Disclaimer: None of it is mine
Notes: Written for the dmhgficexchange for reetinkerbell's prompt. Thanks to SunnyJune for the beta.
Hermione hovered on a broomstick four feet above the dewy grass of the Quidditch Pitch, give or take an inch or two, high enough so that her feet dangled in the air, just low enough so should she ever fall of her broom the worst she could suffer was a sprained ankle.
She liked it up here (this would be the most "up here" she could get without barfing). Because up here, her feet kissed the air and the wind danced with her robes. And because up here, Ron didn't fancy Lavender and Harry did not get mad at her for things she could not help.
Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. She would not think about them, not here. This was her space, sacred space. Up here, where the soles of her feet felt the gentle push of the breeze, there was no pending war. No sacrifices to be made. No pressure to excel. No magic, no wands. She was just Hermione Granger. Her favorite candy is Fizzing Whizzbees. Her favorite song is The Beatles' 'In My Life.' She read all of Jane Austen's books. Her guilty pleasure was watching 'Coronation Street' on the telly. She lived in a village where all the houses looked the same. Her biggest worry was that she had a pimple smack in the middle of her forehead and the thought that her jeans made her look fat.
Just words, mud (noun: earth that is very wet, soft and gummy) and blood (noun: red fluid circulating the body); words she learned when she was three years old.
She felt a swoosh run upon her cheek, and her hair flew all over the place. She opened her eyes and stared at the intruder of her peaceful bubble. Malfoy, pasty sixth year from the Slytherin house. Prefect as well. Known to dress like a vicar. That is all she knew of him, here.
"What're you doing down here, Mudblood? Afraid you'll fall off your broom if you go any higher? You should do just that, you know. One more piece of garbage out to make the universe right," he said acidly.
She shut her eyes. If she didn't see him, he didn't exist; his words were for naught. Philosophy she learned when she was nine.
"I'm not going away, Granger. I'm going to practice today. Better leave, your presence disgusts me," he continued.
"Bite your acerbic tongue and choke on it, Malfoy," she replied, finally opening her eyes.
"Where are Potty and Weasel? Forget that, I don't give a shite. Just go away, now."
"You like flying Malfoy?" she asked with an innocuous tone.
Malfoy was taken aback by the simplicity of the question and simply answered, "Yeah."
"Well, I like it when my feet don't touch the ground," she said.
Before he could reply, she dropped to the ground as gracefully as a trained ballerina. She whacked the end of his broomstick with her own as she walked past him.
She could hear him sobbing from where she stood leaning on the second Quidditch pole. He was a small black blip on the sun deprived sky. She wondered if he even knew that the silence could not compete against his embarrassing wailing.
She imagined he lost the snitch he practiced with and finally realized how completely useless he was. And then she imagined he cried because his father was in Azkaban. But he was just the pasty sixth year boy from Slytherin so she dismissed the thought.
She hovered over the ground, just enough not to kill herself.
"Come on, Granger. Fifty galleons if you can catch the snitch," he taunted her.
"Is your life so boring you have to fly down here and talk to me?" she said. Eyes closed, keep your eyes closed.
"Just out of curiosity, Granger, why are you so afraid of flying?" It was an innocent question.
"Falling off my broom and dying comes to mind," she replied dismissively.
"So you're afraid of dying then?" A mildly malicious question.
"If I were to die this young, I'd want my death to have a purpose." Eyes still closed. He was simply a thought in her head; she just had to keep her eyes closed.
"You love Potter that much?" And he said it as if he could see snot hanging down her nose.
"I love my friends as much. Yes."
Words were stuck in his chest and she felt him will the words out, a forceful push from his diaphragm. "I love someone just as much."
She looked, looked just once before he let go of the snitch and went off to catch it.
The next time she saw him; he carried a battered Potions book, sneered at her and called her a Mudblood. Harry smacked him. She loved Harry.
He was there again in front of her, hovering above the ground, but not enough to kill himself. And she kept her eyes closed; he was too pasty, she was afraid she'd go blind if she looked at him.
"What the fuck are you playing at, Malfoy?" she finally said after five minutes of silence. Easy silence, her mind told her.
"There are wards, you know. You think Dumbledore will let us play if there is a possibility we'll fall to our demise?" he said.
"I'm not one to take magic for granted. There's always a possibility of death in everything. Like right now, there's a very real possibility of me killing you with my bare hands if you don't shut up and go away," she answered irritably.
He shut up but did not move. There was comfort in company. Up here, Mudblood does not mean anything; just two words, mud and blood. Words he learned when he was three years old.
When Hermione was five years old she learned of the word 'Destiny' (noun: the apparently predetermined and inevitable series of events that happen to somebody or something).
"There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin," she overheard Ron say.
A rotten house for a rotten lot. Malfoy was a Slytherin. He was destined to be evil as she was destined to be good. Predetermined, inevitable. It was simple, black and white, no gradients, no levels.
Yet she cried, her ear pressed on the lavatory door, feet not touching the floor, carefully balancing herself on the toilet seat as she heard Malfoy tell Moaning Myrtle that he wished for his Mum and Dad, that he didn't want to hurt anyone, that he was afraid of what fate had in store for him, that he was just a kid.
Just a kid, like she was.
"Here we go again," she muttered with a roll of her eyes.
"Are you stalking me Granger?"
"You're the one who shows up wherever I am," she said. First defense of a stalker.
She swung her foot in small pendulum movements. Ticking slowly, she waited for him to say something. Didn't say anything.
"Why do you cry?" she asked boldly.
"Why do you cry?" he returned.
"I asked you first."
"Why do you care?"
She gripped her broomstick tighter. She won't be the first one to leave.
He traced the engraved Nimbus 2000 on the side of his broom with a long, lazy finger. "It's not a good time to be a child."
He need not tell her twice.
Malfoy is a Death Eater, Harry had said. Predetermined, inevitable. She told Harry he shouldn't have hurt Malfoy. "But he was going to hurt me, Hermione," he had said. "Not a reason", she retorted, but she knew it was reason. It was going to be her reason for years to come.
In a war, there was no right or wrong. Just sides. Right didn't prevail, wrong didn't win. Just one side. One loser, one winner. No right or wrong. You didn't win because you were right. You won because you had a good strategy. She wished he was on the same side.
She learned he was badly injured and was nursing in the infirmary. She didn't bother to see him.
"Your stupid best friend almost killed me," he told her savagely.
There were dark circles around his eyes like someone traced a knut on his face. She could see the bandage running from his neck, disappearing down to his collar. She did not ask if he was okay.
"You probably deserved it."
"Your loyalty to your friends astounds me. At least I'd admit it if my friends did anything stupid."
"It'd be pretty difficult not to since stupid is Crabbe and Goyle's default setting," she quipped.
He snorted. It was funny, because it was true.
"You never asked me why I liked flying," he said.
"I've stopped trying to understand the inner workings of the mind of a psychopath."
He ignored the insult. "When I fly, I don't feel anything. I get it, what you said, you don't like your feet touching the ground."
"If you're going to quote me to my face, make it right. I never said I didn't like it when my feet touched the ground. I simply said I like it when they didn't," she corrected nastily. It had to be said, she overreacted a bit.
"Then why are you always here?"
"Because soon I won't have a choice."
"You're really ready to die for Potter?"
Just a question, not an argument, not a persuasion, just a question. Because he had always been there; because she, Ron and Harry are bound together; because she knew both her boys would do the same for her; because she loves them; adores them; all reasons very regal and noble and good; because of destiny.
"I just am."
He looked at her, as if considering her. There were thoughts running through his pupils and it was deep and profound and it disturbed her that they might mean something. Destiny, she wanted to scream; destiny, preordained, inevitable; you were made this way; stay this way; stay in your goddamn box; if you get out of the goddamn box then she'd have to rethink everything she knew, and it would be messy and disorganized and she hates cleaning up and there is not enough time. Stay in your goddamn box Malfoy.
"I wish for someone who just is."
Muted. The word is muted.
"Potter's lucky to have a friend who loves him so much."
It's just words, right? No meaning; just words, words she learned in pre-school, written with pink chalk on the blackboard, sunflowers and distorted hearts drawn around it. Words she emptily uttered while snogging Viktor Krum, while eating a bar of Cadbury's, while John sang to her 'some forever, not for better.'
A droplet of rain landed on the tip of her nose.
"I love you."
She slumped to the ground, tripping slightly over her robes as she walked briskly away. Four feet away from him but not enough to kill herself. She heard him land on the wet grass and rainwater began to seep through her robes. She could feel him start a fire on her back as he stared intently. If she didn't see him, he didn't exist. Just one look.
His lips didn't move. He said goodbye.
Her legs carried her, barely feeling the grass as she flew to him, wrapping her arms around him, and she could feel. Could feel her teeth clash against his. Could feel the blood and the pain knocking against her head. Could feel his clothes dampen against her palms. Could feel his hands sweep down her back. Could feel the rain seep between their mouths, cascading down her tongue, gliding onto his. Could feel his hand drop to his sides. Could feel her lips leave his. Could feel him let her walk away.
Maybe someday (she believed, she had to believe) her feet wouldn't have to touch the ground.