Take Only Memories

By Winter Solstice

He was asleep when she stole into his rooms upon silent feet a few moments after midnight, as was her custom. To be asleep, however, was not his. The rooms were bathed in silence, her breathing in comparison seemed very loud. She stared down at him, sprawled on his back diagonally across the bed, fully clothed, and wondered why she had never seen him so before.

The answer was obvious, an insult to her sparkling intelligence. He looked so vulnerable. His face was relaxed in slumber, his omnipresent sneer conspicuous by its absence, lines of worry that she was so familiar with soothed by unknown dreams. Her hands itched to touch his peaceful face, her heart twisted almost painfully at the sight of the half-smile which curved his lips and the tiny shadows that his spiky eyelashes made against his austere cheekbones, but she forced herself to remain still, fearing his anger should she wake him. His eyes fluttered a little, and he fidgeted with an accompanying murmur in his sleep, but he did not waken, and her gentle sigh was relieved. Perhaps, a small voice whispered within her head, perhaps it would be better this way.

She had come to say goodbye to him, after all.

Dropping soundlessly to her knees beside the bed, she crossed her arms on top of the quilt and placed her chin upon her forearms, studying the sleeping man so hard she almost feared that he would sense it even in his sleep. Every inch of his sharp featured face was consigned to memory as she gazed at him, and then every conversation that they had ever shared. Words swirled through her head, at first harsh and angry, causing her pain, but gradually they became softer, not to the point of fondness, but without the hard edged bitterness that she had first experienced at the hands of this man. The ghost of a smile slipped across her mouth.

Her feelings for him had always been, and always would be, she knew, a mass of contradictions and confusions. She had been visiting him late at night for several months, at first only seeking his counsel, and then his comfort, and finally his bed. She wished that she could say that she knew him well. In reality, she hardly knew him at all. The man who had been her councillor, her comforter and ultimately her lover remained an enigma; a puzzle she could not hope to solve no matter how hard she tried. Time was not on her side either, and every day she had felt its imperceptible slip away from her with an increasing sense of futility. Her nights in his rooms became desperate, passionate things, the only things that she wanted to live for. Friends and study fell by the wayside, but if either noticed nothing was said. She felt herself caught in the grip of something all- consuming that would ultimately be either her saviour or her destroyer.

And now, at the end of the line, at the end of her time within the walls of this castle, she knew which one it was to be.

She could not deny to herself that she loved him, but conversely she knew that admitting it to anyone except herself would be impossible. She should not have loved him, it was true, and he had tried so hard to keep her from doing so, but those nights, the nights when desperation and passion gave way to something else, something almost tender, were an ever fixed mark in her memory. She knew the man quite incapable of returning her love, and knew that she could not forgive him for that. She could not stay with him either.

The question had been asked, and the cards put upon the table only days ago. She had promised to return with her decision, and now, after an agony of time spent closeted away in her rooms, she had finally decided that her chances of happiness could not lie with one who could not, through his own faults, love her in return. He was breaking her heart now, she knew, and could no longer take the chance that he might damage it beyond repair should she give him the opportunity.

The tears that sparkled in her cinnamon eyes at this thought were quickly wiped away with the sleeve of her robe. She was determined not to cry in front of him, wanting him to think her as a strong, a fully grown woman capable of living with her decisions. She was playing a dangerous game in trying to deceive him, but hoped against hope that he would believe her and let her go. Unfolding her arms, she stretched out a tentative hand to grasp one of his as it rested by his side. Drawing it closer to her, she smiled as the fingers curled around hers, reassuring and warm. Lifting the hand to her lips, she nuzzled it gently, rubbing her cheek along the back of it before placing a soft kiss onto the inside of his palm. Placing it back where she had found it, she looked at the hand sadly.

"I am sorry," she whispered.

"Who are you sorry for, yourself, or me?" A velvety voice whispered back.

Her eyes lifted instantly to the source of the voice, brown clashing with depthless black. He had awoken so quietly she had not been aware of it, and now she was frightened. The expression on his face was one of comprehension, she did not doubt that he knew what it was she would say to him.

"Both," she replied simply. His expression darkened and he sat up with a feline grace, staring down at her unblinkingly.

"I do not want your pity." He stated evenly.

She rose to her feet, now it was she staring down at him.

"Then I will not offer it."

There seemed little else to say. Trembling, she tried to turn away from him, and found herself restrained by hands grasping her firmly by the wrists.

"Wait." He soothed, his voice a low hiss. "Wait."

His hands left her wrists, trailing around the curve of her waist and tugging her into an embrace that she had not anticipated, but she did not struggle to be free of him, knowing that for a slight man, he was surprisingly strong and could overcome her quite easily should he choose to do so. Her anguish was both sudden and complete as he wrapped her into his arms, and she allowed herself to hug him back. One last time, she promised herself. One last time.

Her face was pressed into the curve of his throat, and after several quick breaths she discovered that she could almost inhale the scent of him. It was so familiar to her that tears once again sprang into her eyes and this time she could not deny them. Several hot tears found their way down her cheeks and beneath the collar of the dress shirt he wore, trailing a path of sadness down his chest. She heard his sharp intake of breath and then he was drawing away to look down at her.

"Why are you crying?" His voice was flat, emotionless.

"I don't know," she swiped at her face, feeling a strange mixture of embarrassment and anger. "I didn't...mean to."

"We all do things that we do not mean to," his look was pointed. "Tell me one thing, before I let you go?"

"Anything," she whispered, unaware of the vulnerability in her soft eyes as she looked at him, and he paused for a moment, seemingly lost in thought.

"I wonder," he murmured, "will you regret this in all of your years to come? Will you regret...me?"

He was not asking her because of vanity, she knew that. He was not a vain man, and he did not need any of the assurances that she could give him. Their relationship, such as it could be called, had not come into being because of vanity, or even in the beginning, attraction. The attraction, at least for her, had come later.

He blinked, and she watched as his face worked in suppressing a yawn, feeling the relentless build of her pain once more. Strange, she thought, that watching him do such seemingly normal things could bring her such distress, knowing that she would not have chance or opportunity to watch them become familiar.

Yawn suppressed, he was watching her closely, and waiting, she realised, for an answer to his questions. Lifting a hand, she tangled her fingers in his hair, feeling the silky strands slip through her fingers before brushing them away from his face. He continued to watch her as placed her hand upon his cheek, stroking his pale skin, trying to remember how it felt against her palm. He turned his head to kiss it, unconsciously mirroring the way she had kissed him only minutes ago, and she experienced a sharp intake of breath before pulling her hand away.

"No," her voice, like her answer, was sincere. "I will never regret any of it. I will never regret you."

"Ah, but..." his eyes sparkled in a way that she did not understand. "You will not be telling your grandchildren about be now, will you?"

She felt a little splinter of annoyance at his careless words, and the realisation came to her that he did not view their parting with the same sadness that she did, he had reminded her on more than one occasion that she was not his first resident lover, and would most likely not be his last. It had not hurt her at the time, she wondered why it was so now.

"Some things should only be told to the heart," she said quietly. "Some...memories are far too precious to share."

His face darkened a shade, and he frowned.

"We have spoken of this before..." he began tiredly.

"I know." She cut in quickly. Her smile was sad. "It changes nothing. You are under no obligation." She drew a deep breath. "I graduate tomorrow. I leave, tomorrow. I will take nothing but my memories with me."

His hands moved restlessly, touching an unruly curl of her hair, stroking her face, tilting her chin so that she would look at him.

"If you were angry, I would not blame you," he said firmly. "I am supposed to be protecting the innocence of those under my care, not taking it from them!"

She shook her head, feeling his hands slide away to hold her more firmly against him. The stirring of feelings that she had valiantly tried to close away brushed against her consciousness, and she felt hot suddenly with her need for him.

"You should consider the possibility that it was mine to give," she whispered. "I am not angry with you, or with the decision that I made."

They stared at each other, pupils dilating as familiar feelings swamped them both. They both knew what goodbye meant, and if time was conspiring against them they both knew what they wanted to do with what little was left to them.

He leaned down into her, brushing his lips against her own in the briefest of kisses before pulling away again. She stared at him, faintly incredulous that he would choose such a tame parting gesture, and then let her emotions take over. Raising herself onto the very tips of her toes, she used both hands to pull his head down to the same level as hers. He looked at her questioningly, and then she kissed him, hard, fighting against the bittersweet feel of it all.

He returned her kiss, passionately, whilst continuing to hold her hard against him. When they broke apart, breathing heavily, it was only so that he could ease her backwards onto the bed.

She lay on her back, looking up at him as he straddled her knees. He would make love to her tonight, she knew, for the last time. When the night had passed and the new day begun they would each be as lost from the other as it was possible to be. Their coming together, this brief crossover in the paths that they followed, was coming to an end.

She fought back fresh tears as she watched him undo the buttons of his white shirt with trembling hands. What she had shared with him she would tell no other. Whether she could not, or would not, she did not yet know. She would leave him tomorrow, with maybe a smile, a nod, or some faint words of praise that he did not mean. Her comfort, such as it was, was to be taken now. She would always remember him. She would always remember this.

They lay next to each other when it was all over, and she was grateful for the darkness of his rooms. Struggling to catch her breath, she felt the warm trickle of her tears as they ran from the corners of her eyes, wetting her ears, and she was pleased that he could not see them. A hand found hers in the dark, and squeezed gently.

"Hermione," he whispered, perhaps only one of a handful of times he had spoken her name.

"I will not forget you," she whispered back to him, barely stifling a sob. He drew her close, she lay her damp face against his chest, and they spoke no more.

She slept in his arms until dawn, slipping away when the sun was barely a glimmer of light on the horizon. As she had promised, she took nothing with her except her memories. They would be enough, she told herself. They would have to be.

END

A/N: Don't own it, never will, anything that you recognise belongs to JKR.

This is a one-shot ficlet, although I do have plans to provide a companion for it in due course, which will take place the next day and from a slightly different point of view...I won't post it as another chapter of this fic because the companion should also stand alone, fingers crossed!

This has been hanging around on my hard drive for ages, and I've finally found the inspiration to finish it. Please do leave me a review and let me know what you think.