Nothing is Symmetrical
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns all of Harry Potter and sadly, I will only be perpetually borrowing them for my amusement.
A/N: One-shot inspired by J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, which may explain the very different writing style. Fic written in Draco's POV. Perhaps OOC. Post-HBP. Draco and Hermione.
For my soul-searching sisters. May you realize that loneliness will never ever be cured but reduced, little at a time.
I suppose my mother had been one of those few who'd known it'd end this way all this time. I don't know how, or why, because she'd always been there – but not really there, if you know what I mean. For the last fourteen years of my life she'd always been only this shell of a woman, like she'd broken free from the rest of us and she'd only left this soul-less rendition of herself behind. I don't know why, but maybe that was why I envied her and even, over time, came to scorn her. Because I knew that she was already beyond this world and nothing could harm her anymore. She'd already floated up to somewhere we couldn't reach, or see. No matter how many doors slammed in the manor or how many times the antique vases were angrily smashed or how many times the portraits in the Hall of Malfoys screamed at her with narrowed eyes, shrieking at how useless she was. Not supporting your husband, they'd say. But I think they knew what I knew, because they always screamed louder. She couldn't hear them. Couldn't hear me. She was beyond anyone, really. We just didn't know how.
Couldn't really fathom it. Because I knew that everyone wanted to be in that mindset of having no mindset at all. Of being there but not being really there. It was no damned lie that we were all reaching the end of something big – or the glorious beginning of something, I don't know, but just something important and massive that would inexplicably change everyone's lives. Of course, no one really knew the extent of it. They knew people would die. Daggers would be unsheathed. But they never questioned loyalty. I didn't get it at first. And I was downright angry because of it. The first thing I would have bloody questioned was loyalty. That was what tests were for. To see what the true intention of a person was. To dig beneath that fluffy or rough exterior and just see who they really were without all their ornaments and stupid embellishments. Because war wasn't about trinkets and shiny things. War was about winning. War was about trying to prove your cause to be something great – something worthwhile.
Like I said, I didn't get it at first. Couldn't, really. I could blame it all on my father, that dead bastard, and I could blame it on my upbringing. But it wouldn't really matter now. Reasons after what seemed like a lifetime of unruly eras of golden superiority and arrogance – which I am still convinced I lived for, nothing else – didn't seem clever, or noble. Reasons after years of doing what I did would only be excuses. And I was damned content with that because I wasn't noble. I was clever. But I wasn't noble. Damned right I wasn't noble. I'd spit on that word if I could.
But – my mother. That was what I was getting on. They said her eyes were like the ocean, you know. Now, I don't exactly know who said that, but it was only recently that I realized why. It wasn't because sometimes, at really rare moments of happiness, when she squinted her eyes when she smiled they had a faintest hint of blue – like how the ocean looked sometimes. It would be a sea of glimmering silver and the blue would only be lingering right underneath that blanket of terrific, shimmering grey. I'd always thought it was all on the lighting. But, no, that nickname wasn't because of what was in her eyes. It was because of what was beyond it. It was bottomless sometimes. I only remember one instance when I saw her that way, when I was really little, because I already told you that for the past fourteen years of my life she'd already turned into this wafting vegetable. But it wasn't fantastic or anything, she was just sitting in the garden, and I found her there. I walked up to her and peered into her eyes. I don't know why. But it was as if that was the day she'd found something better than what was here, tangibly right around her, and she'd left. Maybe mentally. Maybe emotionally. Maybe all of the above. But I'd known, somehow, that that was the day my mother had truly left me.
So it wasn't much of a loss, not really, when she was killed by my father. I suppose it wouldn't be a mad idea if I told you now that he went a bit barmy at the end. I couldn't say exactly what happened. It was at the Final Battle. I could see my father on the far end and there was fog, for some reason, although sometimes when I dream about it there was never fog. But he was there. I could hear him screaming. A bloody, guttural and rough shout like he had taken a sword and cut it right out of him. He was holding my mother's head in his right hand. I remembered seeing water on his face; it'd been shiny although there was too much blood and sweat to ever remember correctly. But I never like to consider the notion that he'd been crying. I can't tell you why because you probably wouldn't get it. But maybe you'd get it even if I didn't tell you. Just trust me on this.
Everyone would tell you that they got sick at the sight. My mother's severed head hanging from my father's hand. But I don't remember the pull at my stomach, or having to duck in a bush somewhere and throw up or anything. I just remembered that passing wind. It'd been cold and bitter. I remembered that day, when I was really little, when I'd looked into her eyes. I didn't remember her smiling at me because my head had been hurting real horribly and I guess you could say that I was lost in the sight of my mother's head physically disconnected from her body.
I don't know what happened to my father. I don't know what happened to him in Azkaban and who'd let him out to kill my mother, but it wasn't until later, until after he killed that Weasley boy, that he killed himself too. And I remembered Potter running over to the bloody slump of dead, crimson corpses and shoving my father off, almost trampling on his head, to get to dead Weasley. I remembered hearing everyone cry. It was sort of funny, actually, in a perverse way, because we'd won and everyone was crying their fuzzy heads off. Not because they were happy. But because everyone was coated in theirs and somebody else's blood. Nobody even knew how it got so bloody because they'd all been using wands. And nobody really ever wanted to know, as far as I could see.
They held this great memorial for them. They made this gravesite bigger than the manor for them, which I couldn't even disagree with. I went for a little while. I stood in the way back, with my head up, and listened to the people talking. They had some nice things to say about the people who died. Especially Weasley. Everyone sobbed big throaty sobs when it came to him. Potter had refused to say anything and I didn't look at him at all through the funeral but I knew his eyes were wet. Granger was the one who went up to that podium, decorated in Muggle white lilies and funeral flowers that supposedly symbolized all this rubbish that I don't care to remember, and her face had been fierce. It was surprising to me. Her face wasn't wet like the rest of them; her eyes weren't red and puffy, they were ablaze and dark and opaque. I could see the healing cut right along her cheek that I remembered one of the rocks caused when her body had been thrashed by one of the Death Eaters. It was puckered up and pink from the stitches, marring her pale skin. But she didn't hide it with a bandage like the rest of them either. And for some reason I can't explain, even now, I knew why. She had no shame in her scars. This was what she'd gotten. And this was what she was going to show.
But maybe it was just to make her seem tough. I don't know why, though, because nobody ever questioned her toughness except perhaps me. I'd always thought that she was the most delicate out of the whole Order, not because she was a woman, but because… well, I don't know, exactly. She just cared about Potter and Weasley a lot. You could tell. Even in the past when she was snubbing them you could tell she cared. And it was pitiful at first because I thought that it was only because she couldn't hold it out on her own. That she needed those boys to make sure that she was there, really there, and that people wouldn't acknowledge her if they weren't there with her or that her palpable existence would start to dull away into the air if she was without them for too long. But it wasn't until the war began, the gruesome magnificent war, that I was plagued with different thoughts.
Because Potter and Weasley needed her just as much as she needed them. That was what really struck me. That they needed that Mudblood so much that they put their lives on the line. And I knew she was clever and all, and insufferable and annoying, but I couldn't understand why they needed her that terribly. She was brilliant, sure, but that was it. But then I remember when the Order was all staying at Potter's fugitive dead godfather's place, I was walking along the hall, and I heard some hushed voices. They were talking all at once, real urgent, and real serious, too. And I was always mean and curious, so I quietly walked back and peeked through the narrow opening of their door – damn idiots didn't even bother to close it.
And I heard some things. I don't think I ever heard it before. I mean, it was frighteningly intimate on many levels that I even felt bad listening to it. But something kept me there, glued to the chilly wood of their door, my palm pressed against the doorframe and clenching harder the more I heard. I wanted to tear myself away and run down the hall and down the stairs and plunge my head into some cold water, for some reason, but I didn't. And I told you; I don't know why I stood there for as long as I did.
I could tell you that I couldn't remember most of what they said. And that would be partly true. Their voices were so hushed that it hurt my ears to listen to it. But I concentrated on her voice because it was what appealed to me the most. It was so full of emotion that I remember my stillborn heart jumped at the sound of it. It was the three of them in the same room. The lights were off. And I could tell, at that moment, that they were saying goodbye.
It was a strange thing to be thinking but I felt it. It was like a big punch stumbling my ribcage and scattering the bones to the pit of my stomach. Because for the Holy Trio, the ones that seemed so certain and concrete more than anything else in this whole sodding war, to be saying goodbye to their soul mates seemed to unravel everything inside me. Like maybe they had been fooling us all this time and we weren't going to win after all. And that maybe I had switched sides only to lose. That maybe I was going to end up one of those dirt graves that people only put down flowers for just to be nice.
They told each other that they loved each other. I guess it was nice in a way, in that stupid nineteen-fifties way, but I was still as confused as hell. I remembered the splintered wood biting into my palm then, my jaw clenched inside my mouth, waiting for some confirmation that perhaps went something like this: "But, don't worry. We're going to win. People are going to die but we're going to win." But I suppose at that moment when I finally heard a quiet crying from inside the room – I didn't know who it was, and maybe it was all of them but I doubted it – that I knew for certain that it was almost scary that they wouldn't have said that even if they'd known that I was listening.
They didn't say much afterwards. And I had to slowly unglue myself from their door in case one of them felt like going out to get a glass of water or something. But I remember just staring at that flaked paint on their door that I'd always complained about because this house was so filthy, in a dazed trance. I don't know what I thought about then. About everything, I guess, a mad montage of everything significant and everything insignificant in my life. I heard a roaring in my ear even though in my other ear there was complete silence. I suddenly felt cold. And I wouldn't hand feed you rubbish just to make me seem like a good guy to you, because I'm really not one of those, but I shivered. It wasn't any self-revelation shit. None of that happened then. That 'Oh, I'm such a terrible person, maybe I should go in and apologize and scoot into their 'circle o' love' was nowhere near my mouth. But I would be lying if I told you I hadn't spared a single thought on it.
But I remembered that night I was drinking some of that scotch that was hidden underneath one of the floorboards (I didn't know who did it, but I made a toast to the genius) and it was so old that it was bitter, but I didn't care. Potter came in. He looked ugly as always, but he'd looked monstrous that night. Maybe it was just the scotch, but I doubted it. The kid looked bloody fifty recovering from a stroke and he was only eighteen – or seventeen, I don't know, but nowhere near fifty. And he noticed the nasty cut I had on my hand from that splinter by their door. He threw a roll of bandages at me before he left, not talking at all.
But at the funeral I couldn't help but look at him while Granger was talking, even though I'd sworn I wouldn't. He looked like he'd eaten the bandages and it hadn't helped at all, but what surprised me was that he wasn't bawling his soul out at all. Everyone looked pale in their black robes and solemn as hell. All of the phonies that I hated from Hogwarts attended but they didn't seem like phonies then. But I didn't pay much mind to them, I just looked at Granger. And I thought then that I was really wrong. She was probably the strongest out of all of them. I can't really explain why, but you should have seen her face. A warrior face, all the way. And it suited her, strangely. Like at the war when I'd saved her from that bastard my father always had coming over to the house about 'artifacts' (because they liked throwing kiddy-fake words in my face), and she'd landed in a puddle after I'd killed him, and I could tell she was freezing, it was melted ice, after all. But she'd just looked so fierce under the moonlight. Like one of those Greek Goddesses that had perpetually flaring tempers.
She didn't cry when she spoke. Didn't look like she wanted to, either, because I knew she wasn't one of those people who put on a show just because it would comfort everyone else. We didn't need that. Everyone knew everyone was hurting, most especially her, and it wouldn't have even mattered if she'd cried or not because everyone was too preoccupied with their own hot blurry eyes that they wouldn't have seen her tears, had she cried any. She just said that he was a great guy – a terrific guy, and she honestly couldn't say enough to justify him. She didn't say anything about how unfair it was that he had to die and not someone else, but I could see on her face that she was thinking it. Even though that night I had eavesdropped on them it was really obvious that they'd already considered that possibility. They'd been ready. That's why the tears wouldn't be of any use. They'd known one of them would die.
Because, really, they knew ultimately that there had to be a massive loss involved. If there wasn't, it wouldn't be this great, big, legendary war that would be printed into millions of textbooks and whispered about by veterans and housewives. They knew it was coming. It was painful, Merlin, I know – at least, I think I can imagine – but I really can tell you that there's nothing you can do with pain. You can't cry about it and expect it to go away. You can't think about it and expect it to go away. It's just there. Like a scar – except worse. This time, it's on your soul. And God knows that your soul is like this permanent monument to how screwed up you are. And I can understand that people will endlessly pick at it, like how some people tried to do with Potter, and maybe Granger, but Granger was too fiery for any of that. Potter's soul was analyzed in the papers. But even I know that that didn't mean that everyone had the right to croon over his wounds.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I sort of felt sorry for him. Looking at him even though I swore right from the beginning I wouldn't, I saw how stoic his face was and how pain could numb you sometimes. Maybe Potter felt a little mad himself. I wouldn't blame him. He'd seen a lot. And now, hell, his best mate dying is just another tally on his gravestone. Another nick on his soul. I could tell – even though I really didn't want to – that he kind of blamed himself for his death, even though it was really my father that did it. But Lucius was dead, and Potter was living, and living was better than death.
I couldn't stand to look at him anymore so I turned my gaze away. I knew I wanted to leave before the viewing because I didn't think I could stomach seeing Weasley hopped up on preservatives by those morticians at the Magical Morgue and dressed in his single best suit – dead. I mean, I did sort of want to, just a little, so I could say goodbye and sorry. But then I realized that it wouldn't matter if I said it to his dead self or to the sky or to the ocean. A dead person couldn't hear you even if the last thing they would have expected – living or dead – was to hear you say that you were sorry. It wasn't as if the moment I'd uttered the words Weasley'd suddenly leap back to life and give nearly everyone a heart attack. So I decided to leave. I figured I'd say sorry to him when it wasn't so steamy and muggy with all of the tears and sobbing women. They'd ruin my concentration. Funny how I needed to concentrate to say that I was sorry.
But before I could turn away, Granger was still finishing her speech. It wasn't as if her speech was long or anything, it was just that I'm a fast thinker and I think about a whole lot of stuff when I hop on that serious 'train of thought'. But her eyes had been steady on the crowd, grave and melancholy, flickering to the right or left. Never looked down. Never looked up. I really had to hand it to her. She was a brave little thing. Warrior face, all the way.
Then she looked at me, and I stiffened. I don't know why I did, because she'd looked at me plenty in the past – withering glowers or scowls painted with disdain. There'd always been that level of intrepid intensity in Granger that managed to stun a few people like McGonagall and even Potter, but I never bothered with it. Because everyone had intensity when they wanted to – when they felt it. But I'm saying that I hadn't really comprehended what was so special about her that dumbfounded people until that moment. She wasn't glaring at me. She wasn't scowling, which was new, but not really, since over the past five months she hadn't really kicked me down to my knees with her merciless looks of the dagger variety. She'd always been cold to me, though, which had been sufficiently reciprocated, intentionally or not. So that look she gave me right then, full of fire and emotion that it would have seemed mawkish had it not been so damned enigmatic and poignant, contradicted me. Twisted my heart inwards until it kissed the back of my ribs.
And her gaze was steady. Like she was piercing right through me, which sounds really stupid, but you'll feel it someday and you'll know, if you don't already. All I know is, it's pretty rare when somebody looks at you and doesn't seem to look through you at all, but inside you. Like there's something there that they can see that you can't even see. Maybe I'm not making sense right now, and maybe words can't do it any justice, but I'm sure as hell trying.
But the point is that she pinned me down with those dark brown eyes of hers – almost pitch black because they were so dark – even after she'd finished her speech. And I found myself still lost in the crowd, staring at where she once was, trying to dazedly figure out what that feeling was. What had just happened, actually. Had I just connected with Granger? The Mudblood that had been first on my hit list before I'd switched sides? And then suddenly it was the viewing and people behind me and in front of me and all around me rushed forward, leaving me behind, and that scene was so familiar to me. I didn't dig my heel into the ground and no one nudged me or prodded me into the line, but I watched them, their bodies heaving and their eyes squinted in agony and sadness, and then there was the youngest Weasley girl sobbing on the floor. I saw her face and it was all I needed to get that composure back inside me to finally leave.
I quickly stumbled out, as fast as I could, out of the memorial and out into the middle of the street. It was pretty bare this time of year. I could tell it was going to rain because of the sky. It was heavy and rolling and dimly bursting for sweet release. And I sort of just stood there awhile. I looked up at the sky, at the rain clouds, and maybe it was one of those moments when I was supposed to sink down to my knees and cry my sodding eyes out because I was such a terrible person and I didn't even treat Weasley decently – not once – and now he was dead, but my eyes were dry. And maybe it's terrible, really terrible, but they stayed that way. I just looked up there, and somehow in the back of my mind I was wondering that age-old question: Was there really such a thing as heaven? And was Weasley up there right now, laughing it all up?
I don't know how long I stood there. Ages, maybe. The world could've passed me by and maybe it had, in an ambiguous way, like the way you see someone one day and the next time you see them they're completely different. And then you start thinking about all the phases they went through and about how you didn't know about any of them, and you were just looking at the result, or a work in progress. And comparing the two. The Before and the After, like it was something special. And I really didn't think about Weasley, to tell you the truth. Sure, I thought about how he was doing now. If he was just gone or if heaven really existed like it was supposed to. But nothing beyond that. Nothing heart-wrenching.
And then, for some reason, I thought about the war. I went through it again in my head. And it was no surprise to me when I ran to the side of the road, where there was a bush, and threw up, even though I hadn't really eaten for days. And I felt really bad because even then I didn't cry. That was why I left the funeral. Because I felt like I didn't belong there, like a demon in a group of angels, because I didn't feel an ounce of what they did. I was sad, but not monumentally sad. I mean, it wasn't like I wanted Weasley to die, but it's not like I'm killing myself over it or anything. I've accepted death. I've seen a lot of it. And that's what I reckon happened to Granger and Potter. Tears had lost sense. Death was an event. That was all it was.
I suppose that's why people call me hollow. An icebox. A heartless bastard. Just like my father. I can't say I concur with the last bit, but I figure that maybe I did have a heart; it was just that it didn't function like everyone else's. Like I said, I could blame it on my upbringing and my terrible, wealthy childhood. But I've honestly never had a problem with having a stillborn heart. Sometimes feeling things were worse than not feeling them. This was that instance. But I felt guilty. I did. I promise you that I did.
- - - - - - - -
Going back to school wasn't as strange as I thought it would be. I thought the halls would be void and everywhere you look there would be some murky face, and there was, for a while, but you can't expect a group of teenagers to be sad all the time. Slowly things were shifting back to the way they were – a lot slower for some people. Some classes were delayed because some people needed to have time to cope and by this time schoolwork was not as big an issue as it used to be. People walked the halls as if they'd lost something significant, even though a lot of them had probably never even talked to Weasley in their lives. Funny how now they would never have to.
Slytherin House was abnormally quiet. Probably because one-third of it had been killed and the other one-third had been sent to Azkaban or was pending for investigational questioning. A lot of them had gone mad, to tell you the truth. Pansy had hung herself in the girl's dormitory right in between hers and Millicent's four-poster bed with some extra-strength panty hose garter after she'd heard that her mother and father had been killed. Another Slytherin, Blaise, who had been Pansy's confidant, had drowned himself in the bath. And the other boys, who had always been known to take more extreme measures, had done grotesque things. One of the Slytherin Quidditch Beaters had ridden his broom straight into the ground and had cracked his skull beyond repair. And Goyle had somehow found a way to hang himself on one of the Quidditch goal posts when he'd found out that Crabbe had gotten killed by Voldemort because he had been two-faced.
Hogwarts had become an infamous school now, not for its glorious reputation, but for its suicides. For the war that had happened just within ten miles of it. Dumbledore, who had mysteriously happened to be alive all this time by some strange occurrence, had shown up after the battle had begun and was back to managing the school. Even he was different. Still a jolly fool because the 'fool' part could never wear off like the 'jolly,' but even he had changed in a way that could never be reversed. For one, there was a long scar along his eye that shone silver sometimes. Like when he looked at me, and it had only been once that I'd been strong enough to hold his gaze before inexorably turning away. To think that I could have killed him and had just been within reach to do so brought me shame. Not because I wished I had done it. But because I'd been weak enough to succumb into doing a disgusting Mudblood's dirty work.
Because lessons were scraped off the agenda, which I can't exactly say I was too happy or sad about, I decided to walk to the lake. It was late and I couldn't sleep. It was dark out, with loads of stars, and I remembered that story about how people turned into stars when they died. I wondered if it was true. I wondered if Weasley was up there along with my mother and father and if they were looking down on us with pity because we were still living and they were already where they were meant to be. But could a victim and his murderer coincide in the same place? I mean, I had a feeling I knew right where my father was. And I didn't feel sad about it at all, because it was true. You probably know it, too, just because he was such a wanky bastard. There are just some things you can't ever take back, you know?
The halls were as quiet as death, but I wasn't too shocked about that. Lately no one walked the corridors by themselves as if they were afraid they might run into something, like a ghost of one of the suicides, and go mad themselves. I silently compared it to the plague. It was a weak analogy, but I really don't think I could explain to you the eerie yet somehow tranquil – in a very strange way – silence of my footsteps against the shining marble. I don't know if the noise seemed a lot duller or sharper than before. To be honest, I couldn't really remember a time when I just concentrated on the sound of my feet against the floor. It didn't seem important, yet now, it seemed a significant testimony to how things had truly changed. As if the war and the deaths and the pain and blood had changed the way the air compacted and moved, or the way sound reached your ears. Everything seemed sadly and tragically different, yet the same, somehow, but the things that were the same seemed to be belittled by the things that did change.
I wasn't too scared about seeing a ghost. In Hogwarts there were plenty of specters and phantoms – some of them you just couldn't see, but they were there. Like a passing draft or the shiver you feel when somebody touches you on your bare skin and their palm and fingers feel like icicles. Besides, I was pretty certain I'd already seen Pansy and Crabbe and Blaise all hanging around the Slytherin common room sometimes, late at night, when someone had left the fire on again. They seemed a lot happier than when they were alive. They didn't have to worry about all of the superficial things – which was something to say about Pansy, since she was dubbed Queen of Superficial Things – like getting a spot or anything like that. Death swept those all away and I heard once that when you're dead you couldn't really remember all of those things you remembered when you were living. Sure, you remembered all of the big things. But not the little things. So it was like a relief, if you want to know. Not that I think you should kill yourself or anything.
It's unusual for me to think about only because I'd known them. All of the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs shed their fake tears for them but they could never comprehend any bit of my bewilderment and confusion because they hadn't known them at all. Pansy was perhaps the last person on earth who would have killed herself. She was a chit, you could say, and she was a damned snob and a self-righteous prat, but she loved life. She liked getting frustrated at all of the little things and breaking up with her boyfriends and telling everyone who had ears (whether they wanted to hear about it or not) about the flings she had over the summer in France. She was aggressive and obnoxious but one of the most honest people I'd ever met. Not once had she seemed like the type to hang herself with an extra-strength panty hose garter. And, would you look at it, she did. Maybe because it just got too much for her to handle, just like Blaise, Crabbe, and that Beater on my team I'd been planning to fire anyway when I got back. And she couldn't bear living in this state of the world, and maybe she saw it as the end of herself, as well. I guess there's a time when arrogance and self-righteousness ceases to exist, and even sex and lipstick. And through her heavily mascaraed lids she only saw life or death. And she chose death.
I'd been hoping to find a letter or something when I got back. Maybe shoved in my desk or something. Because Pansy and me were quite close, and I thought maybe that she would feel as if she owed it to me, just because I got her out of so many shitholes. But I guess she forgot. Either that, or she did leave a secret message for me somewhere and I just had to figure out a way how to get it. She was clever like that sometimes.
I had to grip the rustic handle real tight to get the door to budge. I was going out the back way, just because it was the only way to get to the lake. The creaks and groans of the door were like volcanic disturbances in the calm castle. I had to struggle with the weight and I could feel some of my nerves sting on my right arm with my muscles tense because something had happened to it at the war. Sometimes it still hurts, late at night, and I always have to grit my teeth and squeeze it for a while. I suppose you could call it an automatic reminder. When I think that I was getting along just fine with my day, not getting too dramatic about the war, it came like it never wanted me to have a perfect day without thinking about the war. And I reckon that's what it's trying to say, really. I couldn't forget about it. Even if I wanted to. And the physical pain was just there just in case I did.
When I finally got it to open wide enough, I let go of the handle and slipped past, feeling my body shudder as I heard it slam when it closed right behind me. I waited for a while as if I was waiting for the castle to suddenly collapse to the ground from the loud sound. It didn't. So instead I looked at my hands and smelt that horrible, citrus smell of cold metal embedded all over my hands and rubbed it on the fabric of my trousers, trying to get it out, before walking ahead to that dark sky.
Surprisingly, it was decently temperate, which is rare here, especially in the evenings, but I didn't care to dwell on it for too long. There was a breeze that came and it smelled exactly the way spring should: like lavenders and lilies and wild honey, along with lemons and cotton. I remembered my mother, just a quick flash. Back when she'd been herself, happy and regal, she'd always insisted on having lavenders shipped to our manor just so she could place a vase in every room and the whole house would smell like one giant lavender. And it smelled so strong that it made my eyes tear up when I was little and I couldn't smell half the time, but it made her happy, and I like to think that I was there to witness one of those rare moments, when her eyes squinted in her jubilee and there sparkled that faintest hint of ocean blue. Because I never liked to think about the other moments past my fourth year of age, not really. It only seemed to emphasize the unexplainable tragedies of life. Like how a person could have everything in the world, like hundreds of first-class lavenders, and still be missing that one thing that mattered the most. And then float far away because of it.
The grass was pliable and soft underneath the soles of my shoes. The air was chilly but it was warm against my skin. I hadn't slipped on a coat because nowadays I didn't really care if I was freezing or not. Sometimes – and this is amazing – you could forget all about it.
The moon made the lake magnificent. It was just a silver eyelash in the sky, like a thin and wiry smile, but the ripples in the water reflected the celestial light it managed to catch in its watery pores. I focused on the way it lured me in like a moth to a flame, a much bigger flame, and let my feet work its way there without my brain thinking. Although, now that I think about it, that's sort of impossible. Because the brain is always thinking. That was what it was made to do. But I tossed that thought aside and felt the density of the ground beneath my feet subtly change as I neared the water. I don't know if it got softer or harder, but it changed. I tried to peer out to see if Squid was awake, but there wasn't a tentacle gliding out of the lake.
When I got there, I just stood there for a while, admiring the view, you could say. I really appreciated nature then. I don't know why. Maybe it was just because it was so damned comforting and beautiful sometimes that you wonder why you haven't been seduced enough yet to go down on your hands and kiss the dirt. But I just looked at the fantastic lake and the distorted smile of a moon reflected on the surface. It was great, I guess. Perfectly lonely – and it was only perfect because it was an amiable sort of loneliness. The sort of loneliness everyone needs, once in a while, to get your head back on straight and do all that extra tweaking to make certain that you are who you are and nobody else.
And then, as my eyes drifted over to the hovering stars overhead, I started thinking about Weasley again. I thought about how I hadn't had the time to apologize yet, and that maybe this time was as good as any. There was water, all right, plenty of water, but it wasn't the sort of water produced from a horrific family affair. Man-made water. But a natural one that was even peaceful and I thought that I could do with that.
I sat down on the log overlooking the lake. I didn't remember ever sitting out here late at night all by myself, but I liked it a lot. It made me sane.
I chose my words carefully, although I don't know why. A simple "Sorry" would have been fine, but I reckon I was feeling nicer than before. I thought I owed it to him, just a little.
"Well, Weasley," I said, feeling like an idiot for talking to the lake, but not really. I was hoping this would not be in vain and that he could really hear me. I felt like asking for a sign to prove his attention, but I didn't feel like getting struck by lightning or anything like that. So I went on. "You were one of the most insufferable gits I'd ever met in my life. You were poor. You associated with Mudbloods. I really hated you down to a 'T'. But I suppose," I sighed, my eyes flickering to the willow right across from me, "that doesn't matter at all once you're dead. Everything gets cut loose. Rivalry's old news, because there's no rivalry in heaven, is there?" I asked, though it was toned scornfully and I was really mocking him. I looked down, because I felt kind of bad for saying that. Then I remembered something. I remembered that picture I once saw in the Daily Prophet of the three of them: Potter, Granger, and Weasley, back when he was still alive. They were all laughing. And I don't remember why I remembered it, but I did, and something imploded in my chest. And I don't know why I thought it, but I did, and it went like this: That lucky bastard.
"I think it's a real shame you died," I said, no longer meticulously choosing my words, getting a bit angry. "And I think everyone else thinks so, too. Granger most definitely thinks so. I think she would have begged God himself to have me die rather than you. And I think you're a real arsehole for that." And Merlin, I really hated that he was such an affable kid. That he had practically the whole world at his funeral and everyone except the three of us (me, Potter, and Granger) hadn't had dry eyes. Even the ones that didn't like him at all, not even a little bit, came and cried their stupid eyes out. I didn't get it, not really. I mean, I didn't want to. Here was a time when I could just look at Weasley like a regular wizard, a human being one – disregarding his poverty and temper and major dislike for me. But I was pushing it away. And I even sort of felt like I was in that lake right now, trying to keep my chin up and above the water, but I was sinking, and I was drowning.
Because, really, to be honest with you, I was angry that Granger would rather have me dead and killed than Weasley, even though it was perfectly predictable and expected, more than anything else. And I can't say exactly why I was, which was probably why I found myself grasping for some plausible, insane, terrible reason that could justify a bad man's actions. But as much as I wouldn't have minded dying, it was just the thought that even if I had died and Weasley had stayed alive, my funeral would have been nothing like his. And I could accept that. Easy. But I couldn't deny that the thought sort of tugged at the drawing cords of my stomach.
And you probably know what I'm thinking right now. I like to think that I can be relatable, even when it came to things like death. You're doubtlessly thinking that I deserved no better funeral – that I deserved no funeral at all for what I'd done. But I think that the worst thing that made me sick was the thought that I most perhaps would have had a funeral, not because they meant to have one, but because they wanted to have one just for show. To show that they were nice and never deserving of any harm, just to be big phonies. And I promise you that if that did happen, and Granger had cried at my funeral unlike Weasley's and had said all of this weepy rubbish, I would have leapt back to life and killed them all. I'm not joking. The last thing I'd ever want is for all of the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws to come out and look at dead me with fake tears in their stupid eyes and act as if they'd really cared about me before going off to neck with their dates with the quiche platter.
So what I'm trying to say is, amidst all of my grousing and anger, was that Weasley was lucky. Not just for dying and leaving all of this behind, but because he'd had something a lot of us don't have. Or probably just me. And I don't regret it, but I have to tell you, it did make me bitter like salt in the winter. He'd had Granger and Potter. And even though they hadn't cried, you could tell that he'd meant a lot to them – so much that tears did not do justice. And it's not that I want to have friends like Potter and Granger. It's just that it wouldn't hurt for anybody, really, to have people make speeches at your funeral and really mean it more than anything else in the world.
"I hope you're having fun up there," I said. "Because it's utter shit down here." I think that was the most honest I'd ever been since this war started. "And I don't want you to think I'm only saying this so we could end things indifferently. If I'd wanted that, I wouldn't be wasting my breath saying any of this nonsense. But, see… I'm sorry, all right?" I sighed, and a part of me felt a little better. Not drowning anymore. Not drowning. "You were all right, sometimes." And then I told him, just to be nice and maybe to frighten him a bit (and hint off that the world was coming to an abrupt end) that I liked his funeral. Which was only half a lie, because it had been decent, I guess. "Too much crying, though," I smirked. "It was like a bloody sauna in there."
I was going to then say that he would have hated it, but I stopped myself. How could I say that when I didn't even know him? And the fact that I just might have known him in that way seemed a lot too terrifying to say out loud. So I just kept it in my head, because I figured it was just supposed to be kept in there. You know, that whole lock it up and throw away the key kind of way. Exactly like that.
And I just stopped talking. I just looked up at the sky, at how calm it seemed, and at the water and the moon. How in sync they seemed to be with each other. How at peace they were, and I had a sense as if I couldn't have imagined the world being at war just three months ago, even though it had. I could have fallen asleep there had I dropped down to my knees and curled up into myself, lying down with nature, pressing myself against the dirt. I remembered something some old woman had said to me from some scripture before one of the Death Eaters had killed her. Something about how we all came from dirt, and when we died, we would return back to dust. She'd been crying then and she'd been clutching something in her hand. I remembered wanting to stop the Death Eaters from killing her just because… just because it wasn't fair. But none of it was fair. And what really killed me inside was that even if I had interfered somehow, it wouldn't have ended up any differently. She still would have gone back to dust.
"I bet he liked hearing that."
I froze, and out of the corner of my eye I could see a dark figure heading toward me from one of the willows. I turned my head even though I knew I didn't have to, because only one person's voice could make the marrow inside my bones reverberate the way it did. As she came closer I could make out the frizz of her hair, yet it was charming in the way it was pulled back, but only barely. She wasn't wearing a cloak either, not even a jumper. She was wearing a pair of simple trousers and a plain shirt.
I looked away once she sat down next to me, not the least bit embarrassed, but ashamed. The last thing I wanted was to have her hear me talking to dead Weasley – because as far as she knew, I cared nothing about closure and loose ends and all that. I was dirty Malfoy who'd joined the good side at the last minute just because he'd had a vision and knew – vaguely and blurrily – that this was how it was going to end up. That I was going to end up here, sitting on this log, on this night, looking out at the cunning smirk of the moon. But somehow it had been cut off there. I didn't remember anything about Granger coming to me or eavesdropping.
I couldn't recall her talking to me at all after the war, or even before. Although I did hear her talk and never forgot her intonation of certain things – sharp like a sword and sometimes shaky like an earthquake – it felt strange to interact with her, especially now, her knowing what she knew and me knowing what I knew. I almost wanted to just stand up and walk back to the castle to rid myself of the sudden shivers that rippled across my skin, just like how the breeze affected the lake and caused the reflection of the moon to shudder. But I was grateful for her company, actually. Because, just because, I had an ominous feeling that if I had ventured further down that road, that amiable loneliness would have had transcended into a less amiable form of loneliness. There was a thin line.
She sat down next to me, so close that I could feel her warmth washing over me. My face tensed as I looked out, not wanting to look her in the eye. But I could feel her movements on the rickety log as she shifted her feet and her hands, as her elbow brushed against mine, and she didn't try and move away, not once. I'm not going to lie to you and say that I knew exactly what to say to her. I really had no clue. We'd never spoken to each other and for her to just approach me was strange. Even nature, from the way the willow branches shook and the breeze strengthened with a new scent wafting along with its lulling rhythm, seemed to agree.
"It's surprising, really," she said.
"What? That you're eavesdropping?" I said coldly, just because I wasn't taught too well on how to handle uneasy situations. I could smell her. She smelled just like spring, but with traces of winter, too. She smelled like wild honey and lavenders but there was a trace of peppermint that I was sure didn't belong. I could see from the corner of my eye that she wasn't looking at me. She was looking straight ahead.
"You were talking moderately loud," she told me, not sounding nice or anything. Just matter of fact, like she'd always been. "I hardly think the blame should befall on me just because your voice carries."
What I really wanted to ask her was what she was doing here. What – did she feel sorry for me? Did she think that just because I attempted to tie up that ugly loose end between me and Weasley that we could be friends? Because I hadn't been aware of that at all. The idea seemed preposterous and even borderline insane to me. I couldn't imagine myself being friends with her, calling her by her first name, or laughing with her. It was impossible. I told you I wasn't noble. Yet here was Hermione Granger, Queen Noble. And the worst part was, I didn't even know whether she was a phony just like the rest of them or she was one of the rare ones that weren't. I mean, it was true that she had a vicious warrior face, but did that make her true? I'd never really thought about it.
"I saw you at the funeral," she said quietly, yet, like I said, she wasn't being nice. Her voice was dull but sharp at the same time, in some odd way, but it still kind of cut. But she didn't sound angry. She didn't sound as if she was planning on shoving me into the lake. "That was good you came."
"Why?" I asked, a bit harshly, but it was only because I really did want to know why it was good that I came. I never thought that she'd ever say that to me, not in a million years. And I started to get suspicious because of it.
She didn't seem shocked by my question. "Because he would have wanted you to come, believe it or not." Her tone was indifferent. "You were on our side. You fought with us. You won with us."
"What? And that makes up for all of the terrible things I've done in the past?" For some reason, I was starting to get angry and my eyes had narrowed into a spiteful glare at the sky.
"No," she said, and then she looked at me. Her eyes, even in the darkness, burned my skin. "But it's a start. Barely a start, actually, but it's there." Her eyes pinned me down again, like a monstrous surf, and I knew I was either going to get crushed or escape with broken lungs. "I don't know why you're so eager on setting yourself apart from us, Malfoy, but you're doing a damned good job, if you want to know. But someday you're not going to like what you are, or who you are." They turned frigid. "And I really hope you don't end up rotting in a ditch somewhere."
"And what exactly are you saying, Granger?" I snapped at her, unable to help it. My mind was buzzing from what she'd said to me and my skin was buzzing from her voice. "That I should join your nobility club – that I should fake it and be just like everyone else? I don't know if you've noticed, but that war—"
"Was hell," she finished abruptly. "I was there, Malfoy, I don't need you lecturing me about it. But I'm only saying that you're wrong, about what you said. I don't beg to God that he should have taken you instead of Ron." I froze in my spot. "You clearly seek to exaggerate things, don't you?" she scoffed. "You're an idiot, is what I think. You act like some stranger, like an ice being, yet you're… you're just like us. Why can't you show it?"
"Because I don't need bloodhounds like you poking your nose into my business, that's why," I bit out. "I don't know who you are, but you aren't my mother, nor are you my father. They're both dead. Go smother Potter, why don't you, because I don't have a drip of a care to listen to you and your stupid morals."
She was quiet. "You fancy the thought that no one understands you. You like being different. You think you're better than everyone else because you're distant. You're transparent, you know? A transparent fool." She paused, just looking at me, and I hated the way I could feel my nerves start to sing and goose bumps begin to peak all over my arms and neck. From the very corner of my eye, even though I made it my objective not to look at her, I could see delicate wisps of her hair being carried along with the wind's current.
"What are you going to do now, Malfoy?" she asked me, in a very calm and even almost soothing voice. She was intimidating but she seemed curious and sincere. I don't know if I hated that. "What are you going to do now – now that all your friends are gone? Are you just going to-to drift away, is that it? Or are you going to end up hanging yourself on one of the goalposts, too, or smash your head in by riding your broom straight into the ground?"
"What does it matter what I'm going to do?" I told her with unmistakable venom in my voice. "People die all the time. I don't expect you'll be forlorn over my death if the case did transpire as reality."
She turned her head and was looking out to the lake. A cloud was passing over the moon, lessening its bright light. I couldn't see what the shadows revealed on her face, but I can tell you right now as a fact that it was a different side of her. Like the flicker of a flame before it was extinguished. And I don't even think she'd showed it to anyone else before, but I could see it then, on her face. She was thoughtful and contemplative, but grave, like she was on the brink of something important and life changing. I could almost feel her fingers on mine, like a soft brush, but I didn't jerk my hand away. Even if I was hostile in nature and presence and even in words – most especially words – I didn't feel like walking off back to the castle because she disgusted me. Because I had a feeling, a deep feeling right inside the core of my chest, that had this been a year ago and we'd been at different situations, she'd have hexed me or punched me by now. But she hadn't. Because like the way the leaves on the willows shook and rustled and there was that distinct scent of spring in the air, change was here, change was now. We couldn't see it. But we could feel it.
And I know that sounds like shit to you. Rubbish. And maybe you think I'm wrong, but you'll feel it one day, maybe one day soon, and you'll think back to this and go: 'Oh, so that's what he was talking about.' And you'll not think about it anymore, because just like change, it passes very quickly, and the new turns into the old faster than you know. But it's these pivotal moments when you can just see it like that bend in the road, or when you feel that first drop of rain or smell it in the air, that you really do think about it. Like witnessing a sunset. You think about it because you have to, and it changes you, just a little bit, that you don't even notice. But it does.
Then, slowly, I heard rain. The soft pitter-patters of it like footsteps in the distance start to fall down towards us, towards the lake, towards the grass. I saw the reflection of the carved moon wobble and become disturbed by the drops of water as the entire lake began to wrinkle like a snake shedding its skin. The rain was only gentle, which was odd, but I was grateful that it didn't rain any harder. It didn't get any colder, either, and as I felt the rain on me and the breezes come and go, I looked out and I knew that that moment had gone. Gone forever, my mother used to say. Just another part of your life that you won't remember once it's gone because the brain only took in the big things, and things like change, like nature, was too small and too much a part of life to really embed in there.
We sat in the rain. My clothes were slowly getting damp from the small drops. I could see Granger's hair glistening, little droplets getting caught in her lioness tresses. Neither of us moved. I didn't know what she was thinking, not at all, and I couldn't even tell you what I was thinking then. Just that the rain had seemed to get a little nicer. And then I had this thought about the war. How it had been raining a lot the past few days, and maybe it was like this sort of baptism thing, to wash away all the blood. Only I knew you couldn't wash away something like war with water and the metaphor ceased to matter.
Then, suddenly, Granger began to get off of the log. She walked a few steps in front of me, very slowly, looking out towards the lake and not saying a word. Then she stopped and next thing I knew, she had grabbed the edges of her shirt and had pulled it over her head. My brows instantly furrowed as her skin glowed in the moonlight, the slender curve of her back revealed to me with that white strip of garter right across from her bra. She dropped her shirt to the ground, and I watched it with a disturbed face, wondering just what in the hell had gotten into this girl.
"Granger," I said loudly and even urgently, tasting the rain on my lips. "What in the bloody hell do you think you're doing? Put your shirt back on!" And I lunged at the piece of cloth on the ground, snatched it, and held it out to her, afraid to look at her body so I stared fiercely at her face. She turned around and her face was serious, not looking as if she was joking or anything. Her eyes bore into me and I felt that creeping sensation again, crawling up my spine and burrowing deep inside the nape of my neck, entwining inside my hair.
"I'm going to go swim in the lake," she said to me, grabbing her shirt and tossing it towards the log behind me. "You can join me if you want." Didn't sound too inviting, but she was staid. I tried to see if she'd been drinking by peering into her eyes, feeling my hair plastered to my forehead from the rain, but I could see that she wasn't. By Merlin, this girl was completely sober. Had she really gone mental like the rest of them?
"Are you mad?" It seemed perfectly appropriate to ask this. "It's raining, and there's Squid—"
"If you're wondering whether the water's cold," she said, sweeping a fallen curl back, "you'll be pleased to know that you won't die from hypothermia, if that's what you're worried about. It'll only be chilly, but not freezing. And as for Squid" – she turned away and started walking towards the lake again and kicked off her shoes – "he won't mind. He likes me. Besides, he's sleeping, and if we don't go too far in, then we'll be fine." And then she turned her head to look at me from the corner of her eye. "We'll be fine."
And as I stood there, frozen with shock and incredulity from what was happening right now, with an almost half-naked Granger right in front of me – who was, by the way, inviting me to go swimming in my knickers with her – I felt my head spin. I wanted to step back and shut my eyes tightly, partly because I had glimpsed down while she had been talking to me and found my hormones buzzing with excitement (not only because she had a pleasant body but because of the offer of adventure she seemed to be giving to me) and partly because this was too much change to deal with all at once. Didn't Granger hate me? Wasn't she utterly disgusted by me and my upbringing? So why was it now she had just succeeded in undressing herself (not completely, but still) and was asking me to come along on this skinny-dip of hers? Was she honestly barmy?
It seemed an abrupt and aggressive – not to mention wholly bizarre – transition from where we had been just ten minutes ago. She'd been lecturing me about my remoteness while I'd been snapping at her to mind her own business. And now… well, now, as I watched her, obviously dumbfounded by this sole change of events, she had undone the buttons of her trousers, zipped down her zipper, and was now shimmying out of them, giving me a good glance of her cotton knickers from behind. I clenched my jaw but my heart was pounding like a riot inside my ribcage, ricocheting from one side to the other. My throat was dry and I felt like gulping down the rain. Yet there was something about this, something about what she was doing, that struck me as… I can't say, exactly. But I knew it wasn't some sex scheme. She hadn't licked me or anything, or particularly given me one of those smoldering looks Pansy had mastered. But the way she was going about it seemed important, if not foolhardy and flawed.
Her wet trousers plopped down to the grass with a heavy sound.
What the hell was this girl doing?
And then she looked out, her hands on her hips, her whole body bathed in the white light. I could scarcely see the raindrops sliding down her bare skin, down her wrists, down her ankles. And then she turned around, giving me a look, still as grave as ever, her brows corrugated.
"Well? Are you coming or not?"
"You're going to get caught, you know," I told her. "And you're going to die with a red face. Not to mention you'll—"
"Honestly, who would think to look for us out in the lake at a quarter past midnight?" she said back, a bit nettled. And damn, I really have to tell you, when she said that, she really kind of looked nice. In that weird sort of way, like when you fancy the way a person gets annoyed and the way you can see that crinkle right in between their eyebrows. It was sweet.
"I'm not coming," I adamantly told her, because she was out of her mind. "And I'm going to laugh when Filch catches you."
She gave me a look. "Suit yourself, you coward," she said back, her voice pretty through the rain. And then her lovely well-proportioned body turned itself around and headed towards the bank, me watching with a slight burn in my chest. Good Merlin, what if she drowned? Would I get in trouble for that? What if Squid caught her and I had to rescue her to prevent her body from being thrashed or squeezed to death?
Once her toe was on the bank, I called out to her, frenetic. "Wait!"
She froze, her back completely still, my eyes taking in the supple camber of her shoulders and the pleasing – even feverishly seductive – arcs of her waist. She turned her head, but not completely around, just so that I could see the side of her face. She was paying attention.
"Wait a second," I loudly but begrudgingly said. Sighing loudly, asking myself what monstrosity I was getting into now, I hesitantly took the bottoms of my shirt before pulling it over myself. I shivered, but I tossed it behind me and after clumsily kicking off my shoes I walked after her as she quickly turned her head towards the front once I was only a few paces behind. I planted myself right beside her, looking out into the lake with a strange squirming in my gut, my head roused with thoughts of drowning and harmful microscopic germs. My hand brushed against hers. "You've got to be really mad, Granger," I told her, shaking my head, "pulling off a stunt like this. You could be in detention for months. Not to mention you could die."
I could see her face from the corner of my eye, and I almost thought, in the light, that her cheeks were a little flushed. But her once stern, horizontally-pressed lips quirked upwards, and even if I hadn't seen all of it, my heart took an underwater dive.
"I know," she answered. I could hear crackling adventure in her voice. "All right, then, if you've done away with your sissy apprehension, we'll go on three. One… two…" And then I felt something clasp around my hand, stumbling with my fingers, yet at the same time fitting perfectly against my palm. Her skin was wet and warm against mine. I stiffened from her bold action, yet as she squeezed tight, I found myself responding. I shifted my hand so that our fingers slid in comfortably beside each other's, holding on tight.
I really had no idea what I was getting into, to tell you the truth, but for the first time in years, I felt like it was going to be something good. And you may think that this was that trite nonsense I told you about once before, and maybe it is. But I guess there's a point in your life, saintly or not, when it just has to be hackneyed, just because it is. And even if it is, you don't worry about it, because it feels nice. Not just nice. But right, in a way. And it's just so overwhelming that once you feel it, you don't want to let go, even if you know that you have to, sooner or later. Because maybe you think that you'll speed away into that blur of a life you had back then, filled with things not worth remembering, and things like blood and death and disconnection. And even if I had been ready to argue it all out with Granger minutes ago, before the rain, before the invitation… it didn't matter, somehow.
"Wait," I said, right before she said three. She abruptly stopped. I turned my head and looked at her straight in the face. "Why exactly are we doing this?" I asked her, just because it would feel right knowing. I mean, there were germs down there.
"Because," she said, a secretively cunning smile flickering across her face for a mere second that once the shadow of the cloud passed, it was gone. But her eyes sparkled and it showed me that every smile didn't have to be shown in the placement of your mouth. "Because we've got nothing to lose."
And before I could really comprehend that, really appreciate it and get what she meant – although I sort of knew already – she had squeezed my hand again, and yelled out, with her eyes happily squinting, right into the sky and out to the world: "One – two – three!"
We dived in.
And as my head splashed up to the surface, Granger's hand still in mine under the water, I could have sworn right then and there that I'd seen Pansy, pale and ethereal underneath the moonlight, smiling at me right at the edge of the lake with her hands on her hips and her mascaraed lids pinched merrily. And I knew, as Granger's laughter filled the air and I felt her body brushing against mine, my own wet lips stretching into a foreign grin, that I'd finally received that message of hers.
Post-A/N: Hm, yes, a whole lot different from my other works. But I'd appreciate it if you could press that lovely button down below and submit a review! I hope you all liked it, and you got the message from their little 'dive' although for some it may be ambiguous. I also think this is one of my very rare fics when the focus and spotlight is all on Draco, and to be honest, I really enjoyed it, even if the style/characterization is OOC.