A/N: This fic was definitely a new experience for me – I've not written anything as fiddly as this in a long time, making editing it a nightmare, but I do hope you like the final product!
Inspired significantly by the story Intricacies (Beautifully Ugly), helped along by the songs "Drink Me" (Anna Nalick) and "Cloud Nine" (Evanescence).
Beta-ed by the supremely-amazing hpobsessedrissa, who has to be the most amazing beta anyone could ask for. You owe her three hundred and eight cookies for her brilliance, because I don't know what I'd do without her, really. Characters are property of the brilliant J. K. Rowling, of course.
Gawd, isn't it hilarious how little of this fic is actually original?!
But, just do remember to review this project of many tireless weeks, my darlings. Zay will love you forever and ever if you do…just, you know, not in that way. xx
It all starts with the staring.
Every bit of it – the good and the bad – starts with the staring; the surveillance, the attention, the intensity of each glance, no matter how brief it is.
The staring isn't intentional at first; the only reason it happens at all is because one of them makes the mistake of leaving their gaze upon the other for just a moment too long, usually by a simple mental lapse; but the moment the other becomes aware of the change, their lines of vision irretrievably lock together and refuse to relinquish the other until the very end of the period. Just like that.
He's been staring at her for days now. To him, it's far more interesting than his lessons or the people who are talking to him at the time because of the mysteriousness, the mere challenge of the delicate skill. So he keeps it up, doing it with pleasure and principle and persistence that he rarely unleashed with such potency in the past.
By this point, it has become their little game. Something as simple as staring has sparked the interest between them again. They'd given up almost entirely on using words for communication.
It's almost hypnotic, once the attention of both has been caught; neither of them wants to be the one to break the concentration and ripple the smooth surface of their steady gazes. To throw in the towel would be like admitting defeat, allowing the other to glide forward to take the checkmate.
And though they were both many things — tenacious, self-righteous, and intelligent, to name a few — they certainly weren't quitters.
He never speaks to her, of course. He never touches her, never shares the knowledge of her attention with anyone else, never strays from his daily routine for her. Everything between them has remained fairly normal – that is to say, still at a strange, restless sort of impasse – thus far.
Except the staring.
Merlin, except the staring.
It's always only during Transfiguration, where there are more days of notes than there are of practical application of magic, and it has become a necessary, unavoidable routine in the middle of his day. Frantic tension between the two of them is unmistakable; it's almost tangible. It's a wonder no one ever really notices it.
Every hair on his body stands still when her bottle-green eyes finally rise to seek his out. When he finds his stride, every muscle in him tenses. When she finds hers, every bit of him freezes. Their surroundings are stripped away and it's just them – always, only the two of them.
And the games begin.
In the traditional sense, what they do every day in class is not really a game, though. There's never a clearly defined set of rules, a true winner never emerges at the end, and the showdown is never spoken of in plain words – not even with each other.
It's all about technique– keeping the balance steady, blinking little, mastering the art of looking both effortlessly casual and piercingly forceful at once. They don't usually slip but if one of them does, they have to pick it up right away or risk losing the interest of the other forevermore.
So, for that one whole hour five times a week, everything is at stake. Unresolved tensions from everything to the mess of his hair, to the shadows under her eyes, to the kiss he longs to share with her spreads out evenly between the two of them. The pressure is almost demanding either one to yield, to end the strange but magnetically-attracting sport they're playing, while making it still appear to be a failure if they do. It's a prize they want, but they are constantly daring the other to take the first step.
Who can possibly triumph and settle the white-hot friction once and for all when that's the only way to lose?
He doesn't know, and neither does she – and so they wait.
Wait for someone to split at their delicately sewn seams, to rupture from the inside out, to make the first move both are too wary to make.
But, as they're both fully aware, waiting for such a thing is like waiting for a rain in an endless drought; full of eternal patience that, despite promising light on the horizon, never seems to do much good. The goal is buried too far into thick, overcast casing that is just too stubborn to simply break free.
Days have turned into weeks, and weeks have turned into a little over a month; lives are moving on with the current of time itself, including their own, yet the two of them still remain where they had been since the first day.
Never speaking, never touching, never straying. Just staring.
He stares at her through the period, as is their custom; but when the bell rings to release them and the class noisily packs up and shuffles to the door, he ignores those friends of his that are waiting for him by the door.
He ignores the thick detachment that always lingers about her immediate person all the time, the slight falter of astonishment in her still-reeling eyes, even the past few months that they've been so secluded within their separate lives. None of that is important to him.
He simply pushes it all out of his mind and matches her pace by slightly adjusting his; and in spite of the startled look she's giving him, he walks with her out of the classroom, accompanying her through the corridor like it were an every day occurrence.
Never speaking, never touching, never straying, of course. Just walking, and staring straight ahead.
She doesn't question what he's doing. She doesn't shout at him for coming near her, as she would have a year before. She simply accepts the extra body of mass beside her and keeps her speed brisk as they take hefty steps to arrive at their next class on time.
For the seven minutes it takes them to cross from the fourth floor to the sixth without falling victim to the numerous magical traps Hogwarts had to offer, nothing of immediate significance occurred between the two of them.
However, once one looked a little bit more closely, it is clear as day that there are plenty of significant events occurring:
Even in this state of edgy silence, unspoken claims, and nearly impossibly contained disharmony, there is irrefutable heat. Stimulation. Infinite possibility.
Something is lingering under the fragile, would-be-fine surface surrounding the two sixteen-year-old teenagers. In this elusive, blossoming stage of development, they don't know how to classify the moment, but they do know that it's there.
It's there and impulsively, they know it's going to change them – change them entirely, change them so that they will never, ever be the same again.
For four days, he's been walking alongside of her after Transfiguration.
Like the staring, it's become a practice for them. Every day, without fail, they stroll. Never speaking, never touching, never straying. Just walking, and staring straight ahead.
Outside of the classroom, their eyes never make contact. Not once.
But on this fifth day, he decides to take a risk, shatter the steady rut they've fallen into – utilize a card in this impossible game of intuitive wit that he hasn't yet revealed:
As they turn the corner out of the Transfiguration corridor, his hand – slightly sweaty, calloused, and lean – moves, hesitantly but boldly, to brush by hers.
He can almost feel the electric shock that comes out of the simple gesture. It's more forceful than lightning itself, more overwhelming than drowning in salt water. It's the first physical contact they've had in so long, and the fact that she's her and he's him doesn't ease the energy on the rampage for that single moment.
Despite the obvious outcome of his nerve, though, she doesn't turn to look at him, nor does anything about her demeanor change.
She felt it – she had to have felt it – but she's not going to let him know that she has. That's not part of the game, not part of the unwritten contract to which they are both bound.
She has felt it, but she can't do anything about it. Nothing at all.
So she does the next best thing.
She brushes her hand back over his, her skin softer than rose-petals as it touches him, and she holds her place for a split-nanosecond longer than he had. Then—still without a single word—the alacrity of her feet surges and she hastens to the haven of the classroom he has yet to reach. Fleeting and forward and away from him.
He smiles slightly to himself as he does the opposite of her and slows himself down, wishing to give her as much time to herself as she desires. If this game of theirs allowed winners, he is sure that she would be forced to admit, out of decency, that he had thrashed her soundly in this round.
And victory is almost as sweet as the perfume that radiates off of her when she flees the scene.
For one week after the incident, she hasn't changed anything about the peculiar, half-conscious association they've lately been indulging in. Nothing.
He broke the rule about touching, sure enough, but she didn't break any – she still hasn't. She stares at him during class, as does he, but when they reach the corridor, she doesn't modify what she does.
Characteristically, she never speaks, never touches him, never strays from what she's told herself she must do. She just walks, and stares straight ahead rather than at him. It's the only thing she can do other than forfeiting.
When she's near him, she's a different person – regular, fixed, careful. When she's around other people, he is also aware of the freedom she has. She'll laugh, talk, and just be the person she wants to be. He doesn't understand why she won't permit herself to do the same with him but he knows better than to ask.
So, like with so many other things about her, he doesn't ask. He keeps his mouth shut and plays along.
And so the system remains the consistent for two weeks – two long, torturous weeks.
Staring, walking, waiting. Always those three things, always in that order.
Today, though, he decides to sneak a glance at her. Just one. It's short, and all he can see is the curtain of her hair covering her cheek, but it's enough for him. When they near the classroom, roughly two minutes later, he sneaks another.
But this time, he realizes, she's finally broken a rule too: as he steals a glance at her, he is astonished to find that she is also stealing just one glance of him.
If possible by this point, their game is becoming dicier now.
It's been six days since they caught each other looking outside of the Potions classroom. Six days. In that time, it feels like the earth has been exploding and smoldering and rebuilding itself each day, only to explode again. The customary staring has seemingly been more extreme than usual – starting the moment they entered the room, ending only when they left it.
But, it's also been six days that he has not caught up and walked with her following Transfiguration, the practice they'd both been taking for granted for so many weeks.
To be honest, he doesn't know why he's stopped walking with her. He doesn't know why he keeps staring at her, even when he's memorized every millimeter of her face twelve times over. He doesn't even know why he hasn't touched her again or said one of the countless words he yearns to articulate.
All he knows is that he wants her – but only if she'll let him have her.
Taking her is meaningless to him; winning her is the only way he's going to allow himself to get involved with her.
To do that, he knows he has to let her make a move too. He has to let her come to him, rather than imposing himself on her. Staying at a halt while she edged her way was not a levelheaded option, but taking baby steps and only being one or two ahead of her was.
So he does. He stops now that he is one or two steps ahead of her, and he waits for her to catch up. Six days, that's how long he waits.
On the seventh day, his tolerance is compensated at last.
When he's approaching the door to liberate him of the Transfiguration room, she does something she hasn't done since February – she catches up to him, and walks with him down the corridor to Potions.
On the inside, he's pleased. More than pleased; he's actually enthralled, tickled beyond belief, though in as passive of a sense as he can achieve.
But he can't let her know that; so he opts in the privacy of his mind to just remain very, very quiet as the two of them walk – without a word, touch, or stray out of place – down to Potions.
It's now the end of April at Hogwarts castle. About three months have passed since he first triggered their little game, which has evolved into a sturdy, unvoiced companionship that has his friends (and hers) baffled.
They can count on their hands how many words they've said to each other. They act almost like robots, making only the subtlest of human movements when they are together. Sometimes, they'll hold hands for maybe a second or two but will let go as though the other's skin has suddenly burst into flame.
There had been an incident three days ago when he bumped his shoulder very tenaciously against hers. Another time, her leg knocked into his, almost making him buckle with surprise and force – the motion appeared accidental, but more likely with true intent.
And once – only once – he put his hand on the small of her back for an entire minute before she coolly shook him away.
There were so many little instances they'd shared together, in those seven-minute walks to Potions – so many little rules they'd started to break.
They'd started straying from their routine. Yesterday, she had walked with him out of Potions to Charms. The day before that, the tips of her fingers had stroked his cheeks when he had been lying about in the common room, writing an essay for Transfiguration, incidentally.
Well, that one had been more of an actual misstep on her part, but it was still something. He would stand by that if she ever interrogated him on the matter – it was still something.
And something would always be better than nothing.
Much to his consternation, however, the only rule they have not broken in these little cheats they've pampered themselves with is the rule about talking.
He wants to talk to her but he doesn't have a clue about what to say.
No one would know what to say when faced with that situation—their relationship, it's safe to say, is quite bizarre and unparalleled because of it.
So, he decides to say nothing at all because he wants her to be the first to utter a word. Then and only then will he say whatever words she wants him to say – he just wants to hear her say the first one.
Until then, he is content with walking alongside her to Charms, brushing by her when he sees her in the corridors, staring at her in Transfiguration. For his part, he has done more than enough to show her his position. He's told her everything she needs to know.
It's her move that's pending right now, but they're both acutely aware that either way, when he makes his, he will definitely be the one gliding in for the final, glorious checkmate.
And so, in quiet anticipation, he continues to wait for it.
May began the other day, marking the five-month anniversary of their "correlation."
He is both amused and frustrated to think so – in five months, they've come so far, but in the most miniscule ways imaginable. The distance they've covered is enormous for a creature the size of, perhaps, an ant; but for a human, it's ludicrously tiny.
Still, regardless of the sum of elapsed time, all he wants is her – her laughter, her smiles, her intuition, her sharpness, her sly sense of humor.
He wants her to the point where it sometimes physically hurts him, where she is the only thing playing on a perpetual loop in his brain. He has always wanted her, but now it feels like the moment they are making progress, they are running out of time.
He doesn't want to run out of time; he wants to surround the two of them with words like 'eternal,' or 'ceaseless.' He wants to put his arms around her and squeeze her against him, feeling her erratic heartbeat match up perfectly with his.
He's sure she feels it, knows what he's going through, and she is most likely – though to a lesser degree – going through the same thing.
He's sure that something is going to break soon. After the last bell, hadn't she walked with him down to the library to return a book and back up to the Gryffindor common room? Hadn't he put his hand on the small of her back for a minute and a half an hour or two before that? Hadn't they shared eye contact eight times through the entire course of the day?
He can't read her as plainly as he wishes he could, but the vibes he's getting from the depths of the eyes he's studied for as long as he's seen them are plain enough – she's cracking. Breaking. Contradicting her own logic, beginning to liberate deeply set anchors that she buried herself way back in first year. Things are beginning to tumble out of the realms of her control.
He doesn't want to push her though; it would be so easy to, but he won't do so. He'll let her come to him. He knows that her feelings for him were never as black-and-white as she claimed – and he knows those feelings changed dramatically over the course of the year, from wild, childish abhorrence to…something else.
Tumultuous things are taking place inside the girl he loves so much – delicate chemical imbalances are being checked and re-checked – and that is for her to sort out on her own. He won't influence her decisions any more than he can help.
But at the same time, he subconsciously knows that the ball has been set rolling down the steepest hill known to mankind…the only question is, how much velocity will it gain as it crashes through a path neither of them really imagine it go through?
It happens abruptly, in the middle of May, when he is least expecting it.
It's on a Thursday night – a rainy one, when the delayed April showers they had been promised finally come to pass. Quidditch practice has, thankfully, been cancelled, and he is enjoying the rain from the privacy of his windowsill in the boy's dormitory. Sitting by himself, watching the raindrops pelt and rattle the window-frame in peace.
His head is against the wall, his breathing slow and placid, as his mind thinks vacantly of something he might have to do the next day. He probably won't do it. At the moment, he doesn't want to do much of anything at all.
At least, he doesn't until he hears the door creak open behind him.
He turns instinctively to see who it is, expecting it to be one of his friends or someone with a message for him, but it isn't. His stomach nearly drops into his intestinal area when he sees that it is her, standing like a slender ghost in the doorway, in only a tank-top and pajama pants.
Well, not a ghost exactly but she looks light, as though she'll float away like a helium balloon – her eyes are fixed only on him, and her rose-tinted mouth is slightly parted, as though she'll say something. He knows she won't.
He is about to ask her what she is doing here, if she's got to tell him something from a teacher, if one of their friends sent her, but all the questions that bombard his mind only catch in his throat, and die out where they stop, unspoken.
She doesn't want to hear his questions. That's not why she's there.
Her steps as poised as they are in the busy corridors, she almost sashays towards him – he briefly wonders if she was ever a dancer in her childhood. She leads him to his bed, but when they reach, she simply lies on her side, looking up at him as he stands above her. Staring, like she does in Transfiguration.
She's not speaking to him. She's not touching him. She's simply lying there, clearly waiting for him to resume the same position she is in.
He does, although he is still wondering why. Regardless, he settles in on his bed and stares back at her. He is struck by how warm she is up close – when she's face-to-face with him, in front of him, it's a completely different experience. He can see all the gentle slopes and valleys of her tactfully-crafted face, the tiniest specks of lily-pad green in her jade eyes, the gentle slope of her jaw, and he can't help but admire everything about her.
One of the first things he'd noticed about her was, admittedly, her beauty; because, to be frank, she has a lot of it. Shallow pleasure though it is, he enjoys it to this day – enjoys analyzing each angle she has to offer, soaking in the vivid life that seems to emit off her person.
He's content here, he finds, as he's staring at her in the comfort and undisturbed quiet of his dormitory.
No pressure. No distraction. No noise. No outside parties.
Just him and her.
Him and her.
Her and him…
He can repeat it like a mantra, but it still won't make a difference to the glorious ring it has:
Him and her.
As his eyes bore into the fathoms inside of hers, he knows instinctively that this is the way he wants to be referred to when he's seen near her – with his name or his pronoun attached irretrievably to hers.
Him and her.
Her and him.
Since that evening, she's made it a habit to add something else to their existing meetings – she now visits him in his dormitory, too.
Never speaking, never touching, never straying, of course. Just staring. It's only ever staring with her.
Although, her staring has changed slightly, he's noticed – it's not the hard stare she used when she would try to repel him; not the curious one she used when she wondered why he was watching; not the intricate one she used when she appeared to be studying him as intently as he studied her.
Now, it's the indecipherable one – he's not sure that even she knows what stare she wants to use on him. He's determined to find out what it is nonetheless.
So, he is more than happy to hold her stare when she starts the game off in her usual, intolerant way – regardless of what people think of her, she's actually not patient at all and for a while now, she has been the one making most of the moves, something he has happily taken a mental note on.
He likes this. He likes the little bursts of emotion visible in her face when their lines of vision meet, the easy way with which she has started to hold his hand, how she makes eye contact with him outside of Transfiguration – an act he thought she'd never perform.
Akin to vigorous ivy curling together on a great stone tower, his life and hers began to entwine nearly seven years ago. Yet, only now are they twisting into every aspect of the other, becoming not two stalks but one conjoined string reaching for the sky. Painfully slow as the process has been, he can't deny that it's been worth every second of it.
As his eyes are fixed dutifully on her, he feels the sudden need to caress her cheek, her shoulder, her arm, her waist.
He does not wish to kiss her, or overpower her, or take her places she doesn't want to go; he only wishes to touch her with the utmost civility and respect.
He considers keeping the flow even for this night, as he's done for several nights, but the idea is hopeless and he knows it.
He can't keep it even. He doesn't want to keep it even. He wants things to change – he wants to burst out above the tips of the tower, above the other populations of ivy curling in the same ways around them.
He wants them to be extraordinary because he knows they can.
So, breaking one of their ruling principles again, he carefully lifts his right hand, and as sensitively as he can, he lets his fingers skim down the line of her jaw, with the subtlety of a bee lightly disturbing a daisy in a pasture.
When he feels her relax under his touch, he picks up her hand from where it lies limply on his bed, and he gives it the lightest possible kiss before setting tenderly back to where it had been.
The sudden constriction of her pupils alarms him when he lets her go, so he opens his mouth to say something, anything, to placate her, but the damage – and the activation of her easy fear – has already been established.
She blinks delicately, twice. Then, without any warning or any kind of prevarication, she takes a breath, gets up from his bed, and leaves the room without looking back.
He watches her go, a mixture of cavernous self-aggravation and thrilling exhilaration brewing in the depths of his stomach.
Finally, he's getting somewhere.
The next day, he is expecting her to do something out of the ordinary, because of his daring the other night, but he is completely blown away by what she does end up doing.
When he leaves from Transfiguration, when he leaves from Potions, and when he leaves for the common room, she does not accompany him. She doesn't even stare at him in Transfiguration – she stares at the board she's supposed to be taking notes from, while secretly writing notes to her friend Marlene McKinnon, but otherwise, her quill doesn't move. Even when he passes by her in the corridor, she ignores him, and walks ahead of him.
She's avoiding him. She couldn't have made it clearer if she had tried.
In his dormitory room, he doesn't expect to see her because of his previous behavior, so he removes his shirt and puts on his pajama-pants. He needs his sleep tonight; he is dozing off in bed after settling down for the night when he hears the knock on the door.
He ignores it, assuming it is one of his dorm members who are coming in as he mumbles a lazy 'good-night' out of common courtesy. He is most astonished when the visitor's footsteps come straight to his bed, and a soft hand rests on his bare shoulder.
Looking up, his vision fazed without the assistance of his glasses, he sees that it is her, still dressed in the skirt and shirt she'd been wearing today, standing above him and not another boy whose bed was already in this dormitory.
He can't believe it. He reaches for his glasses to confirm it but she stops his hand, as if to assure him that yes, it is indeed her in his room tonight.
Temporarily forgetting their unwritten set of rules, he immediately asks, "Lily, what are you doing here?" He checks the clock. "It's eleven."
It's only after he says this that he realizes he's broken two rules, both at the same time – he not only spoke to her for the first time in months, he used her first name. Even when they were younger, he had never done that because it irked her to no end.
He's about to correct his mistake, but she doesn't let him. Instead, she pushes him over and keeping her eyes on his as she does in the evenings, she climbs into his bed with him. He is sure he is dreaming; what is she doing? Why is she in his bed? Why has she condoned the usage of the spoken word?
Normally she would not do that, but tonight seems to be different; so, he decides to let her dictate the night's surprises, because there's something about her eyes that suggests she is here for a reason.
And she is – for after about thirty seconds of staring meaningfully at him, though more demurely than he's used to, she comes down, quick as anything, and at long last presses her rosy lips against his.
It's brief, clumsy, and experimental, but it's still a kiss – their first kiss at that.
The second one, however, is different, most certainly on purpose; again, it is she that initiates it, engages him in it, but it is he who intensifies it at once.
For once, she doesn't stop him from tasting her, exploring her – she is more than willing to wrap her arms around his neck, kiss him deeper, harder, faster.
His lips are inviting, as are hers; oxygen is scarce as her hands explore his bare, muscled chest, nearly exploding his heart when her fingers pass over it.
When the kiss breaks, he gets a good look at her eyes; and there, he sees the same wildness he knows he feels caged inside of himself, ready to sever old ties and be free.
She wants him as much as he wants her, he finds. When his mouth fuses with hers once more into a second, more determined kiss, he's sure of it.
And the rest is a blur because he's too busy drowning in her, every single bit of her, rather than reality. Everything is different now; they are touching, obliterating their previous routines unchangeably, coming to terms with the fact that they are solidly there.
When they speak, it is between forceful, desperate, imposing kisses.
It starts off as unintelligible sounds, but as they progress, he begins to say her name, over and over into her mouth. Every time he says it, he feels like he's claiming more of her, an explorer obtaining limitless land.
He can't help himself. She's the only one he wants, the only one he's ever wanted, the only person it would hurt him to lose. It's always been that way; this is merely the first time she's accepted it.
When she starts to speak, however, it is not his name – it is a string of phrases that, judging from the tone of her voice, she's been dying to tell him for ages. Things about being afraid of him, about not knowing what to do anymore, about being confused…things that basically gave her tender, lustful emotions away like secrets to a willing ear.
But throughout, he doesn't stop the consistent motion of his lips against hers; his legs wrap around hers, trapping them, and her fingers comb through his charcoal locks as she nips and grazes at his mouth as well. He smells vividly of mango nectar, rained-on grass, beef jerky, peppermints, and something indescribably his own; she smells sweetly of lavender, laundry soap, lemons, and chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven.
Everything about her invites him in and he rests his cheek against her chest, his arms protectively around her hips. Her body fits perfectly in his, her erratic heartbeat is in harmony with his as he'd always imagined, and it's humanly impossible to be more at peace – with her, on her, around her.
It's blissful release – release of the months of building, the year of unvoiced emotion, the numerous years of constrained fervor both for love and hate.
When her eyes shyly capture his again, alive like he's never seen them before, he finds tiny bursts of the past weeks flashing through his brain – the waiting, the watching, the wishing, the wanting.
And as he kisses her once more, her mouth as sweet as it was the very first time and every time after that, he remembers that it started with the staring.
Every bit of it – the good and the bad – started with the art, technique, and silent passion of staring.