Stronger

By: Provocative Envy

OOO

Author's Note: I hated that ending so much I couldn't leave it up. I'm sorry. I wrote that in a pathetic attempt to make this a happily-ever-after type of story. But quite frankly, that doesn't really work for me. The way I'd written the entire piece leading up to the ending was too intensely serious for that kind of conclusion. So, sorry to the romantics reading this, but I have to go with my instincts and depress you all. I hope, honestly, that after you read this revised ending you'll understand what I mean when I said the other one didn't work. It was almost unreal how hard it was for me to even write this, but Draco would have been the epitome of a shallow, two-dimensional character had I left it like it was. That last chapter I put up was…flat, to say the least. It made me unhappy that I couldn't write something with more inherent emotion, even if the wording and everything seemed alright. I hated it. Not going to lie. So…I apologize for doing what I have to do and ending this the right way. I think it might help to reread the rest of the story and then read this chapter, though. It'll make more sense and not seem so morbidly pointless. Anyways. I'm done. Thanks for reading.

OOO

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Two Years Later

Bleached white walls were glowing with an eerie green light that had nothing to do with death and everything to do with destruction. There were two of us, two faceless villains whose names were inconsequential, whose wands and temperaments and amorality were all that mattered. Father and son, we were on a mission.

We were after someone in particular, someone whose defiance and bravery were acclaimed by polite society, someone who lived her life based on the dictums of senseless niceties, based on the pain-is-pleasure masochism of straight-laced ethics. Someone whose voice haunted my dreams and whose shadow never left my side. Someone it had been alarmingly and surprisingly easy to ignore, someone who I hadn't spoken a single word to in two years.

I'd been stunned when I discovered that forgetting her was impossible. I was resigned to my fate: a lifetime of nonexistence. I couldn't touch her, couldn't have her; I couldn't even speak to her. But we'd made our choices, respectively, even if we'd never acknowledged them out loud.

A few stolen, vacillating kisses didn't constitute a relationship. I reasoned, months later, that I hadn't given anything up. She was too in love with goodness to be in love with me. She wouldn't debase herself, wouldn't sully her clear conscience, by consorting with me; whatever had happened between us, whatever had robbed us of our sanity and brought us together briefly, oh, so briefly, wasn't worth it, in the end. There was no guarantee we could make each other happy. No assurance that we could overcome our differences and make us-as-an-entity work.

And until I saw her crouched behind an upturned sofa, hiding with her wand pointed out, a spell on the tip of her tongue and her eyes darting every which way, I truly believed I'd been right to walk away from her.

I stared at her, at the smooth porcelain of her skin, at the graceful arch of her neck. I stared at her, and I knew that we'd both been wrong.

I'd run away from everything, I realized. Run away from Pansy, run away from the Dark Lord. I'd run away from Dark Revels, from men named Timothy Davison. I'd run away from Weasley, from unsuspecting first years. I'd sealed my misery by running from her. But what had finally damned me, what had really cemented my unhappiness, was running from myself. I'd thought to escape my own weakness, to give up before I failed. I'd thought that I'd made a good decision, a solid decision, a mature decision.

I'd thought wrong.

But reality caught up with me just then, and I felt a hand at my elbow, a shout in my ear.

"Draco! What are you staring at? You're wasting time. She's not here, let's check next door."

And then he made his way to the splinters of the wooden door we'd blasted open mere minutes before. I stayed rooted to the spot, but not out of indecision. No, I couldn't move because she'd finally looked at me.

As soon as my father had said my name, her entire body had snapped to attention. When she'd glanced up, her eyes meeting mine with a clash of fire and ice, I'd known with absolute certainty that this was my only chance to rectify my mistake.

But there was a man standing a few feet away who wanted her dead, and if I didn't join him soon he'd discover her, and then kill her, and I'd be helpless to stop him, unable to save her.

The irony was exquisite: the one time, the only time, I didn't want to flee, didn't want to run away, was the one time, the only time, I absolutely had to. If I mustered up every last ounce of willpower and managed to turn away, I'd never see her again. I'd never get to look into her eyes and see passion, humor, intelligence, life. I'd never get to run my hands down her back, over the curve of her waist, the flare of hips. I'd never get to whisper her name into her hair, breathe in her scent as she pressed up against me.

"What are you really trying to hide, Malfoy?" she'd asked me once.

"If I say it out loud it makes it real, Granger," I'd replied.

Nothing could get more real than that moment, though. My father was walking towards me, saying something admonitory, something meant to put me in my place as the spoiled underling, something meant to make me click my heels together and rush after him. He didn't know that I was staring into perfection personified, he didn't know that I was finally ready to make it real.

It was funny, really, how prepared I was to make The Right Choice, to turn around and walk away and be noble, keep her hiding place a secret and save her life. But something about the way I saw her deflate with relief, the way her posture slackened when she realized I was going to be predictably heroic, pathetically and intermittently stoic, forced me to remember all the other times in my life I'd been a thoughtless, careless, weakly submissive fatalist.

I remembered how many times I'd been ashamed of my behavior, how many times I'd avoided a casual glance in the mirror just so I wouldn't have to flinch at the sight of my own face; I remembered feeling inferior next to her one of those nights at the lake, remembered how looking down into her eyes always felt like a sprint to the top of a mountain, so draining was the experience; I remembered how I hadn't been bothered by the fact that I was morally bankrupt, no, not at all, not until she'd pointed it out to me and made it sound bad.

I remembered that awful, awful day in the library, the last time I'd really, really seen her; I remembered how I'd been silenced by shock, by pain, by disbelief and anger and a hundred other unidentifiable emotions. I remembered being demoralized, being torn apart by my self-incriminating revulsion, by my internal taunting that she'd chosen them over me; I remembered despising her, remembered the simultaneous beauty and regret of the moment of recognition: I'd hated her from the start, hated her so much I'd begun to wonder if that wasn't my true purpose in life, just to abhor her and deny her any semblance of peace or happiness; I'd begun to wonder if maybe I hadn't imagined my unwavering attraction to her and her rosy red lips, just so I could confuse her and get my petty revenge.

I remembered pretending, afterwards, that I was fine, just fine, that I didn't sleepwalk through the day, that I didn't spend my nights writing page after page of things I wanted to say to her, things I wanted to say to everyone when they asked me what was wrong; page after page of how everything wasn't fine, just fine, how everything was really, truly meaningless.

And then, when I was done, when my fingers were cramped around the pen and the first tendrils of dispassionately glorious sunlight were creeping across the twilit sky, I would find a fireplace and toss those pages into the flames, one by one, thinking all the while that this must be what it's like to be strong, to relish my emotional conflict, to hold on to the hysterical hurt like it was all I had left.

And really, it was.

A memory, fading and tenuous, flitted through my mind:

"Why do you come down here?" Her voice was cautious, curious: an unwelcome disruption.

I stared out across the glassy surface of the lake, a pebble weighing heavily in my hand, just waiting to be thrown; it was the middle of the night and I was cloaking myself in depravity. Masking my tumultuous morality, my ethical hesitancy, making sure she couldn't see my indecision, couldn't hazard a guess at the reason for my moodiness.

"Because I like to," I snapped, tossing a spiteful glare over my shoulder just in time to see her flinch: I determined in that instant that she wouldn't ever know how my heart skipped a beat when she shuddered, how my palms got sweaty and my throat went dry.

"Is it nice, then? To do what you like?" she asked mildly, secreting the edge to inquiry.

"It's even nicer to have other people do what I like," I replied tightly.

I wasn't going to walk away again—I wasn't going to save her.

I was going to save myself. I was going to be strong for myself, not for her, not for my father, or Pansy, or the Dark Lord. I was going to prove, once and for all, that I could be the hypocrite, the antagonist, the Bad Guy: and still be happy. Still be proud. Still be strong.

"Thank you," I said, taking a step towards her. Her eyes were round with confusion, with surprise, with well-concealed fear.

"For what?" she asked me softly, her eyebrows drawn together.

"For making me stronger. For making me realize I needed to be. For…showing me how," I answered simply; my mind screamed at her to turn, to run, to put her wand up and finish me off.

But she didn't turn, and she didn't run, and she didn't try to fight me. What she did, instead, was stare at me with dawning comprehension, with dawning horror.

"Avada kedavra," I said, summoning all the hatred I possessed, all the anger and the insecurity and the broken promises.

"I love you," I whispered into the silence, still staring into her empty, empty eyes.

"I always did," I continued, my hand dropping to my side, my wand clattering to the dusty floor.

"I always will."

THE END