harry threw away the invitation, it appeared again on his desk. And again. And again. Even burning would not dispose of it completely as the next they it was there again, smelling only faintly of charred paper. It didn't take him long to get the hint that he needed to be at this celebration planned to take place atop a Muggle building.
The celebratory party had dragged on through most of the night and the first blushing of dawn was creeping above the horizon. He lingered there for he had no reason to leave. Firewhisky could no longer convince his mind that anyone else was her. It simply wasn't enough anymore. Sometimes he cursed himself for allowing her to walk back into his life. Her appearance only ever implied another departure.
The air was thick with magic. The place had been heavily charmed as to keep Muggles from noticing the rowdy party on the rooftop was anything more than a pumpkin-themed Halloween party. It was a fashionable to gather these day, court the attention of Muggles, to flirt with the non-existent danger of being discovered. It was fashionable to stare at the huge billboards and comment on how oblivious, how strange, how fascinating Muggle Culture was.
And so he stared. There was one that particularly caught his attention. He didn't know why. Perhaps it was just the Firewhisky. Or the habit of fashion was rubbing off. It stood on the roof of an opposite building, with a static stylised rose and bold lettering:
Read. Breath. Believe.
Enter a world filled with love and magic!
Available only at
Obscurus Books, Tessherm Grange.
Dawn was behind him, but he dared not face the light. It held too many bitter memories. He saw now only a battlefield, the wide gashes of light bleeding dawn and the clouds cleaning the fresh wounds.
The rising sun behind him was reflected on the glossy billboard, blotting out almost half its words with its blinding light.
"Stupid, stupid girl... why didn't you tell me? Why didn't I notice? Why didn't I see?" He muttered those words over and over again like a mantra as he stared unblinkingly at the enormous sign. It shook him, putting into words what he had known for so long, yet never expressed; for fear that those fragile emotions would tear with the giving of breath and voice. He feared that words would confide it, limit it, distort it.
Memories flooded; the recollections he had drowned away with Firewhisky, disguised with drapes of filmy illusion and excused away by blatant lies he believed out of desperation.
This was what he had refused to see it shining in her and choosing instead the perfect deceptions of other women. It was what she had said with every gesture, with every word-framed silence. It had had been in her memory-brown eyes, as a culmination of all she had witnessed, not a blind faith to something she clung to despite all that had transposed between them. It was so simple, yet his thoughts complicated them by brooding.
Yet here it was, proclaimed - near shouted - into the concrete jungle of Muggle rooftops every dawn what he had been so afraid to hear, to believe.
"Why was I so blind? Why didn't I turn around and just see? Why didn't I just... why did you wait? How did you wait? I'm sorry... Hermione... I'm sorry... I don't... I can't... Hermione... I... I do... I do, too..."
For just under a minute as the sun rose, twenty three minutes past five in the morning, a random romance author's advertisement was peeled away by the blinding sun to reveal a message – her message:
love and magic!