happy way overdue and extremely belated but hopefully still wonderful birthday, sara. (:

. . .

Pairing: Draco/Hermione
Prompts: sunsets; knowing eyes, sad smile; "We're in the middle of a war, Granger." "And if we don't have time to fall in love, what do we have?"; "YOU CRAZY BINT."; ragged hems


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tick tock

and the seconds melted to dust.

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It was early morning when they first met on even grounds.

She was resting, her back to the brick wall, staring with squinted eyes into the foggy morning, the scarlet sun pulling itself up from beyond the horizon. The dew drops on the long grass around her clung to her clothes, and she was almost entirely sure that she had more than a few hideous grass stains on her jeans.

She sighed.

It was quiet.

The wind, ever so light and too faint to be anything but a breeze shifted restlessly. And then she heard the crunch of footsteps on the grass and dead leaves.

"Granger."

She reacted slowly, much too relaxed here, away from the problems, to even care about getting caught. It was peaceful.

Her eyes opened slowly, and she yawned widely, eyes welling up with tears for a brief moment before she blinked, and then cocked her head to the side. "Malfoy?" She blinked again. And then it set in. She tensed. "Malfoy," she repeated, a hint of apprehension and a dollop of malice in her tone.

She could almost hear the 'mudblood' coming from his lips, spat in her direction. She could feel it on the tip of her tongue and braced herself for the verbal abuse…and then possibly magical abuse. Her hand dug into her pocket, clenched around her wand.

But neither came.

He ignored her words, walking towards her person, hands casually shoved in his pockets. He leaned against the brick wall, and then slid down to seat himself next to her.

She tensed. If she were the deer caught in the lights, he would be the car that had stopped, idle, waiting for her move. And ever so slowly, without rhyme or reason, she relaxed.

They were silent. It was a comfortable silence, and for the life of her, Hermione could not understand why Draco Malfoy, of all people, in all times, was here, and was not doing anything.

He rested his arms on his knees that were in a slight tuck. She glanced over at him, and then at his hands…and the tattoo that ran along the soft inner skin of his forearm. The dark ink stood out, and the pattern was one that she was much too familiar with.

And she couldn't help but ask. "Why aren't you threatening me with my life, right about now?"

There was silence for a long while.

"I'm tired. Please don't speak." He said, a hollowed sigh in his voice. The telltale Draco Malfoy bite in his voice was missing…and he seemed almost empty. A shell of what he once was. And then she turned to look at him, to really look at him. At the sunken bags under his eyes, the hollows where stress was eating away at his cheeks, the bloodshot eyes…and the even more haunted posture. His shoulders were hunched over—a telltale sign of pressure…or stress.

And then she noticed the wounds on his hands, too.

She didn't dare comment on any of it.

But she understood all too well. "I am, too. Exhausted." Her eyes shone with the light of knowing, of complete comprehension. Her brow pulled together, wrinkles forming from the skin. "I wish I could go to sleep at never wake up…forever dreaming."

And for a moment, for a split second, they weren't Hermione Granger, the girl from the Golden Trio, and Draco Malfoy, the Death Eater. She was just a girl, and he was just a boy in a world where nothing was right.

She bowed her head. "I understand," she whispered with knowing eyes, with a sad smile.

He made no reply.

And then neither of them spoke again.

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time

s l i p s

so

q u i c k l y

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It was midmorning when they met again, for what seemed to be the tenth time. She wasn't sure why nothing had happened yet, why neither of them had pulled wands on each other, the wands that were so perilously resting in each of their respective pockets, just in reach.

But it seemed, for now at least, they were in some sort of limbo…just beyond the realm of fighting and warring and hating and tears and death. For now, the only thing that they had thrown at each other was long strands grass.

She hoped it would last.

If she were to be completely honest with herself, Hermione would have to admit that some part of her hated Draco Malfoy, loathed to be around him, detested his very being. And yet, another…

Another part of her, and she wasn't sure which of the two was prevailing, but another part of her felt a sense of closure within his company. And even contentment. A calm in the storm—that was what they were.

(But every calm was just that—a brief lapse before the storm picked up again, raging, ripping…)

She half-expected that one day she would run her mouth in the middle of one of their weird periodic silences and he would end up screaming at her something along the lines "YOU CRAZY BINT," and then proceed to mow her down against the brick wall that maintained their sort of peace in the world.

Quite the storm after the calm, indeed.

But it wasn't until later that she realized the storm was much bigger—the storm was the whole war. This, she was sure of.

There aren't many things that she wasn't sure about, but their odd relationship was a moment of uncertainty for her. She wasn't sure why they kept running into each other, why they stuck around, why they came back to the strange limbo that they existed in.

She hadn't gotten the courage yet to inquire her curiosities.

It had been only two weeks since they had first met on the brick wall. Harry had fallen ill…and so they had stayed much longer in the same place. So while he was helplessly knocked out, she ran off into the trees, eyes welling up at the utter disaster that they were.

Ron had left, angry. Harry was frustrated and sick. And Hermione was heartbroken that her friends were falling apart.

She couldn't bear to be near anyone.

Anyone except for Draco.

She would run back to the wall day after day, so today was no different. She wove through the trees, careful to leave no trace of herself—physical or otherwise.

And yet…

Despite everything being the same as it always was, today was different. For today, she was wearing the locket. She had only put it on this morning, but even as the metal slid against her skin for the first time in a long time, she felt an icy fire ignite within her that hadn't been there before.

It was in her bloodstream—she could feel it. But it was her job to hold it in because despite everything, she had to be the rock within their trio. She had to be the strong one. She had to be.

"You're later than usual," she heard his voice through the thicket of trees. He had heard her approach.

She nodded lightly even though he couldn't see her. She emerged finally, into the small clearing just in front of the brick wall. She slid into her usual spot.

"You're earlier," she noted.

It was all they said for a while.

This was what she liked about Draco—the fact that their silence could be calm. Comforting. A contrast to their normal, everyday, worldly lives beyond the brick wall.

She sighed, leaning forward. "Sometimes, I wish we were different."

"What are you going on about?" he asked brusquely, a semblance of irritation entering his tone. They rarely talked whenever they met, so this was a break from the norm. An uncomfortable change, it seemed.

He was too focused on reality, Hermione idly thought. Every time she brought up a 'what if', he became angry…as if her wonderings were pointless since the world that they lived in didn't allow for rewinds in time.

"If things were different, it would be much easier. So much easier to be…whatever it is we are."

"We're not anything." Draco bit back sharply. She paused, waiting for the m word to show up, but…nothing.

"You're wrong," she intoned softly. "We're not enemies. And we're not friends. We're simply…together. There's not quite a label for what we are." She leaned forward, resting her arms on her tucked knees.

Draco sneered a little. "And therefore, we're not anything."

"Just because something doesn't exist in words doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. We're simply…beyond comprehension." Hermione's voice was muffled amongst her arms buried her face in.

Draco's lips twisted up in a smirk. "Beyond comprehension. Yeah, no one can understand us because we're two loons sitting against a brick wall."

Hermione laughed lightly, staring determinedly at the grass beneath her. "Yes. That's what we are."

There was another long bout of silence. She sighed, leaning forward onto her tucked knees a bit more. And then the locket clinked with her watch, a sharp metallic sound. She stiffened.

There was a silence—but not their normal, unperturbed ones. There was certain disquiet in this one…and Hermione slowly sat up, hoping that Draco would notice nothing out of the normal. She leaned back, then, head upturned to the sky, silently wishing to the invisible stars. Please…

She heard the crunch of dead leaves as Draco shifted, probably searching out the source of the unfamiliar sound. His movement stopped, then, and she shut her eyes, shoulders tense.

"Granger. You have a locket."

"…yes," she hedged, determined to give as little information as possible.

"Salazar Slytherin's locket."

"What's your point?" she bit back sharply, irritation and disdain entering her tone. The locket was getting to her.

"Why in Merlin's name do you have a Slytherin locket?" he shot back.

Hermione's eyes narrowed. "I don't see how that's your business."

"It's damn well my business. I'm a Slytherin." Draco barked.

Hermione snorted, derisive. "Right, because that counts for everything since we're still in Hogwarts."

Draco sniffed haughtily. "Once a Slytherin, always a Slytherin."

Something inside of Hermione snapped, then, for she got up, brushed her hands over herself in an effort to remove stray grass, and stalked away, back through the trees. It was when she heard the footsteps after her that she turned around testily, and yelled. "What do you want from me, Malfoy?"

"Answers," he snapped back, the lines between his eyebrows, anger lines deepening.

Hermione let out a gusty sigh of frustration, and reached around her neck to rip off the locket, shoving it in her pocket. Almost immediately, the irritation faded, and she was calm. "Look," she started, patience in her voice. "Whenever I go to the brick wall, it's to leave the real world behind. So can we just pretend that this conversation never happened?"

She didn't wait for a reply, turning swiftly on her heel and leaving him in the darkness of the forest, walking in the direction of the sun.

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time has a way of

p u l l i n g

people apart

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It was midday when she returned the very next day.

"This is stupid," she announced as she emerged from the trees, determined. Today was a new day and she was determined to make it better.

"What are you talking about, Granger?" Draco questioned wearily, raking a hand through his hair.

She sat down next to him, cross-legged. "I was wrong. We can't avoid and pretend like we're not on different sides; we can't pretend that this war doesn't exist. Because it does. We're still on different sides of this war, even as we sit in this 'immune'," she made air quotations, "area of land. We're technically still enemies."

Draco sighed. "Do you want to duel?"

Hermione shot him a look of disbelief before shaking her head. "But there are never only two sides to a war. There are three. Your side, my side, and the compromise between the two. So perhaps, we ought to be the third side…at least here. And maybe, someday, in the far future, out there."

Draco peered at her incredulously. "I think you're under the false assumption that we're friends, and that we're capable of compromise. It's not like we chose the side we're on—we just fell into it."

She smiled faintly, knowingly. "But we are friends. And really, in this world of death and destruction…we're all we have."

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tick

tick

tick

t o c k

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They were having an early tea in the Malfoy Manor when Draco disappeared again. As usual, with his hands shoved in his pockets, he apparated out of the grounds and behind the gargantuan wall that separated the Manor from the wilderness beyond.

She was already that.

That was unusual, for he was usually there before her. But there was a first time for everything, he supposed.

He refrained from entering the clearing, though, instead, standing in the shadows of the wood, watching.

She was humming. She was wandering aimlessly in the clearing and humming.

And for a completely inexplicable reason, he couldn't take his eyes off of her.

Certainly, there was nothing special about today. In fact, today, she was looking particularly worn out, dark circles under her eyes beginning to show. The soles of her shoes were caked with mud—it had rained the night before, and the forest was mucky. She was damp, in fact. Damp enough to the point where the dampness was visible. Perhaps there was still a drizzle that he hadn't noticed while he was inside.

But she was humming.

Humming an awfully familiar tune, he noted to himself. And that was when she opened her mouth, singing softly, twirling around as she did so. "I'm going crazy in this hazy fantasy; you put a spell on me. Oh, but I ain't going down at all.

"So take your hands off me; tonight I'm breaking free. This is the night, this is the night." He took a step forward, the leaves crunching. Hermione abruptly stopped, her hand going to her side where her wand was safely tucked away. She turned around, relaxing as she saw Draco emerge from the trees.

"The Weird Sisters," he remarked.

Hermione flushed, clutching her fingers behind her back, fidgeting. "Uh, um. Yes."

"Hm."

Hermione cleared her throat, sliding down to her spot against the brick wall. "So, um. How are you?"

Draco didn't answer her question, and they lapsed into silence. Until, for once, he was the one to break it. "Blood doesn't matter to me." He was staring rather determinedly at the sky.

Hermione blinked owlishly. "What?"

"Blood. Pureblood, Half-blood, Muggle born…they're all just words. Words that I'd grown up with. But all blood flows red. All blood flows in rivers. It's all the same. We're all the same in the end. The light that leaves peoples' eyes when they die…it's all the same," he spoke carefully, weighing each word. "We're born the same..." and he hesitated.

Hermione finished, for him. "And we die the same. Or I suppose, these days, get killed all the same."

More silence. It was becoming of them, really.

Hermione picked at grass, gathering the strands together after she'd plucked them out of the ground. "Who are you?"

Draco snorted. "And what have I done with Draco Malfoy, right?"

Hermione shook her head. "No…it's just…you've changed."

Draco considered her words. "Time does that."

.

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"ti m e

discovers

t r u t h."

-seneca

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It was sunset when he realized that she was beautiful.

It was the way her eyes glinted playfully in the dimming light of the evening, the way her laughter sparkled, the way she smiled, the way her fingers wrung themselves anxiously when she was nervous, the way she spouted information like a tap that wouldn't turn off. It was the way she phrased her sentences. It was the way she walked with care and it was the way she fell forward and tripped over a tree root and scraped her knee when she wasn't nearly careful enough.

It was her.

She had brought with her two bottles of cheap Muggle vodka. They passed the bottle back and forth, sipping slowly.

It was then that she told him that it was her last day, and that she and Harry were leaving the next day.

A sad smile adorned her lips, then. "I wish you'd been this person earlier. No, I wish we'd been these people earlier."

He didn't bother asking for clarification—it was evident that she would give it, regardless.

"Time changes people—you said it yourself," she sighed, and knocked the bottle back, sipping generously. "In another time and another life, we could have been perfect." Her eyes brimmed with tears for the smallest moment, and then she blinked rapidly, dispelling them. "We could have been perfect," she whispered again.

"We're in the middle of a war, Granger," Draco pointed out, finishing off the first bottle as soon as his words ceased.

Hermione waved her hands around rapidly in exasperation. "I'm aware, thanks," she bit back sourly. She opened the lid of the second bottle, taking a swig. Her cheeks were slightly rosy with intoxication. "You're full of imperfections. You're stupid, and you realize things too late. You've grown up in a society that you don't believe in, anymore, anyways, and yet…" she continued, "…you're, well, perfect for me.

"But time is ruthless. And we're running out of it," she finished, a bittersweet lilt to her voice. "I wish I could fall in love with you like I want to."

Draco stared at her for a long moment. "We're in a war," he repeated.

Hermione turned to look at him, eyes watery. "And if we don't have time to fall in love, what do we have?"

They descended into a quiet.

It was sunset when Draco leaned forward, then, and pressed his lips almost urgently to hers.

There were no words for a while after that.

And when the sun fell beyond the horizon and the moon washed over them in a pearly light—when Draco cradled Hermione against his chest, breathing labored, when Hermione finally pulled away, slipping her clothes back on, and when she squeezed his hand goodbye, pressing her lips against his cheek—time almost seemed to stop.

.

.

"time is too s l o w for those who wait,

too swift for those who f e a r,

too l o n g for those who grieve,

too short for those who r e j o i c e,

but for those who

l o v e

time is e t e r n i t y."

-henry van dyke

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It was midnight when they met again on the battlefield, months later.

She was there, her hems ragged from the running and the chasing and…she was ready for it to be done. But then she saw him, just beyond, standing in line with his father on one side and Peter Pettigrew on the other…and she wanted to cry.

He locked eyes with her from across the way as she ducked down behind the massive pillar to avoid an amplified stinging hex. In return, she shot behind her a diffindo, ignoring the screams as someone was brutally cut down the side.

And then she ran.

She wasn't sure where she was running to or where she was running from, but all that she knew was that she needed to run.

All those months of preparation…unraveled. With just a single look.

And then a familiar hand caught her wrist, and she swung around and launched herself into his chest. Her fingers clenched around the fabric of his cloak, and her tears soaked through his shirt. And then she tugged his head down, pressing her lips urgently against his, a just-in-case sort of goodbye.

But the moment didn't last long. For she heard the footsteps coming from behind them…and she promptly backed away, hissing a confounding spell at Draco.

But not even magic-made confusion could stop Draco from doing what he knew he should do. He had heard the footsteps, too. The all too familiar footsteps of his father, and the almost inevitable array of spells. The stupefy, followed immediately by the avis and oppugno. And then the birds flew at her.

And all the while, Hermione was unable to think straight, caught up in the what could have been's and the regrets, but mostly, more than anything, the memories. The feel of his hands palming her face, the smell of his skin and the woodsy smell of the earth in their land beyond the brick wall. The dreams that she'd been having of a future, of a life...but mostly of the love.

She couldn't tell him that she loved him when it wasn't true. In all honesty, she barely knew him to be anything more than a man who understood her position in a world all about war. But he was the only person who could give her that...and it was beautiful. They were beautiful. "We could have been amazing," she whispered to the wind as she shot another spell. "We could have been everything."

And that was her last thought for a long time.

It was just a bit before dawn when Voldemort fell.

The light from the sun was spreading across the sky, even before the sun arose, when Draco stood guard in front of a prone Hermione, and only a little after that when the circling birds vanished with a swish of a wand...and the glowing green light appeared in its stead.

And with the green light came dawn.

Draco staggered, the sun awoke from beyond, and the world, for once, was quiet.

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and the seconds melted to dust.


afterthoughts: Since there have been 82748294 reviews asking me how this story ended, allow me to clarify my message below: THIS STORY IS OPEN ENDED. YOU DECIDE HOW IT ENDS. I was too chicken to make a decision in terms of death and life, so you get the honor of deciding. It's open-ended for you. Moving on, then.

I'm pretty happy with this. I'm actually quite happy with this, but I love ambiguous up-to-you sort of endings, so...this kind of fits the part, for me, anyways. Time is always running out, isn't it? And ohhh, the symbolism. How I love symbolism.

Many thanks to Pandastacia for looking this over for me and making me realize what I wanted to do with the ending. Another thanks to Just Lovely, for editing, and to AkieriN, as always, for reading over my crappy work and giving me opinions. Always appreciative, I am. And Sara? I hope you like it, and happy belated. (: