The room was silent but for the hypnotic crackle echoing from the hearth. The flames licked at one another, fighting for dominance over their wooded quarry. The firelight danced in the eyes of the only person residing there.
The slight form of a young woman was curled up within the embrace of a rather careworn sofa. Her signature cloud of curled tresses strained against the band holding it back from her face, which glowed warmly in the soft light.
A pensive look that spoke of times gone by, lingered in her furrowed brow. It was a face that had seen many horrors and remembered them still.
And indeed, Hermione Granger felt sure she could never forget.
Before her lay a fairly sizable volume which had as yet gone unread; for she was consumed instead in the activity of her thoughts. At the tender age of seventeen she had faced her demons and fought them. But she had lost what she had not known she wanted, and now, three years on she suffered quietly for it.
She was happy, for the most part. Her life was rich and full; with work which was both rewarding and a needed distraction, a family that loved her, and friendships which had strengthened.
But there was a small and hollow part of her that festered at times. It echoed with the sting of memories unforgotten and thoughts of one time, long passed; one person, long gone.
Yet she refused to cower to them, not until night swallowed her boundaries. When she was safely ensconced in her modest house; seated as she was on the overstuffed sofa with a book in her lap and small glass of Elvin-made wine in her hand.
It was moments such as these, when she felt most relaxed, her defences crumbled and her weary form susceptible, that the haunting of those thoughts was most potent.
Hermione would sit still, sinking into her recollections; reminiscing of her darkest and most pulling hours. The details were preserved; the memories were unequivocally the clearest she held.
She knew well enough that it should not have been that way. She should have given up, accepted the seemingly inevitable outcome. Just like everyone else.
But she could not.
Not when the element of doubt existed within her. Not when even the smallest part of her had not accepted that he was gone. And no matter how strongly she wished she could let go, that part of her would not allow him to relinquish the hold he had on her.
There were times when she would sit in her chair, deeply absorbed in her introspection, when she would feel a fritz tingle the base of her spine. It was a sensation she knew well, and recalled with searing clarity the person who had caused.
She had only ever felt that level awareness all those years ago, when it had been his eyes which traced her steps; long before she knew what it meant.
And she would glance around the room, her eyes falling on the glazed window panes that shielded her from the blackened abyss beyond.
This was one such night.
There were other occasions too, when she would wander through the small house and was almost sure that she could feel him lingering there. Whether his presence existed in a reality of which she could not conceive, or was a figment emerged from the crevices of her mind, surfacing amid the cloud of memory and illusion, she was unsure.
Regardless, she would stand there and drown in memories so vivid and so real that she knew she could not have dreamt it all.
It bewildered and intoxicated her all at once.
But Hermione Granger had ever been the logical one, and as such she would berate herself for hours afterward. It was the price she paid for thinking of him. It was a price she paid without question.
She had studied the news vigorously for months since it had happened; the night that had changed everything, not merely for her and for him, but for everyone in her world.
Only she would remember it for something different.
The papers had sung words of praise and adulation for her best friend, deservedly so, for he had saved them all. But of the person she most wanted to hear about; no words were said. Even his mother, now reclusive since the reported deaths of her husband and son, would tell nothing of his demise, or of the location of his body.
Hermione had collated every article she could find in that first year. And she likely would have continued to do so had Seamus not realised what she had been doing, and made her burn them all. It should have been a symbolic moment, a way out for her.
But it was not.
She continued to reflect without recourse. It was something her friend had never understood. He had tried, she knew, to see were it had all stemmed from. But he could not.
No one could.
Except him. And he was gone.
The small house was located some 20 miles outside of London. It resided in a pleasant and respectable neighbourhood, one free of lurkers and troublemakers.
Except on nights like this, when he was there.
The young man was very careful to keep his face in shadow; in the unlikely event that a neighbour should spot him, he would be unrecognisable. It was so very important that he be forgettable.
The length of his body pressed against the immovable brick wall of her living room. The flash of light from a passing car moved swiftly passed him. He was invisible.
Once the momentary light had dissipated he was swallowed up by the comforting blackness of night once more. A pale hand rose to trace across the condensation forming on the glass. It was warm inside; he could see the firelight glinting off her hair.
She looked the same as he remembered.
The young man cursed under his breath. He ought not to have been there, standing outside her window as he had taken to doing. It was dangerous.
And it was addictive. She was and ever had been addictive. That was the crux of his problem.
But he had never forgotten the scent of her; the delicious taste of wrongdoing; the curve of her lips and the ridiculously soft and chaotic curls that erupted and spiralled around her. She was so very bad a thing for him.
Yet he could not stay away.
The pale hand pressed firmly against the unyielding glass as the man watched the young woman on the other side, sitting in thoughtful silence. He would wonder what she was thinking. Did she remember him the way he did her? Had she mourned him when he disappeared?
They were questions he would give almost anything to know the answers to, yet to discover them would mean the forfeit of his life.
There were too many moments when he would stand there drinking in the nearness of her, fighting the urgent and violent desire to walk through her door and accept all consequences that would come with such action.
But he could not, because to do so would mean to spend a lifetime repenting his sins. Punishment for the stupidity and naiveté of his youth – he may have been guilty of that, but no more.
So instead he chose these stolen moments. And they were all he had, all he would ever have.
And it was a truth that would prey on him eternally.