A/N: Since I've been taking so much longer than expected to get "Forgive and Forget" updated, I thought I would post a couple of one-shots that I wrote for exchanges over the summer/fall. Consider it my way of apologizing for the delay. The next chapter of F&F is in the works, but I'm having a harder time than I expected getting back into the flow of writing it after my hiatus. I promise that it's not abandoned and will be updated as soon as I'm able. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this little fic I wrote for the Dramione Duet exchange on LJ!
Warning and disclaimer: Some sexual content and language. EWE. As always, the Harry Potter universe belongs to JKR, not me!
How We Imagined Light
The power is ours to make or mar
Our fate as on the earliest morn.
The Darkness and the Radiance are
Creatures within the spirit born.
Yet, bathed in gloom too long, we might
Forget how we imagined light.
~ From "The Twilight of Earth" by George William Russell
It was the one-year anniversary of Voldemort's defeat, and when Hermione finally managed to escape from the celebration and leave behind the fake laughter and clinking of champagne glasses, she stumbled into the first hiding place she came across. She was surprised to find it full of smoke, and even more surprised to find it already occupied by Draco Malfoy.
She expected him to tell her to leave, but he didn't.
Instead, he took a long drag from his cigarette and let his eyes wander over her, from her barely-tamed hair down to her sensible black pumps. Her skin seemed to burn beneath the intensity of his gaze.
"Granger," he acknowledged with a trace of his old smirk. "And just who are you trying to hide from this evening?"
"I'm not hiding," Hermione said defensively. "I'm…stepping out for some fresh air."
"In a coatroom? How utterly improbable," Malfoy drawled, as he finished his cigarette and Vanished it with a flourish of his wand. "So, would your desire to 'step out for some fresh air' have anything to do with the fact that the witless wonder, Weasley, just arrived at the party with an equally witless blonde on his arm? Honestly Granger, between him and The-Boy-Who-Wouldn't-Do-Everyone-a-Favor-and-Just-Die-Already, I find your taste in men appalling. You are clearly a woman in need of a good fuck."
"You haven't changed one bit, have you, Malfoy?" Hermione said icily. "Your parents ran away to France, but you stuck around, thinking if you donated to all the charities and sponsored every post-war recovery effort you could get your hands on, you'd make everyone forget whose side you were on. But I know better."
She suddenly reached out and clutched Malfoy's left wrist, tugging his arm out in front of him. He looked surprised by her action, but did not pull away. As she grasped the cuff of his shirtsleeve, he held her gaze, as if daring her to proceed.
So she did.
Slowly, she slid his sleeve up to his elbow, revealing the smooth expanse of his forearm. And there it was, just as Harry had always suspected it would be: a skull with a snake coiling out of its mouth, the black ink marring Malfoy's otherwise-flawless white skin.
"You want to start over again and make yourself a blank slate? Well there's no such thing," Hermione said softly, willing her hand not to shake as she traced the outline of his Dark Mark with the tip of her index finger.
Malfoy gasped at her hesitant touch and she glanced up at him, startled by his reaction. His face was impassive, but his eyes burned with an emotion that made her heart beat wildly inside her chest.
"Some things can't be erased," she whispered.
Malfoy yanked his arm away, and Hermione took an involuntary step backwards as he bent over, bringing his face closer to hers.
"I'd shut up if I were you, Granger," he growled softly, dangerously. "You have no idea what you're talking about."
He was standing so close to her she could feel the heat radiating off of his body, and when he spoke, his breath stirred a few of the curls framing her face. His eyes were like hardened steel, boring into hers, and he smelled like smoke, expensive cologne, and male. His gaze suddenly flicked down to her lips, and for one insane moment she thought he might actually kiss her. In that one insane moment she thought she might actually want him to.
Then he stormed out of the room and slammed the door shut behind him, leaving her in a smothering haze of smoke and confusion.
She never had a chance to ask him who he had been hiding from.
Hermione had always imagined that after Voldemort's defeat, she would be able to move on with her life. However, moving on wasn't as easy as she had thought it would be.
She returned home to a flat that was far from luxurious, with unreliable plumbing and cracked ceilings that maintenance refused to repair. Crusading for the rights of downtrodden magical creatures was a fulfilling job, but it certainly didn't pay very well. She had tried fixing the damaged ceilings with magic, but her spells never seemed to hold up, and the cracks always returned.
Ever since losing her vine and dragon heartstring wand at Malfoy Manor the year before, she had continued to use Bellatrix Lestrange's, and it couldn't channel her magic as well as her old wand had. Mr. Ollivander had offered to make her a new one, but she had declined his offer. She didn't know why she still clung to Bellatrix's wand – the instrument of her own torture – when it would make more sense to snap the stick of wood in half and cast it into the fireplace. Perhaps she thought that if she could bend the wand's magic to her will, she could somehow defeat the memory of its former mistress…and erase the memory of one of the worst nights of her life.
Hermione sighed wearily and took her nightly dose of Dreamless Sleep potion. As she did so, she caught sight of her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Even that had a large crack running through the center of it, which fractured and distorted her reflection so that sometimes, she barely recognized the person looking back at her.
The Spring Gala to Benefit War Orphans was being held at a nineteenth-century estate with ornate décor that made Hermione feel even more stifled as she stalked the corridors, desperately seeking a spot that wasn't teeming with gossiping, giggling party-goers. Finally, she swung open a pair of French doors and emerged onto a balcony overlooking the moonlit grounds.
Malfoy was standing there with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of brandy in the other. He stared at her in surprise as she stepped towards him and yanked the bottle out of his hand.
"I don't know about you," she said, "but I'm sick and tired of drinking champagne."
She took a swig of the brandy and licked her lips to catch any stray drops. Malfoy's eyes tracked the movement, watching the tip of her tongue the way a hawk watches its prey.
"What do you want, Malfoy?"
He gave her a sharp look.
"Who says I want anything from you?"
"Well, when I bumped into you a few weeks ago, you had the audacity to inform me that I needed a…what did you call it again? Oh yes, 'a good fuck'. For a moment there, I thought…well…."
"You thought what?" Malfoy pressed. "That I was going to volunteer myself for the job?"
"I know, it was a ridiculous assumption," Hermione mumbled, flushing in embarrassment.
Malfoy cocked his head to one side and casually flicked his cigarette butt over the edge of the balcony.
"And what if I was volunteering myself for the job?"
Hermione stared at him in disbelief.
"But you hate me," she said.
"And I hate you."
"Again, very true, but I fail to see why this prevents us from having sex. Clearly you have never discovered the joys of 'hate sex', Granger."
"You make sex sound like some sort of recreational activity," she said. Malfoy simply shrugged.
"It's fun, it feels good, and you get sweaty doing it…just like Quidditch. Why not consider it recreational? It's you women who think it has to mean something."
Hermione gave him a long, measured look.
"I certainly hope that's not your idea of foreplay," she muttered. And because she was feeling a bit daring, and more than a bit drunk, she grabbed his tie in one hand and pulled his lips down to meet hers.
At first, he tensed in surprise. Then, he pulled her body flush against his and swept his tongue into her mouth. She could taste the silky flavor of brandy and another taste that was entirely Malfoy's as she tangled her tongue with his, both of them seeking domination over each other's mouths.
There was a crash of glass and a splash of liquor against Hermione's legs as the bottle of brandy fell to the ground by her feet and shattered. The next thing she knew, they were Apparating to the front door of her flat and she was struggling to get the key in the lock. Malfoy was at her side growling with impatience, his mouth fastened to the sensitive skin of her throat, his hands frantically tugging at the hem of her dress. By the time she finally managed to get the door open, one strap of her dress was broken and every button on his shirt had popped off in their desperate attempt to gain access to each other's skin.
They never made it to the bedroom.
The minute the front door slammed shut behind them, he pinned her against it and took her right there, with her dress bunched up around her hips and her legs wrapped tightly around his waist. He thrust relentlessly into her, and she couldn't stop the gasp from escaping her lips as he stretched her little-used muscles to their limit. And when she came, she cried out from the intensity of her climax and dug her fingernails into his shoulders until she drew blood, needing him to feel that same combination of pleasure and pain.
There were numerous fundraisers, balls, and galas that summer. At each one, Hermione and Malfoy would catch each other's eye from across the room, and with the simplest gesture – a nod, a slight cock of the head – they would both surreptitiously disappear from the festivities, only to wind up in some closet or unoccupied passageway, shagging recklessly against the wall.
Sometimes they would have the presence of mind to try leaving the party before they got started. Although, Hermione recalled one particularly memorable occasion, after a benefit at St. Mungo's Hospital, when Malfoy actually Apparated them back to the Manor while he was already inside of her. How he managed to do this without Splinching an important part of his anatomy was beyond her.
On rare occasions they actually did it in a bed, ending up in a convoluted tangle of limbs and twisted sheets (silk sheets if they were in his bed, and a cheap, poly-cotton blend if they were in hers). But regardless of where it occurred, they hardly held each other afterwards and never spent the night together. Though it went unspoken, they both knew that if they allowed those intimacies into their encounters, then what they were doing would cease to be recreational.
Then it would actually mean something.
"Isn't this against the rules?" Hermione asked one Saturday afternoon in late August, while they were sprawled out on the floor of Malfoy's library. Books were scattered all around them where they had landed after tumbling off the shelves they had been fucking against.
Malfoy was on a quest to have her in every room of the Manor, and Hermione had a feeling that it was his way of trying to fill the emptiness that had settled into those rooms since his parents moved out. But she tried not to think about it too much. She wasn't sure she wanted to contemplate his motives when she didn't even understand her own.
"I think we've broken a lot of rules over the past several months," said Malfoy, giving her what she had come to recognize as his lazy, post-coital smirk. "Which particular rule were you referring to?"
"The one where you don't associate with Mudbloods."
Malfoy's smirk faded instantaneously.
"Your blood status doesn't mean shit to me, Granger," he said, causing Hermione to blink at him in surprise.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I'm not that prejudiced anymore. These days I pretty much hate everyone equally."
She snorted indelicately at this.
"You know what?" she said. "As disturbing as that sounds, part of me agrees with you."
"Because the entire Wizarding World is acting like a bunch of idiots the way they party every other weekend. Even Harry, Ron, and Ginny. It's as if they think that if they drink enough champagne and eat enough shrimp cocktail, they can pretend the war never happened."
Malfoy gave her one of his usual nonchalant shrugs.
"We all have a way of dealing with our demons," he said.
The curse coursed through her body like wildfire, lighting up every nerve with a burning pain that was unlike anything she had ever experienced before. On her hands and knees, she clawed at the carpet, desperately looking for something to anchor herself to so that she wouldn't drown in the endless waves of pain….
Hermione awoke and lurched upright in her bed, her sweaty hair plastered to the sides of her face. She stumbled into the bathroom to retrieve a vial of Dreamless Sleep, and her shaky hands fumbled her attempts to open the bottle, causing her to curse under her breath. She resorted to yanking the cork out with her teeth before swallowing half of the bottle in one gulp and replacing it clumsily on the shelf.
By the time she crawled back beneath her covers, she felt as if her bedroom was swaying like a ship in a storm-tossed sea. She collapsed onto her pillows and stared up at the cracks in her ceiling until they blurred with the effects of the potion, and she finally slipped back into sleep.
One Sunday morning in September, Hermione received news of Ron's engagement to the buxom blonde he had been dating for the past six months. By lunchtime, she and Malfoy had fucked each other into a state of exhaustion. They finally collapsed on the leather sofa in his study, and Malfoy Summoned them a bottle of the Manor's finest brandy.
"Whatever happened between you and Weasley anyway?" he asked after a few minutes of sipping their brandy in silence.
Hermione lowered her glass from her lips and sighed.
"We just drifted apart. We tried dating during the summer after the war ended, but then we discovered that helping Harry defeat Voldemort was pretty much the only thing we had in common. Once that was gone, there was nothing left for us to build a relationship on."
"So now you're mad at him for marrying someone else…because you still have feelings for him?"
"No," she said, "I don't have feelings for Ron. And I'm not just mad at him; I'm mad at all of them – Harry and Ginny, too."'
"For moving on without me."
There was a long pause as Hermione waited for the inevitable insult or snide remark. She received none.
"Malfoy?" she asked after a few moments.
"Do you miss them? Your parents, I mean."
He shrugged and gave her a noncommittal grunt that she interpreted as a 'yes'.
And as she sat there with Malfoy, she decided that loneliness tastes a lot like brandy - dark and smoky, the way it slips down your throat and burns in the base of your stomach, like a fire that can't be quenched. And sometimes loneliness looks like the cold, empty halls of a manor, and sometimes it looks like a flat with cracked ceilings…but either way, it still tastes the same.
"You look terrible."
"Thanks," Hermione said sarcastically. "Though in my defense, it was Ginny who forced me to be a pirate's wench this year."
Malfoy's lips twitched in amusement. He had gone to the party dressed as a vampire, and he looked sleek and sophisticated in his black cape with red velvet lining. She, however, looked like a sea-faring whore, a role made more convincing by the fact that she was currently straddling his lap.
Oh well, Halloween was a lousy excuse for a holiday anyway.
"I wasn't referring to your costume," said Malfoy. "I was referring to the fact that you look like you haven't slept in days."
Hermione sighed and rubbed at the dark circles beneath her eyes. She had tried charming them away, but as usual, her spells lacked their normal potency when wielded with Bellatrix's wand.
"Not that it's any of your business, but I've been having nightmares, okay?"
He gave her a strange look, and she tried to squirm out of his lap.
"Fine, Malfoy, just say it. Call me pathetic and see if I care."
"Where do you think you're going, wench?" he said teasingly. He trapped her in his arms and flipped her around so that she was on her hands and knees on the bed. "I'm not finished with you yet."
Malfoy unzipped his pants, lifted her skirt, and entered her from behind, leaning over to press the hard heat of his chest against her back. Hermione fisted the bed sheets and moaned as he began to move in and out of her.
"You're a lot of things, Granger," he whispered into her ear. "You're stubborn." Thrust. "Annoying." Thrust. "High-strung." Thrust. "And beautiful." Thrust. "But you're not pathetic."
"Did you just say I was beautiful?" Hermione managed to wrench out before her orgasm overtook her.
Malfoy chuckled, and the vibration of his laughter seeped into her skin and sent her sailing over the edge into bliss.
"Your nightmares – they're about that night at the Manor, aren't they? You have nightmares about that time you were interrogated."
Hermione stiffened and rolled away from Malfoy, removing the arm that he had slung casually over her bare hips. Only then did she notice that it was his left arm – the one that bore the Dark Mark.
"If you're referring to the night I was tortured by your aunt, then yes, I still have nightmares about it," she snapped. "But I wouldn't expect you to understand."
How could she explain to him what she had lost that night? How could she tell him that she had lost the last vestige of her childhood innocence - a sense of safety and security that she could never get back again?
Malfoy sighed and used his wand to light a fresh cigarette. He blew a cloud of smoke upwards, raising his eyes to watch its ascent towards her cracked ceiling. When he spoke again, his voice was taut with an emotion that she had never heard in it before.
"He made me torture people, you know. The Dark Lord. When he was living at the Manor, he would make me use the Cruciatus Curse on people who had displeased him."
"Yes, I know," Hermione said quietly. "But that's still not the same as being tortured."
"That depends on your point of view," said Malfoy, and as he lowered his gaze to meet hers once more, his eyes were like silver mirrors that captured and reflected back the same pain she often saw in her own.
As Hermione washed up for bed that night after Malfoy left, she thought about the war; about the loss of lives and the loss of innocence – both hers and his. She paused to study her left forearm.
There was not a mark to be seen.
With a sob, she yanked a towel off the rack and scrubbed her arms until the skin was tingling pink, but it was no use.
"You want to start over again and make yourself a blank slate? Well there's no such thing."
With grim determination, Hermione took every last bottle of Dreamless Sleep out of her medicine cabinet, pulled out the stoppers, and poured them into the bathroom sink, watching as her tears mingled with the potion and disappeared down the drain.
"Granger! Granger, wake up!"
Hermione's eyes snapped open and were instantly met with Malfoy's grey ones.
"You were screaming," he said. He was paler than she had ever seen him, and she closed her eyes tightly, wondering what exactly he had overhead her yelling in her sleep.
She felt the bed shift as Malfoy left it, and there was a clanking sound in her bathroom while he rifled through her medicine cabinet. He came back empty-handed.
"What happened to your supply of Dreamless?" he asked.
"D-dumped it down the d-drain last week," Hermione stuttered, her body wracked with violent tremors.
"You stupid bint! You've been taking that potion for how long now? A year? You're supposed to wean yourself off of it gradually! If you just quit cold turkey like that, you put your body into withdrawal."
With a sigh, Malfoy raised his wand and murmured an incantation that sent a rush of warm, dry air over Hermione, taking the cold sweat out of her hair and bed sheets. Then he retrieved his trousers from the floor, pulled them over his narrow hips, and gathered the rest of his clothes in his arms.
"Alright, I'm going now," he said. Hermione nodded, her teeth chattering too hard for her to speak.
For a few seconds there was silence. Then she heard him curse under his breath and drop his clothes back on the floor. He crawled under the covers and pressed the length of his body against hers, wrapping his arms around her torso to pull her closer. Hermione couldn't suppress a sigh of relief as she burrowed herself deeper into his reassuring warmth.
"Just this once," he murmured.
But it wasn't just once.
They spent another night together, and then another and another. Each time he held her until her body stopped shaking and the symptoms of her withdrawal ebbed long enough for her to fall back asleep. They continued to have sex on a regular basis, but even that had changed somehow. Sometimes they still had frantic, up-against-the-wall sex, but sometimes it was slow and sensual; a desperate dance of need.
One particularly cold and gloomy November night, Malfoy surprised Hermione by carrying her to his bed and running feverish hands and lips over every inch of her body until she was screaming his name to the heavens. Then he thrust into her gently, savagely, saying under his breath, "This still doesn't mean anything. This still doesn't mean anything."
"Of course not," she reassured him. "Of course not."
She thought it was strange how easily a lie rolled off your tongue when you wanted it to be true.
It frightened her that it was not.
In December she finally tried to end it. She cut off all contact with Malfoy and went out of her way to avoid him, going so far as to skip every holiday party and social gathering in the weeks that followed.
Hermione spent Christmas Eve at the Burrow, sharing awkward conversations with Ron and his fiancée, enduring Mrs. Weasley's laments about how thin she looked, and being forced to eat more mince pie than one person should have to consume in a single day.
But she couldn't stop thinking of him.
She couldn't stop thinking about how Malfoy would probably be spending his Christmas Eve alone in that big, empty manor. Which was why, the moment she arrived back at her flat, she Flooed to his house.
"You didn't respond to any of my owls," he said, ignoring both her greeting of "Happy Christmas" and her offering of one of Mrs. Weasley's leftover pies. His voice was calm, but his eyes flashed with repressed anger.
"I'm sorry, Malfoy, but we need to stop doing…whatever it is we're doing. What we have together isn't healthy."
"And what exactly is it that we have together, Granger?" he asked in a low voice as he reached up to play with one of her curls.
"Nothing," she whispered. "This was just recreational, remember?"
Malfoy withdrew his hand as if he had been burned.
"Yes," he said coolly. "This never meant anything to me. You never meant anything to me."
Hermione nodded, flung a fresh handful of Floo powder into his fireplace, and returned to her flat. She had barely stepped out of the flames when Malfoy emerged from behind her and caught her up in his arms.
"Let me go!" she shouted, struggling against his iron grip. "Damn you, let me go! I hate you!"
"Do you want to know why you hate me, Granger?" he murmured, and the heat of his breath against her neck made her shiver. "It's not because I used to call you a Mudblood, or because of the Dark Mark on my arm. You hate me because I ruin your perfect view of the world. You want everything to fit into nice, neat categories – good and evil, right and wrong, black and white. But you don't know where I fit in, do you? You don't like that for the first time, you have to see the grey area in between."
Hermione suddenly ceased her struggling.
"How do you know?" she whispered.
Malfoy spun her around to face him, and an array of emotions flitted across his eyes like a slideshow stuck on fast-forward.
"Because," he said, "it's the same reason I hate you."
But they both knew it was a lie, just as they both knew that her saying she hated him was a lie.
She slowly backed away from him, and this time he let her go, watching her with an ambiguous expression on his face as he pulled a long, slender object out of his pocket.
"I never had a chance to give you your Christmas present," he said softly. "I actually found it in the dungeons of the Manor a few weeks ago, but…."
Hermione stared down at the object he was holding out to her and gasped.
It couldn't be.
Her hand trembled like a leaf as she reached out and wrapped her fingers around the familiar stick of wood. The old vine and dragon heartstring wand recognized its mistress instantly, and she felt a surge of magic shoot through her arm and into her body, filling her with a tingling sensation that was so full of comfort and security, she let out a sob.
The silence seemed to stretch on for hours until Malfoy finally broke it.
"I told you what we had didn't mean anything," he said.
Hermione took a few shaky breaths, her eyes falling closed against the tears now streaming down her face. When she opened them again, he was gone.
That night she stood for a long time staring at her reflection in the cracked mirror over her bathroom sink. Finally, she raised her long-lost wand, waved it in front of the mirror, and whispered, "Reparo!"
The cracks disappeared and resolved into a smooth sheet of glass in which she could finally see her reflection for what it was. The face had changed somewhat – there were a few more lines around the eyes, and a firmness about the mouth that had never been there before – but it was still the same face. It was still Hermione.
She looked at her reflection and laughed. She laughed until her laughter turned into gut-wrenching sobs and she had to grip the bathroom counter to hold herself upright. And when she went to bed she felt lighter somehow, as if a poison that had been lingering in her veins had finally been purged. However, she made no attempt to remove the cracks from her bedroom ceiling.
After all, there was always some comfort to be found in imperfection.
The raucous sounds of the party faded as she walked away from it, but even as she stepped out onto the balcony and shut the door quietly behind her, she could still hear the laughter and the wistful strains of "Auld Lang Syne" drifting on the cold night air.
The laughter no longer bothered her as it once had. Instead she found it oddly reassuring.
He was standing there with a cigarette in his hand, not so differently from when she had come across him all those months ago, except that this time it was snowing. She shivered and tugged her cloak more tightly around her shoulders.
"You know smoking will take ten years off your life, don't you?" she called out.
Malfoy whirled around, startled by the sound of her voice. When he saw her standing there, his expression became unreadable.
"Quality over quantity, Granger."
Hermione came closer, pausing when she was a few steps away from him. The silence between them was heavy and awkward.
"It's a new year," she said finally.
"Yes, it is," he replied.
"I've made a New Year's resolution."
"I've decided that this year I'm going to let go of the past. I'm going to move on, and start living in the present. And that means abandoning my preconceived notions about people, so that I can come to understand who they really are."
"I see," said Malfoy, nodding sagely. "And to think, I was just going to try and quit smoking."
Hermione laughed and stepped nearer to him, resting the palms of her hands on his chest. Then her laughter faded.
"I've missed you," she whispered.
Malfoy smiled – not a smirk, but a genuine smile – as he pulled her into his arms and rested his chin on her snow-covered hair.
"I've missed you, too, you stubborn witch," he said in a husky voice that made her skin prickle. "After all, who else is going to save my poor, dastardly soul?"
"A lost cause," Hermione said with a grin, "but I'll give it a try."
It was only fair, after all. He had already saved hers, although she would never tell him so. She was pretty sure that accusing him of such a chivalrous, Gryffindor-like act would offend his honor as a Malfoy. So instead she kissed him, and as she did, she experienced the same sensations as when her wand had been returned to her: hope, comfort, and a sense of being whole again.
Maybe later they would return to the party, to the warmth and the light. But for now they were content to stand together in the darkness, as the snow continued to fall and the drifts blew across the ground - clean, white, and new.
Just like a blank slate.
~ fin ~
List your Kinks: angst, smut, tension, happy endings
List your Squicks: dub consent, rape, cheating
List up to three prompts:
3. In the way