Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

"What Love Is"
by Christine Anderson
aka Lilly Malfoy
beta by Starkiller

She wants him so much she almost can't think straight, and for a Ravenclaw this is a serious thing. She aches to reach out to him, aches with the thought that he might not reach back.

Before she met him face to face, it was only the things he'd done. It was the stories she'd heard- the idea of how much he knew. It was how much he could teach her. The others laughed at her and called it hero worship, and they were right.

But the truth was that she could have found a far worse role model than Alastor Moody. The truth was that she'd chosen the best role model possible... because she saw more clearly than any of the others what was coming, what they would soon have to face.

And she knew that constant vigilance was the only thing that was going to save them.

She began to shout it at them almost randomly; it seemed the only way to get through. And so the others began to call her names; Crazy Penny, Penny the Paranoid, Mad Eye Clearwater. She'd hexed a classmate for that one, not really caring what the consequences were. There had been few, as their teachers felt she shouldn't have so easily gotten the drop on the young man.

That made her laugh.

She studied hard, even for a Ravenclaw, every waking moment for two years. She read every book she could get her hands on, books of hexes and counter- jinxes, histories of the last war, memoirs of the ones who had survived it. She wanted to know everything, wanted to have no illusions about the things that she would face. She wanted to be prepared.

Through it all, Alastor Moody was her guiding light, everything she wanted to become. The others mocked her paranoia, her obsessive studying, but she knew that these were the things that would one day keep her alive. He became her benchmark- if he could do it, she could do it. If he had survived it, she could survive it. If he could endure it, then so could she.

And then she meets him, and everything changes.

For the first time, beneath the legend, she sees the man. Deep inside, she feels that he knows her, as she suddenly knows him, as if they have both opened a book and turned to the same page. He touches something inside her that resonates and sings, and though the hour is dark when at last they come together, the future dim and uncertain, her heart soars.

She had loved Percy Weasley, but not like this, never like this. She had never felt Percy's eyes upon her and known herself transparent. She had never felt her every hope and wish and dream, every last secret fear, laid bare before someone who could take it all in. Someone would could recognise it and understand it. And it is not the magic of that bright blue eye that gives him this vision, only the truth of what he is, what she is, connecting them in a way she had not known was even possible.

What she felt before, it had been only hero worship, a simple crush. This... this is something deeper, something real.

He kisses her so softly, touches her with such infinite gentleness, with such desire and longing that something deep inside her goes warm and weak. She has never been kissed like this, never been touched or longed for or wanted like this.

She has never wanted any man, never hungered for any man, as she does for him.

If he were any other man, anything other than who and what he is. this would be dangerous. She is vulnerable; she knows that. But he would never hurt her. He would die before he hurt her.

This comforts her; it puts things in perspective and allows her to see.

Each time he looks at her, each time he touches her, she knows without question the depth of what he feels. His love sustains her as the waves of war crash over them, harsh and terrible, but it also becomes her greatest fear. She is strong- she has had no choice but to be strong- but if she were to lose him now, she does not think that she could bear it.

So many others of her apprentice class haven't made it this far. She was right about that, but takes no comfort for it. She would rather have been wrong about this.

The ones who have managed to survive do not understand her now any more than they did now. Nor do they understand her love for Alastor Moody. To them he is simply old and scarred and not entirely sane.

They do not know that in her heart, she is just the same.

They do not know that not all scars show.

Most of hers don't, yet, but they are still there. She can feel them now. The first friend who died before her eyes. Her first kill, necessary, necessary without doubt and beyond question, and she is still haunted by it.

That kill- a Death Eater, filled with dark power, standing over the just- killed victim of his blood sacrifice (and gods how that burned! If she had only been quicker...)- She had looked at him, his dagger covered with an innocent's blood, and something dark and terrible had broken loose inside of her.

She had only been running point for a larger team, and so she was not alone. But she felt it- gods had she felt it!- when they had come upon her, when they saw what she had done to the Death Eater. Her rage had broken loose, and she had been unable to stop it. She knew that was a mistake, knew it might even have proved fatal, but she had been too angry to care.

And all the while they had worked that night, rounding up the allies of the man she had killed, the others looked at her as if she were someone they did not know at all.

It had been Alastor Moody she had gone to at the end of that long, horrible night- Alastor Moody who had opened his arms to her, held her and soothed her, and told her when she wept, furious with herself for shedding tears for such a man, that he understood. That she wept not for the man she had killed, but for what he had taken from her with his death.

She had lain in his arms for hours, shocked and trembling. Wondering aloud if she were, if she had become, a monster. Hearing him say, over and over again, no. Hearing him say it until she believed it.

And so she doesn't much care that not everyone understands. He does, and that is enough. She loves him, and that is enough.

He had saved her that night, kept her from falling so deeply into despair that she might truly have gone mad. She had reached for him, kissed with a furious, burning need within her. She was desperate to remember what life was and he had not asked, as other men might have, if she knew what she was doing, what she wanted. She knew- she had made that clear quite some time ago, the first night they had been together.

And so he hadn't troubled her with questions. He had only taken her hands, and kissed her, and made love to her- slowly, gently, furiously, everything and anything she desired- until she recalled what it was to feel. He had only loved her, until she remembered again how and why, the truth and the passion.

Until she recalled that first night- beautiful and sweet, both of them shy, awkward, but so desperately in love, joining together at last. Until she recalled that night she had wanted to last forever, and what it meant to feel another's heart beat with your own.

It was because of him that she woke the next day, only battered and bruised instead of broken. And it was because of her that he woke with a smile upon his lips and wonder in his eyes, not just that dawn, but any she was with him.

She does not thank him; she does not have to. This is what love is.

When he asks her if she will be alright, she says "Yes," and means it. Because she is not alone; whatever she faces, she will never be alone now. This, too, is what love is.

After years of walking alone in the dark, they have found that the road is no longer lonely, that it does not have to be.