This is different from my usual style, and it's a very different take on Antonin than I usually write, though perhaps not so much different for Alecto.
Warning: Contains abuse.
Disclaimer: I only own the story, not the characters.
Alecto is only nine years old and she's trying to comprehend the book, advanced beyond her years, that lies in her lap. Her feet are curled up under her skirt in the armchair, un-ladylike, and she hopes that her father doesn't come in to check on her progress, because he wouldn't like that at all.
There's a fire crackling in the grate, perhaps the only remotely warm and friendly thing about the room. The furnishings are sparse, uncomfortable, and dark; it's no wonder most of her dreams are nightmares. Her tiny body is swallowed by clothing equally as dark and plain, and her skin looks sallow, her eyes haunted, as if she is much older than her nine years.
The flames suddenly roar green, and a boy not much older than herself spills out onto the hearthrug. A smile threatens to appear on her lips, but only for a moment, until the boy straightens with a pained whimper and she sees the bruises on his face and arms.
"Antonin," she whispers, and there's a lot more concealed in that name than a mere term of address. Her voice conveys pain, and questions, and concerns; the boy flinches back as she uncurls in her chair and reaches out a hand to him.
His eyes hold tears that never will fall, because he's not the sort of boy to cry, and she can't look at him because of it. Her teeth grind together in the awkward silence, and she focuses pointedly on a hairline crack in the ceiling that she never noticed before.
Without warning, he stumbles forward, shoving the book off the chair and then curling up next to her, and her arms wrap around him as if there's some degree of closeness that will be sufficient to ease his suffering. There isn't, really, but it's the thought that counts.
Antonin's ten-year-old body shudders against hers, and she closes her eyes and pretends that she's not witnessing this, that he's not letting her see his weakness, that his tears aren't warm and damp on her shoulder through her shirt.
"Shh," she urges, partially soothing, and partially something else.
He pulls away after a while, looking like a lost little child, and her hands linger lightly on his shoulders, hardly daring to touch him. Forcing a smile, the boy slips out of the chair and helps himself to a handful of Floo powder, disappearing into the green rush of the fire without a word.
He didn't have to say a word. Alecto's nine years old, but she knows things beyond her years. She regrets that it's a fact that's completely useless in helping her decipher fact from the endless ramble of complicated words and phrases filling the book lying open on the rug.
Alecto is fourteen years old, and she's wanted this for years, but somehow him causing fireworks in her mind every time he even glances at her isn't quite what she wanted it to be. She can't put her finger on it, but everything is so right that she knows something must be wrong.
It's been three months since their first kiss, three months since the evening he pulled her into an abandoned corridor and pressed his lips against hers roughly without asking first. Not that she'd minded.
She's running late to meet him; he told her to be in his dormitory by three and it's already three-thirty by the time she enters his room, panting from sprinting up the stairs.
"I'm so sorry," she gushes, but she may as well have said nothing for all the good it does. "I was-"
But he doesn't care where she was, he only cares that he was waiting for a half hour, and he doesn't respond apart from patting the space next to him on his bed- an invitation.
Even though something is screaming for her not to, that she should wait until he's done overreacting before talking to him again, the girl obliges.
"Antonin," she tries again as she slips into the bed next to him, "I was only-"
The dark glare he gives her causes her mouth to shut quickly. "You said you would be here," he reminds her, and she doesn't dare interrupt with the 'yes, but' that's lingering on the tip of her tongue.
"It's not my fault," she insists, quietly, but apparently this is the wrong thing to say because seconds later his hand collides with the side of her face and it stings as she flinches away, a hand of her own reaching to check if he really just did that- he did.
His arm slides around her, as if nothing happened, and for the moment it's as if he's the only thing holding her together. Leaning against him, she allows the tears to fall from the corners of her eyes. He whispers "shh" and kisses her hair.
He's the first boy she ever kissed, or even wanted, and she really doesn't know what to do anymore. The next morning, there are "just because" roses for her in the post, and there's a bruise beneath her eye that she tells her friends is only from slipping on the steps.
That's not the last time he hits her. Alecto tells herself that she's not too young to handle her own relationship, she's fourteen after all, and that he really does love her. She's afraid to stay, afraid to go, and she's scared for the little boy she once comforted as much as for herself. It's for his sake that she doesn't leave.
Alecto is sixteen years old, and most of her potions class has already trailed out of the room, but she lingers behind to talk to the professor and when she comes out her brother is waiting for her. Though she pretends that his hovering annoys her, there are times when she thinks he's her best friend, and so she lets him walk her back to the Common Room.
The way Antonin watches her enter alarms her, and she suddenly wishes that her brother wouldn't disappear off to his dormitory, but he fails to perceive her unease.
"So," he says, still observing from the couch, "Were you talking about me?"
Alecto shakes her head, but it's not the answer he wanted (is there any answer that would make him happy?) and he crosses the room, fire in his eyes that she recognizes as dangerous.
"Don't lie," he commands, and she insists that she didn't, but he's deaf whenever she disagrees with him and he grinds his teeth together anyway, even as she explains that she's only late because of a potions essay she didn't understand, and there's no reason for him to get angry.
There doesn't even have to be a reason anymore, though, and she knows that. Lately, he hasn't even been apologising; she wonders why he doesn't leave her if she's such a hassle to him, but she never voices this, and she would never leave him herself.
He knows that, and everything else, too. He's as perfect as he is dangerous, and this only adds to her awe of him.
That's not why she doesn't leave him, though. Sometimes, she catches herself doubting her love for him, and even of doubting his love for her. It terrifies her, because that's the only truth she has to hold on to. Every time she thinks this, though, her mind is filled with the picture of a little girl comforting a bruised and broken little boy, and she can't leave him because she knows that with a little more time, she'll be able to hold him a little closer, and when he's closer, she'll fix him.
Her mind is blank for the moment, though, as his open palm makes a dull thwack of contact with her shoulder, and she staggers backwards, reeling. His eyes are dark, unreadable, as she straightens and stares at him. There's no horror in her gaze as there once was, only a dull resignation.
"I love you, Alecto," he whispers, his voice gentle like his hands never are. Nodding, she lets his hand tilt her face up, and lets him kiss her; he tastes like smoke, even though she knows he doesn't, and she wonders who else he's been kissing recently. Maybe no one, maybe her best friend- he hides everything from her, these days.
She's only sixteen, but she feels half-asleep and old as she lies awake in bed that night, and it has nothing to do with being tired. They were only children, she thinks, and now they're almost adults and everything's changed, and yet nothing has at all. She'll always be the one holding him together, and he'll always be the one keeping her too far away for her to put him back together completely. Perhaps they'd never been children at all.