Title: Kicking Down Castles

Author: Lady Altair

Rating: M/R

Summary: His dreams are too lowly to be castles in the air. [Draco Malfoy and remedial Muggle Studies, the summer after the war.]

Notes: Oh, yeah, I did. Feel free to hate and flame, I'm curious as to how criminal I really am! :) You'll see.

["Ugly. Witless. Mindless. Animals." She punctuated each word with the smack of her wand against her desk top, and thus began Muggle Studies under Alecto Carrow.]

Her English makes her beautiful; he hasn't heard the language in weeks. His French is slowly edging out of rusty, but he's been somehow subconsciously aching for the warm friction of good, gutteral English; the Gallic rhythm slides too easily.

He never knew any of this until it's there, she's there at the bar beside him in tan skin and white cotton, ordering in French while her friend prods instructions at her back in English. She hands one of the drinks off to the girl with a wry smile, warns her to keep a handle on herself. The other girl just laughs, whirling off into the scattering of people in the half-empty bar, leaving the first girl shaking her head. She thanks the barman politely, her French nearly crystal but for the vague yet stubborn thumbprint of American pronunciation.

She sighs into her white wine, quietly but he's close enough to hear. She turns and smiles as she notices the none-too-subtle attention he's paying her. It's an invitation for speech, and he can't help himself. It's hard to remember to hate her when she's the first person in months to look at him like he's something worth seeing.

The little bit of conversation that follows is strange and surreal; he's never really spoken with a Muggle before, that must be why. He has a little to talk about; she has more. About her studies, her homesickness, her opinion on French culture and architecture, which buildings she thinks are particularly interesting. She has an animated innocence about her face, the wild sea-salted waves of her hair flying around her face as she tosses her head in laughter (she makes herself laugh, he certainly isn't funny).

He's rather fascinated. The war is over back in England, but there's little of that innocence in anyone of her age; no one's face is quite so moveable any longer. Smiles are weighed and brought out only for worthy occasions and those are thin on the ground anymore for people like Draco Malfoy.

She has no reason not to smile, no reason to pull back her glossed lips and show off her unnaturally pearl-perfect American teeth. There isn't hate or disdain or disgust twisting her mouth, she can't find anything terribly objectionable about the bordering-on-unfriendly young man she's speaking with (or talking at, rather). He buys her a drink just to keep her a little longer, and if she notices how he fumbles with the strange paper money, she doesn't say anything.

He doesn't know why she's lingering—he's not very nice, he doesn't smile, doesn't follow the bar script of courtly compliments and casual touches. She's pretty, and he's intercepting the half-glances of interest from other men in the bar. She wouldn't want for company, better company, if she were to tire of his struggling half-answers composed mostly of limp-wristed sarcasm, his long silences and glances away.

But she inches closer instead of backing away, a young and stubborn smile on her face and eventually, the alcohol begins to stick his eyes to hers instead of the floor, the bar, the back wall.

The evening must be growing longer, because the room is louder, they're on their third round (she paid, she insisted) and inching closer by the sip. Her fingers not-so-accidentally brush his sleeve as she makes a point. Most of her lipgloss has faded, smudged along the series of wineglasses. He notices the smear on her glasses first; the alcohol provides the courage to turn his attention to her mouth. She's talking about some Muggle thing he doesn't understand but it's just as well; she could be discoursing at length on the number of fingers she has on her right hand and he still wouldn't be able to tear his wine-stained thoughts from the smooth way her lips curved around the words.

He finally captures a thought that's been ghosting around in his head, a fully formed and fully foreign I am going to kiss you tonight, when a boy with a German gruffness in his English interrupts them, supporting the friend from earlier, who is now much worse for drink, and it's all over. She rolls her eyes over the friend, very obviously irritated, her attention turned, and the moment slips away. When she moves to follow her friends she almost stumbles midstep, appearing to remember she's leaving someone behind. She whirls, her face written over in apology. She scribbles something down on a damp paper napkin, a series of numbers she calls her 'sellfone-er-moble' number. She slides it over with a challenging smile. There isn't a name; maybe she told him, maybe he forgot.

"I'd like to see you again," she says.

"Well, who wouldn't?" he drawls, not very nicely, but he manages to gentle his tone enough to be…well, not polite, but at least not entirely dismissive. He takes the napkin and doesn't smile.

Her smile widens at this and her cheeks might be a bit pink under the tan brown and sun-painted freckles. "Well, bye!" she says to break their moment, and turns and flees behind a huge group of her friends.

It's only after she goes that he realizes he doesn't really know what to do with the number. It's strange—he somehow wishes he did.

["Intolerant monsters, they fear the unknown, the things they can't understand. They decided a long time ago that what they couldn't have must be evil, must be eradicated, and so here we are, cast out of the light and hiding from them."

"But they don't even know anymore!" Lavender Brown shrilled. "It's all stories to them now, they don't believe, they aren't hunting us down! Why can't you people leave them alone?"

"Because people like your mother can't stop marrying them and producing halfblood halfwits like you!" Alecto snapped. "Stupid girl, they don't need to believe. A long time ago, they decided we were the enemy. They still know it, too, somewhere! They considered us enemies, and such we will always be! They will never see their own mistakes, recognize their own foolishness. They are far too stubborn and stupid."]

"You didn't call me," she accuses after a few long, awkward moments of side-by-side silence at the bar.

And how can he explain that? Anything he could say would sound cheap and only serve to anger her, even the truth: I don't know how. It's a good thing that it's late, that he's been here so long, sipping some muggle bourbon he'll never admit he prefers to Firewhisky (he hates things that burn, and Firewhisky holds to its name; now, always, burn will remind Draco of the scarred-over Mark on his arm.) It's a good thing, because this courage is on loan from the bottle.

He's been back in this bar every night; the muggle behind the counter slid him a knowing smile with his drink tonight, understanding finally lighting his eyes as Draco ordered a white wine for the girl with the big group at the table in the corner, bleeding chatter in half a dozen different languages.

"I never promised to," is what he finally replies, another truth that'll probably make her mad but he has to say something. Her fingers tighten on the stem of her wine glass and he truly hopes she's not as dramatic as Pansy, or the most expensive glass of white wine on the menu is about to be splashed in his face.

She turns instead, a solid kind of curiosity on her face. "So…" she trails off, shrugging her shoulders and holding up the wineglass and looking him straight in the eye. She has the slightest shine of sunburn across the tip of her nose.

"What's your name?"he asks instead of answering the question she didn't quite ask. "You never said." She looks slightly taken aback, the shock on her face settling to vague embarassment.

"Oh. Sorry." The sunburn is not the only pink on her face. "I guess that would be helpful, right?"

"Undoubtedly," he replies.

They exchange names, and she extends a mockingly formal hand out for him to shake, a self-amused little smile on her face.

They don't talk long, last call was looming when he ordered her wine. Her friends collect her in a hurry, all of them spurred by one boy's casual consultation of his watch to find that, oh-god-the-last-train-is-in-ten-minutes.

She kisses him on the cheek as her friends flurry near the door, checking pockets and purses for possessions, come-on-let's-go-it's-a-long-walk-back-to-Nice-if-we-don't-catch-this-train! And she's just about to go and leave again when she bites her lip, a sure and sudden look on her face. "Since you suck at the phone…tomorrow, meet me here at noon," she orders. "Meet me here, we can go to the beach."

He allows himself a little smile as she goes, waving over her shoulder. He thinks of a lot of things as he walks home; he thinks of her long tan limbs and white teeth and pink lips and a hundred other lovely, desirable things before he ever thinks muggle.

[Cautioned Alecto, "Pretty muggle faces are a lure for foolish wizards, a devious attack on wizarding blood purity. Make no mistake, young wizards, the pretty ones are are just as mindless as all the rest, they are simply engineered as bait for your weaknesses! Nothing but whores and sluts, grasping for attention with their filthy bodies! Resist their siren call, keep to your own kind and let the blood run pure!"

Her eyes scanned the class, falling heavily on the halfbloods, on Finnigan and Brown and Bones, Turpin and Goldstein and Boot and Brocklehurst. "A devious ploy to water down powerful stock, to rid the world of magic with inferior breeding." Her eyes lingered longest on Finnigan; she was itching for his dissension, anyone could see.

It was Ernie Macmillan, pure as they came, that spoke, his voice edged in uncharacteristic sarcasm. "Huh. Well, if the muggles look like this," he gestured vaguely at his textbook, which featured very pretty, if somewhat absent-looking, muggle girls, "and the purebloods look like you, then snap my wand and sign me up."]

He'd been considering having a drink or two before going out to meet her, once he had decided he was actually going to show up. He'd ultimately decided against the alcohol, but had immediately regretted it when they'd reached the beach, set their things down, and she'd pulled off the insanely short dress she'd been wearing and laid down on her towel.

Draco has never seen a girl in so little clothing. Never. Ever. He's having a hard time breathing, quite certain that the 'bathing suit' she's wearing is, by some Ministry law, legally obscene.

She's chattering, laying on her back on her vivid coral colored towel, nearly having a conversation with herself in the blinding sunshine. He sits, his arms resting on his knees, staring out into the ocean and trying very hard not to look at all her pretty bare skin because it unbalances him and he's so far away from anywhere comfortable he can barely stand it. She rolls onto her side, pushing up her sunglasses to look at him. "So," she says, in the sort of attention-snaring way that informs him she knows he's not really been listening, "you look awful grim. Kind of like you're in pain, actually. On the beach. In the South of France. With awesome company. Seriously."

Draco shrugs. "I question the bias when you qualify your own company as 'awesome.'"

Her fingers curl around the white of his sleeve, completely uncowed, and he looks down at her. " Aren't you hot?" she asks, amusement and ulterior motives glittering in her smile. She sits up, sliding her hand up his arm. "Long sleeves and buttoned almost to the top, c'mon!"

Before he can protest, her hands are on his chest, working at the buttons on his old uniform shirt, a leftover from Hogwarts and plain enough to pass for muggle clothing.

"I'm going to burn," Draco complains, drawing her eyes up to his, stalling her hands on the buttons. He doesn't want to take his shirt off, doesn't want to show that scar to her, doesn't want her to ask what happened. She's looking straight in his eyes, the muddy green of her own glittering with a flash decision.

And then she kisses him, sober in the sunlight, her hands on his bare shoulders pushing the white cotton shirt away, her arms snaking around his neck. Her lips are rough, probably sunburned, against his and it enters his mind he should be revolted, disgusted, he's kissing a muggle, but he's eighteen years old and it's so hard to turn away from a pretty girl who somehow sees something worthwhile in him when he can't find anything himself.

She laughs against his mouth, running her hands over his shoulder and up his neck to frame his jaw, pulling away. "That's what sunscreen's for!" she says sunnily, pulling the bottle from her bag and drizzling the cold cream over his shoulders.

In the end they compromise; the shirt stays on, but unbuttoned. If she notices the huge white scar on his left forearm in the short time the shirt is off, she says nothing.

["Vicious, bloodthirsty little scabs," cried Alecto in another one of her high, righteous furies against the muggles. "Violence is in their dirty blood, in their dirty nature!" Her sallow, jowly face was pink, she stalked up and down the rows of desks, whipping her wand around in a high frenzy.

"The only thing they love more than blood is burning flesh! They would set our world to fire and laugh as we blazed; we must take up our wands against them, defend our ways and lives from their malice!"

"Defend our lives and ways…" tall, regal Susan Bones echoed softly, and her voice caught the room. She stood slowly, held her chin up as raging tears burned in her eyes, her hands trembled at her sides. "You speak to us, you speak to me," she said, so lethally calm that even Alecto seemed momentarily frozen in the ice of Susan's might, "of magical worth and the malice and violence of muggles when the only reason my cousin Andrew isn't sitting in this class beside me is because you and your friends culled my family when he was an infant! You would speak such to me?" she demanded, looking every inch a princess on the executioner's scaffold.

Susan's cries under Crucio were terrible. When the Hufflepuff was unconscious on the floor, Alecto straightened herself and turned back to the class.

"Muggle viciousness is unmatched in any other creature," she said breathlessly, stepping over Susan on the way back to her desk.]

They always end up like this, at the end of every day. They always find a beach, whether she catches the train to Villefranche-sur-Mer or he Apparates to meet her near her student housing in Nice. They always find a beach. Mostly they just sit in the sand, sit for the sunset, and she tries to keep her mouth shut and let the moment be peaceful; most days, she ends up kicking down leftover sandcastles - she's not very good at being peaceful. Today, she kicks her sandals and hikes her skirt and tries to wade, but a particularly strong current sweeps her feet out from under her and she lands hard on her bottom just in time to be smacked square by a wave; Draco thinks she's crying when she struggles upright and he splashes into the surf to pick her up, but she's laughing as she spits and sputters on saltwater.

His shoes are ruined, trousers wet to the knee. She's soaked head to toe but she didn't need rescuing and he's the one who complains.

"Ruined shoes are a small price to pay," she teases, standing over him and shaking her hair to spackle him with seawater while he pulls his shoes off.

"I'm not accustomed to paying small prices," Draco sneers. "I find most things worth having are rather expensive." She laughs at him.

"So go on and jump in. I've paid full price and it was kinda fun!" She pulls up the soaking length of her skirt and wrings it into his lap. He narrows his eyes and glares up at her and she folds down onto the damp sand beside him. "C'mon, you know you like me."

"Like you? Truthfully, I continue to find you quite irksome and at best could categorize my actions towards you as 'tolerant.' Who said anything about liking you?" Draco grumbles, swiping ineffectively at the wet spots on the front of his trousers.

She pushes him back onto the sand and kisses his forehead, the dripping, wave-combed ropes of her hair falling around his face. "Y'know, I just kinda figure. I mean, you keep showing up and, for every snarky little thing you've said to me, you've never just said 'go away', because I totally would've. I have a very keen sense of when I'm unwanted."

She collapses on top of him, and Draco exhales like she weighs the earth and is pressing all the air out of his lungs. She throws his arms around her waist and sighs, gouging her fingers through the damp sand and smearing some into his hair in lazy revenge for the slight.

The sun is setting and the sand is getting cool and he can feel her shiver at the breeze and, before he's really thought it through, the words are out of his mouth. "My house isn't very far from here; your bony arse will probably freeze before the train station in those wet clothes." They both know it's an invitation, because their days are always days, ended soon enough for her to catch the train home, and him to pretend to. It's not as if they don't linger, don't find alleyways to bruise lips and rumple clothing in, don't stumble over aborted invitations, but their days have always been days, ended by the timetables of public transit.

"Five minutes ago you act like an elephant just sat on your chest and now you're critcizing my skinny ass," she complains, but after only a moment, she follows up with, "Okay. We can stop for ice cream on the way."

Draco never knew someone could be bad at eating an ice cream cone, but she really is. She manages a bigger mess than a toddler, dripping melted ice cream all down her hands and face and chest. She laughs about it, poking her sticky hands in his face as he opens the door to the muggle house he's been renting. She pauses in her tormenting to admire the house – "Belle Epoque. And just lovely," she muses, licking a finger.

"Maybe I should toss you in the ocean again before I let you in my lovely house," Draco said, catching her sticky fingers in his hands and pulling them away from her mouth, pulling her in to kiss her. "You have ice cream all over you."

"Mmm," she murmurs against his mouth. "Makes me taste better."

"Ugh," he gags by way of disagreement, pulling back and pushing the door open. "Not with that terrible flowery ice cream you eat."

"You Philistine, you have no taste."

"I am merely of the opinion that women should smell like lavender and violet, not taste like it." He slips up behind her, his arms around her waist and face in her hair.

["Muggle mummies and daddies can't love you, not really," Alecto cooed sweetly to her second year class. "Muggles can't really feel like we can, can't really love like witches and wizards do. They can pretend, they can act like they love, but it's not real. Muggles are quite incapable of loving anything, anyone."

Abby Montgomery found her little sister Emily bawling in the Gryffindor common room that Daddy didn't really love them, didn't love mummy, hadn't even loved Ben, he was just pretending, he pretended to cry and be sad at Ben's funeral and he really wasn't and it had to be true, it was written in a book and teacher said.

The elder Montgomery sister couldn't make it to her seat in her own Muggle Studies class, couldn't even sum up the presence of mind for a curse through her near-senseless rage. Five minutes before class was scheduled to begin, fifteen-year-old Abby Montgomery got a good few hits on a completely unsuspecting Alecto, wielding the hated textbook as a heavy weapon, before the Death Eater managed to raise her wand for the Cruciatus, and then another few even after. ]

They stumble their way up to his 's enough moonlight through the windows to keep them from the large obstacles. They pick up speed as they go, hands getting rougher, pulls on clothing more insistent, breathing growing irregular. She falls down amidst the already rumpled bedding and clothes are littering the floor like they know what they're doing.

Her lips are still rough under his; they always are. She sunburns them, picks at them, chews on them until they're cracked and almost bleeding. Sometimes she tastes like blood, sometimes she almost tastes like ugly memories, but then she smiles, then he moves his mouth and tastes the seasalt that seems a permanent film on her skin.

She tastes like salt and flowers tonight, the sugary stick of her ice cream catching in the grooves of his tongue. She's got his shirt off, she's shimmying out of her skirt, moving under him like that and he almost dies right there.

"I've never done this before," she whispers, and the moon catches her eyes, wide and exhilarated.

"No?" Draco asks, and she shakes her head, and he wonders if he should lie; what's one more untruth in everything he isn't telling her?

He doesn't, in the end. "I haven't either."

And she grins at him, mad and young in the moonlight, and he almost feels young and mad, too. They compared birthdays once; she's older in years, almost twenty, but he sees her innocence in every smile and that has life in it yet.

Her skin is radiating the leftover sunshine; he presses his face into the side of her neck and pushes everything but her under the door.

"Tell you a secret," she whispers, later, against his chest in the almost-morning; maybe she thinks he's asleep. "Wanted to be in love when I did that."

"Sorry," he mutters back, drifting his fingertips along the arm she has draped over his chest.

She mutters some syllable of dismissal, maybe a sleepy laugh, and they both fall back asleep.

["Most of the brutes have the barest command of language, communicating mostly through gutteral grunts and primitive gesturing," Alecto asserted. Their textbooks, at the wave of her wand, began to spout something that might have been English, but was mostly just animal grunts and wheezes, interspersed with a few simple words.

From the back of the classroom, Seamus Finnigan snorted. "Sure, 'n fact. Like me Muggle cousin can't speak Irish and French better'n you can say your own name in English."

With a furious wave of Alecto's wand, the class watched in muted horror as Seamus' mouth knitted itself closed.

"Halfbloods," Alecto said coldly, her piggy eyes snapping, "are sometimes afflicted by their dirty blood, and it's better that that sort doesn't speak at all."]

He doesn't know how she keeps on talking; it's incessant and unhurried, a big bright patchwork of verbs and nouns and nonsense stitched with 'ums' and 'likes' to keep her mouth moving while her brain funnels down more words. She's constantly telling stories; about her friends, about her family, about the things she's done and seen and loved and hated.

When he's honest with himself, though, he doesn't really mind. It's not like she's expecting him to listen, and the quiet lets him think too much, so he lets her keep on, tunes into what she's saying every once in a while, and kisses her to silence when he really can't stand it anymore.

Even when she runs out of her own words, she parrots other people's, tells him fairytales he's never heard (and that she's just appalled he's never heard—"What stupid kind of British boarding school did they send you to? Never heard of Snow White!" )

Draco laughs to himself over the witches and fairies in her tales; "Mustn't have been a very good witch," he teases her, straightfaced and smug, "Couldn't even keep a dress on the poor girl past midnight, what sort of magic is that? Why does it have to end at midnight?"

"It's a fairytale," is her only answer. "You're not really supposed to ask questions, you just have to believe. You pull a fairytale apart to look for logic and there's nothing left. And why not midnight? Everything has to end, midnight has a ring to it."

Neither of them ever really ask questions. Maybe that why he really appreciates her unceasing noise; when she's talking about her life, she's not prying into his. If the conversation were more balanced – if she were older, less self-involved – surely she would notice all the things he doesn't know, the ill-fitting angles and colors that don't quite blend. She never asks and he doesn't need to lie. Because he tells stories too; he's never sure if she really believes or if she's just not asking questions, if he's just another summertime fairytale for her.

He almost thinks to tell her the truth, to bracket it in 'once-upon-a-time' and 'happily-ever-after' and tell her everything she'll never believe, but it's too hard to spin his shadows in her sunshine, and he's not really sure how he could a twist a happy ending from it.

["Muggles have no more creative power than bugs under stones, pigs in a stye. Everything of beauty, everything of worth is of Magical origin; Muggle creation is all filth and rotten theft," saith Alecto, who couldn't draw, write, sing, or dance her way out from under a dead Lethifold.

Morag McDougal, as an upstanding Ravenclaw, generally couldn't hold with the destruction of books for any purpose, but considered the sacrifice of a few paperback copies of Austen, Conrad, Fitzgerald, Shakespeare, Twain, Joyce, Dostoyevsky, Amis, Jonson, and Wolfe justifiable in the current circumstances.

Mandy helped her paper the Muggle Studies classroom in Muggle literary genius with Permanent Sticking charms, and even sacrificed a bit of her own Muggle-composed sheet music to the collage.

Muggle Studies classes were cancelled the next day; Alecto had had to be sedated, she'd ripped her fingers bloody on the walls of the classroom when her wand had done her no good. ]

Draco loves to watch her draw. She drags him out through town, her sketch pad and pencil bag in her purse, finds a building she loves and a good angle for a drawing.

She grumbles over her drawings and calls it homework, but there is love in the hand that holds the pencil. He calls her an artist in a fit of uncharacteristic affection one day, and she laughs at him. "Not an artist," she protests, "I'm an architect. Artists are useless! Artists build castles in the air, but I'll build them on the ground and walk in them." She nods to herself, shading a column. After a moment's consideration, her pencil pauses and she says frankly, "Artists are poor, too. I don't want to be poor." Something petty in him likes her a little more when she says that.

In the peaceful quiet of her work, he sketches too, spins modest dreams in the silence. Builds castles in the air, she would probably scorn, but they don't seem so terribly lofty: just staying here, being this. And maybe keeping her.

No, his dreams are too lowly to be castles in the air; he builds sandcastles on the shore. Maybe the air would've been wiser – better clouds beyond his fingertips than sand that slips away.

Everything seems to be slipping away with the season. Maybe the days aren't quite as warm, or quite as long, but summer is ending and they both know it. The perpetual pink of mild sunburn on her nose peels and fades even as her material footprints, her clothes in the closet and her makeup cluttering his sink, diminish and disappear.

Her favorite dress, white eyelet lace and yellow ribbons, is gone from the closet, he notices after she's run back to catch a train to Nice to turn in a final folio to a professor. There are still things hanging there, but nothing special, nothing beloved.

Things she wouldn't mind leaving behind.

"I want you to stay." They're sitting at dinner. Her mobile is ringing somewhere in the mess of her purse and she's digging out debris in search of the phone.

Her passport, with the return ticket tucked neatly inside, is the first thing on the table, an unpleasant reminder on the wrought iron of the café table.

Her rifling stops, her hands freeze in the depths of her bag, and she takes a steady breath. "Oh," she says, sorrow at the corners of her mouth as the phone continues to sound its irritating, tinny ring. She sighs and he wishes he could find some hope in the sound but there's none. "I just can't." And that's all she says; she sums all her reasons in three words and paints her regret in economy. Her phone stops ringing.

He thins his lips; if she were still talking, explaining, justifying, he would have hope, her words a long path of uncertain destination. But she has already reached the end.

There are sandcastles on the beach that night, and she leaves them untouched, to be swept away by the tide. The two sit and watch the sunset for the first time in silence.

["And if there is nothing else to stop you, think on this: Muggles leave. They might contain their jealousy for weeks, months, perhaps even years, but in the end, it will always overcome them, it is their nature. And what are you left with? A broken heart and halfblood offspring to dilute our pool." Alecto strained for a sympathetic tone, trying to convince her audience she truly felt empathy when there was only disgust in her eyes, across her face.

"They leave, and that is the noblest thing they can do."]

They begin goodbyes on the beach and Draco doesn't touch her. She reaches for him and he flinches away, and her face crumbles like the sandcastles she's so fond of kicking over. Then a tide sweeps it over, and she is angry.

They get into a fight, spending their last sunset snapping and sniping at each other over the roar of the ocean. She's angry, gets angrier when she realizes how they're wasting their dwindling words. "Why do you have to be such a jackass about it? Jesus!" she howls, collapsing down to the sand and covering her eyes with her hands.

"You're ruining everything," he spits back, refusing to sit. Height may not be high ground but there has to be some advantage in it.

She gapes at him. "Ruining? Sugar, I am going home. My life is not here and summer is over."

"But I'm here!" And, really, he hates how sad that sounds. Hates that, in the end, no matter how haughty he is and what he leaves unspoken, he is begging for her to stay with him and there is no help for his pride.

He should hate her. He keeps thinking that and it never seems to stick.

Her face flows through emotions, never quite settling on one. This is the place where she should be rambling on about responsibility and reality, working herself up into a big melodramatic monologue about fate and fairness because that's what she does - she talks around something a hundred times before summing up her point. This time, she only says in this tired, twilight voice he's never heard before, "I know, Draco." He flinches at his name – he'd mocked her pronunciation of it early on and she'd punished him with endearments ever after.

"Fine," he bites off. "Go on and leave, seems so easy for you to do."

"You're making it easier by the syllable, you unbearable ass!" She folds her lips under as though to catch any more words that might otherwise fall unbidden. He stands, she sits, and neither say anything for a very long moment.

The sun is gone and he has seen the last of her.

She stands, steps up behind him and he won't look back. She wraps her arms around him, presses her cheek into his back.

She must feel the breath he's summoning in to speak because her arms tighten around his waist as though to squeeze it out of him and her words are as silky as sandpaper. "Shut up. Jesus Christ, just shut up." And what has the world come to, where she says this to him?

The train she catches back isn't the last one running, but they've managed some tiny bit of grace in their ending and there's nothing that another hour can do but curdle it. She slips something into his back pocket, whispers 'bye' and walks.

It's not a good picture that she slipped into his pocket; it's not like they're smiling lovingly or holding hands or even looking at each other. They aren't even looking at the camera. Her mouth is open, caught unawares in the middle of a conversation with someone out of the frame and he looks vaguely sullen, standing at her back, hands in his pockets and eyes on a diagonal towards the floor. It's an accidental shot, taken by an indifferent and most likely intoxicated photographer from the one (and only) night she brought him around to a party in the student hostel.

There's no note on the back, nothing sentimental about differing worlds or summertime fairytales. Those words are probably somewhere in the picture's thousand.

Draco sits on the beach for a while, halfway hoping for some kind of happy ending. He wants to kick down a sandcastle, to crumble someone else's fragile figment of a dream, but the shore offers nothing. A little after midnight, he Apparates back to the house, packs his trunk, and is back in Wiltshire before she's cried herself to sleep, alone amongst her boxed-up possessions in a cramped, dingy little dorm room on the boulevard de la Madeleine.


Author's Note: Why, yes, I totally did. I wrote an AMERICAN OFC (kind-of-a) ROMANCE. I'm still not sure it can be done, but I really tried, and am more than pleased with the result!

This has been MONTHS in the writing--literally, this is probably the most time-intensive one shot I've ever written. Inspired by all the abroad romances I witnessed in the year I was gone; you fall in love fast when you're young and short on time, and the way it falls apart when the time is all spent is seldom graceful. Twenty-one is not fond of letting go, it's easier to walk away angry.