A/N: My response to Sir Francis Drake's Heir's challenge that wasn't a challenge; they were looking for a fic "that leaves the reader breathless with its bitter sweetness, or its wit, or its lush description of Character X's internal torment," and that they "haven't read before." I took it on-- whether or not I failed or passed is up to you. Hope you like. Also, ignore any weird tense confusion-- I started off in past tense and then changed my mind.

Their life is not a fairy tale.

It doesn't start with once upon a time-- it starts with words like here and now. It is not filled with tall, picturesque castles unless one is to count Hogwarts, which, while breathtaking against the flat landscape, is not beautiful. She had never been a damsel in distress and chain mail had never really suited him. There is no perfect resolution in sight, no quixotic surge of joy or melodramatic speeches about their feelings. More likely than not, their life will not end with happily ever after or all is well. She always fancies it to end with more of a question mark, and he always thinks that it will end with a vague, amusing statement. Either way, the word ever is one they avoid.

They had not fallen in love instantaneously the first time their eyes met. Sometimes she isn't sure she's in love with him at all-- but even on those days when she doubts her feelings she knows that if anything is locked in a castle guarded by a fearsome dragon, it is her heart. He locks it away of his own accord, waiting, musing, ready to use it to his own advantage whenever the time comes.

She never sees Albus as a white knight.
Most of the time, he strikes her as a villain.

But he is not bad, never evil, and she never paints herself as the white hat. Things are not so cut and dry in their story, and there are so many grey areas sometimes she feels dizzy from thinking about it, for all of her cool exterior. Their tale is long and winding; like following footprints in the desert sand, only to find once you get so far in all of the sand looks the same. Rolling waves of amber. Rolling waves of emotion, rolling waves of life and she is tumbling beneath them. She makes a great show of being strict and severe, but most of the time the pinched look on her face is not because she is startlingly uptight. It is because she is panicked, on some level, racing through pages of ink and parchment and wondering where the final period will lie.

Sometimes she feels so befuddled that she wants to seek comfort, wants to walk into his office and proclaim her presumed love and fall into his waiting arms. But while their life is not a fairy tale, it is sometimes rather cliche, and she knows that his arms will not be waiting.

And she knows that she does not have the strength to admit how weak he makes her.

When she is in danger of sinking too far he always knows, though. He is so astonishingly clairvoyant sometimes, but she is never sure whether he is using his powers for good or evil. But when he knows he gives her that warm gaze of his, and she feels all internal imbroglio dissolve like glaciers. Sometimes, though she never says anything, he'll pat her hand casually during dinner at the Great Hall or brag about her to a colleague-- it is then she glimpses the faintest shadow of her own heart that he has locked away and in the process she sees his. They are connected, she thinks, invisible, magical, elastic string that bends and stretches and twists and turns all through the pages of their not-quite fairy tale, but always-- of this she is certain --they are bound.

And that will always be enough, somehow.
It's not a happily ever after, but it's a start.