a/n: for Ella (matt-smiths) because she is perfect. She gave me the prompts lucy/lysander where lucy is bitter and sad, set in germany or russia, with the words silk and tattoo.
winter in st petersburg
beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. god and devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man. -—dostoevsky
It rained all day today. I thought it would never stop. And then it did, and the sun came out, and the sunshine off the puddles on the road made me think of you. You and your laughter and the way you always used to ruffle my hair when I'd said something you thought was clever. I wish I were as clever as you think I am, Ly. I wish I were more of the girl you made up inside your head.
He finds the note wedged in between her gardenia and his cactus on the window ledge in the kitchen. The realisation that she has broken in again frustrates him but only because it is agony to know she has been in his house without waking him, not because he is sick of her doing it. To be truthful, he is far too used to her trespassing to be overly concerned by it any more.
He makes coffee before he reads the note. When he has a mug steaming between his hands he finally plucks the note from its resting place and sits down at the kitchen table to unfurl it. It curls at the edges so he takes a few seconds to press it flat, his hands sliding against the wood as the paper resists his efforts. In the end he just holds it down with his forefingers and scans the words eagerly, a drowning man gulping at the last vestiges of air in his tanks.
When he has finished reading he reads it twice more and tries not to think about the way she makes his heart hurt. Instead he pulls out his wand and levitates the ragged piece of paper into the air before charring it to a cinder.
He hates Lucy Weasley, most days. He hates her because he wishes he didn't love her and because every time he gets near to moving on from her she does something like this. Something that means he can't forget her.
When the letter has burned itself out Lysander waves his wand once more and sends the ash spinning through the air to pile itself into a jar already half-full – remnants of all the notes she's left him over the last five years of running and hiding. Too many notes, he thinks. Too many notes and not enough explanations. She leaves him truths and whims and all her flights of fancy – and he stores them away like this, desperately and pathetically, like maybe once the jar is full she'll come back to him.
He guesses he won't find out until the jar is full.
I have a new favourite song, Ly. You know those songs? The sort of song that turns into a sickness; one that you can't shake and can't heal from. All you can do is listen to it over and over and over again until it's burned against your bones and your heart is beating to its drums. I wish I could come to you so we could listen to it together. I wish we could sit on your roof the way we used to and let it weld itself to our souls until we were matched by the music, you and me together forever. I think I could stand to be bound to someone, you know, if we were bound by this song. And by someone I mean you, obviously.
The next note comes three weeks later, slipped into his desk at work. He has changed his job four times since she left, famously unable to settle to anything, but she always seems to find him anyway. He worried at first that she wouldn't be able to, but then a note turned up in the manticore's enclosure at the magical zoo he was working at and he stopped worrying. He remembers thinking then that of course she picked the manticore's pen. Of course she did. Lucy does nothing that doesn't put her life at risk these days.
He reads this note in the tiny kitchen on his floor in the office and then puts it in his pocket to burn later at home. She's left a lipstick kiss on the bottom of this one, and when he presses his nose to it he can smell the last lingering traces of her cigarette smoke and expensive French perfume that her Aunt Fleur has been giving her for her birthday since she was seven. Lysander thinks he knows that smell better than he knows any other.
The guy at the desk opposite him gives him a slightly odd look when he returns to his place, but Lysander just glowers in return and the man returns to his work without another word. The guy was friendly, once, when Lysander first arrived. But Lysander's hulking moodiness and inability to make human connections soon encouraged the guy to give up and these days they barely nod at each other in hello. Since Lysander cannot even remember his name it is not within his sphere of interest to care.
So he sits at his desk for the rest of the day feeling kind of lonely and kind of sad and watches the rain trickle down the window and wonders if there's any point to anything anymore.
Do you know something, Ly? I wish I could forget you. I really do. I wish that I didn't get twisty inside when I think of you but I do and I hate it. I dream about you almost every night and my mind conjures up all the girls you've probably been lured by and I loathe them so much it makes me physically sick. I wish you didn't plague me so. But you do and I don't know what to do about it.
When he finds the latest note trapped between envelopes of bills, Lysander loses his temper for the first time in a very long time. A little later, he comes back to himself in the centre of a shattered sitting room and gives up. He packs his bags in two hours and, without a word to anybody, he leaves. If Lucy can do it, why can't he?
He goes to Russia. It takes barely any effort, just a few conjuring tricks to get himself some Muggle money and then a plane ticket to St Petersburg. He buys himself a flat with more magicked money and he decides that maybe if he leaves magic behind then he can finally move on from Lucy Weasley and the way she haunts his steps. So he opens a bank account with a bank he can't pronounce the name of and fills it with enough cash to last him a lifetime of luxury and then he goes home and puts his wand in the back of a cupboard in the kitchen and doesn't even look at it once it's there.
Directionless now, he decides to see the city. So he does. He walks and walks and walks and he doesn't think about the jar half-full of ash on his mantelpiece and he combs every inch of the city until it is more familiar to him than even London. He revels in the beauty of it, the city built on bones, and he learns its pathways and its mysteries and its history and he comes to love it, before long. It is an impossible city, he often thinks, standing in his penthouse apartment with the city laid out before him, a city that stands as testament to the triumph of human will over nature, over rationality and practicality and sentimentality. A city to resent for the lives it cost to build, and a city to be so inspired by that you feel you could touch the sky if you wanted to badly enough.
And here, in the wide avenues amongst the beautiful buildings, Lysander feels like maybe Lucy's grip on him is a little less tight than it has ever been before.
I can see why you love it here, Ly. It's kind of beautiful, in a brutal sort of way. It makes me sad, though. Every time I set down a foot I'm wondering how many skeletons lie beneath my feet. It's almost a bit of a metaphor, I guess. Our whole lives are built over skeletons and we are burdened with glory and guilt of ages past. Is that why you love it here? Because it represents humanity so utterly?
This note is waiting for him on his kitchen table when he gets in from yet another walk, months after he first arrived. He reads it nine times through without pause and then he puts it back down and stares at it for longer than he'd care to admit, brow furrowed and nostrils flared.
It is somewhere between the clock chiming the hour and a car backfiring in the street below that Lysander is overwhelmed by a sudden realisation. Lifting the paper to his nose, he inhales once, deeply. There is no trace of her scent on it, and yet, and yet—
"No, Lucy," he says, breaking the deep silence in the apartment, staring at the fireplace like he's addressing it, "I don't love it because it reminds me of humanity. I love it because it reminds me of you."
There is nothing but silence in response, but Lysander does not waver. There is no scent on that paper but her perfume is present somewhere in here, too strongly to be a lingering trace where she has left it. She is here, he knows. Here, somewhere, so close he can almost taste her on his tongue. His heart is pounding wildly, the veins on his arms rising thick and dangerous as his fists clench, the whole of him so still he could be petrified.
"I'm not built on bones," the reply comes finally, so quietly he could swear it is just his imagination. But then she steps around the doorframe of his bedroom and the world just stops. They gaze at each other and Lysander cannot do anything, cannot react in any way. There is a dull roaring sort of noise in his ears, like a waterfall is crashing there, and in the frame of door Lucy stands noiselessly and watches him.
"You—" he begins, and finds he cannot go on.
"Me," she agrees, with the smallest of smiles, and Lysander watches in a kind of daze as she wraps her cardigan more tightly around herself, tucks a red curl behind one ear, blinks twice and coughs once.
"Where have you been?" he manages to get out finally, still sat there like a statue, his expression quietly disbelieving, "Where have you been, Luce?"
She shrugs just slightly. "Here and there. Close to you, usually. You just never see me."
"I've been looking—" he tries to say, but she cuts him off with a quick brittle laugh and a shake of her head, short red curls bouncing.
"Nobody's been looking. Why does St Petersburg remind you of me?"
The change of topic takes him aback slightly—he was used to her habits, once, but that was a long time ago and he has changed too much, she has changed too little, since they saw each other last. It is a moment before he can get any words out, but he manages to eventually.
"It's like you. A lot like you. It's beautiful and cold and built on tragedy. It has secrets and it tells lies and it defies everything you think you know. And people love it," he finishes, with just a touch of defiance, "People love it and it doesn't care. It just goes on being beautiful and cold and tragic and it doesn't care at all that people have died for it."
"I never asked anybody to die for me," Lucy snaps at him, fire suddenly, and Lysander finds a retort without having to try.
"Neither did St Petersburg."
Lucy glares at him for a few moments longer, slim and dangerous there in the doorway, and Lysander is wondering if maybe he should be readying himself for a hex when she relaxes and a hint of laughter returns to her eyes, a glint of humour in the set of her mouth.
"You know," she remarks, and her tone is practically conversational, "I've been compared to a lot of things, before, but never to a city." She is silent for a moment, and then she adds, in a somewhat surprised tone, "I kind of like it."
"What do you want, Lucy?" he replies evenly, shifting in his chair. "I've waited for you for nearly six years. Why have you come here now?"
She holds his gaze for several moments and then surprises him by being the one to drop it. She looks a little defeated as she crosses the room and pulls a chair out for herself, a little lost and a little lonely and a lot lovely. Lysander realises with a hint of despair that he loves her as much as he ever has. More now, maybe. More now she has this quiet vulnerability about her, a brittle bruised kind of defiance that leaves his senses reeling.
"I couldn't do it anymore," she murmurs, her fingers pressing into a knot in the wood of his table, "I was walking by the Neva and there was this kid screaming at his mother and a guy trying to sell me chestnuts and I just couldn't do it."
"So you came here," Lysander says quietly, staring at her intently, wondering what she wants from him.
"So I came here," she agrees, glancing up to meet his gaze, blue eyes bloodshot and exhausted. "I came here and I was about to chicken out and run away again when you got home."
Lysander doesn't really know what to say to that so he doesn't say anything at all. Silence stretches out between them, uneasy and tense, and Lysander finds himself lost in the play of veins at her thin white wrist, in the shadows her hair casts onto her shoulders, in the soft papery beauty of her face and her throat.
"You're staring," she says eventually, and Lysander just shrugs because he is and that's that. Silence takes over again, only this time she's staring back and Lysander can see himself, tall and blonde and brooding, reflected in her eyes.
Finally she breaks the connection and looks away, and Lysander watches as her gaze travels around his flat slowly, contemplatively, lingering on the jar of ash on his mantelpiece and the paintings of London on his walls.
"I've missed you," he says eventually, because it's about time he just got it out, "I've missed you so much sometimes I thought I was going mad because of it."
Her gaze flicks back to his and her lips curve upwards at the corners and she replies, "I've missed you so much that I know I've gone mad."
Lysander smiles slightly at that and this time the silence has barely taken root before he breaks it again.
"So," he says, "What now?"
Lucy doesn't reply for a while, just traces the swirls in the knot, brow furrowed as she ponders the question. Lysander waits patiently, the way he has always had to wait for Lucy, and the evening darkens outside as the pair of them sit quietly while Lucy thinks.
"We could try just… being," she suggests finally, at a point when Lysander is nearly convinced that she's never going to speak again. "We could just live here and keep living and see what happens."
Lysander looks hard at her for some time as she continues to stare at the table. He cannot, however, think of a better alternative so eventually he just shrugs and says, "Okay."
You're beautiful when you're sleeping. I woke up and I found myself sure I'd died in my sleep and woken up next to an angel. Or maybe a god of some sort – you're built a lot more like Thor than some poncy angel. Don't worry, Ly, I'll be back soon. I just needed to walk and clear the dust out of my head.
When he finds the note on the pillow his heart fails him for a moment, but as soon as he's read it he finds himself breathing with deep, desperate relief. It's one of the shortest notes she's ever written him, but definitely his favourite so far. She's always been more eloquent with a pen than with her tongue, he finds himself thinking. In another life she'd have made a wonderful poet.
True to her word, she is back in the flat before long, eyes sparkling and cheeks red from the cold outside. Lysander laughs at her idiocy for braving the St Petersburg winter without enough layers and then he makes her breakfast and the ease of it nearly kills him. It just makes sense, to be with her like this. Not to sleep with her—or at least not in that way, not yet—but to just be near her, to breathe her in with every second, to hear her laugh and listen to the crazy ramblings of her mind and count the constellations in her smile.
"Did you regret it?" he asks that afternoon when they are curled up on the couch, her head pillowed on his broad chest, "Running away, I mean. You didn't even say goodbye to Molly, for crying out loud."
Lucy's face sets, her hands fist in the hem of her dress, and Lysander finds himself thinking that he hasn't seen even a Russian winter so cold and so lovely in his entire life.
"What was I supposed to say?" she demands in a low tone, brows drawing down over flinty blue eyes, "Was I just supposed to bend and kiss her on the cheek and say that I'm sorry that our mother was dead because of me but I had to leave because I couldn't bear it? What do you think she would have said?"
"She deserved a goodbye," Lysander presses, "She would have forgiven you."
"She was nine years old, Lysander. She would never have forgiven me because she would never have understood."
"I forgave you," he replies quietly, "You came to say goodbye to me and I forgave you."
"You're older," she snaps, throwing back the blanket and rising to her feet in one swift moment, "You're older and you're better and you're Lysander and I could have torn the moon out of the sky and you'd have forgiven me."
Lysander clambers to his feet too, towering over her, and he's starting to feel really truly angry at her for the first time since she stood before him in that stupidly tiny black silk dress the day of her mother's funeral and told him that she was leaving.
"You're a coward, Lucy Weasley," he tells her now, advancing on her slowly and menacingly, "You're selfish and you're cruel and you're a coward."
"Then why do you love me, Lysander?" she demands, and suddenly she's got tears on her cheeks and desolation in her eyes, "Why do you love me?"
Lysander doesn't have an answer to that the way he often doesn't have an answer to her questions, and so he just stands and glares down at her and she stands and glares up at him and somewhere in the midst of the fury of it all Lysander finds himself gathering her to him and kissing her the way he's been needing to for years upon years now. She is halfway between crying and laughing as she kisses him back, her thin arms winding about his neck as her legs wind around his waist and they don't pause for breath until Lysander rips her dress too eagerly from her shoulders and finds a tattoo sitting dark against the skin of her side.
"When did you get this?" he pants against her neck, and she grins as his fingers trace across it and scatters kisses on his hairline and doesn't say a word. Lysander pulls back to read the phrase branded there and she shivers as he presses his fingertip against each word in turn, her skin flushing with goosebumps as he bends to kiss the ink.
"Nabokov," she whispers as she fists her fingers in his hair, "He told the truth about the world."
"The way St Petersburg tells the truth about humanity?" Lysander inquires softly, and when he looks up he finds Lucy smiling down at him with the most terrible type of sadness he's ever seen.
"Yes," she breathes, "They tell the truth. And it makes me ache, Ly. It makes me ache all over."
"It shouldn't have to," he replies gently, his fingers pressing into her hips now as he rises back to his feet, "The truth doesn't always mean pain, Luce."
"Doesn't it?" she asks in a voice so tiny that he almost wants to cry of it, "Doesn't it?"
He doesn't know how to reassure her now, doesn't know how to prove to her that it can be better than this—so he just kisses her again and later that night she recites all four cantos of Pale Fire by heart and Lysander joins her on the line she has imprinted against her ribs, murmurs "The account contained a hint of angels" even as she utters it in her strong clear voice, and later yet when she is curled up asleep against his side Lysander stares at the ceiling, his fingers running still over the blue of her tattoo, and wonders what she was thinking exactly when she picked that line to be scrawled against her skin forever.
She wakes a short time later with a scream and Lysander finds himself holding her as she weeps into his shoulder, not even entirely sure what's happening. After half an hour of coaxing she finally admits that she sees it every night, sees that moment when her mother threw herself forward to push Lucy back and disappeared over the lip of the cliff with the ground Lucy had been dancing on not two seconds previously.
"It's not your fault, Lucy," Lysander finds himself saying over and over, shaking her harder than he intended to, "You didn't know the ground was weak—you were just playing!"
"I was taunting her," Lucy sobs, and she looks wilder than he's ever seen her look, "She told me not to step there because the ground was weak and I did, I went and jumped up and down even… it should have been me, Ly. I deserved to go over with it, but she saved me. She pushed me back."
It takes Lysander two long hours to calm Lucy back to sleep, and then he paces the floor of his flat for a further hour before he reaches a decision. He was always skilled at memory charms. He had a strange kind of reputation for it at Hogwarts and in the few short years he worked in the Ministry of Magic back before Lucy's mother died and the world went mad. So now he goes to the kitchen and takes his wand out from where it's lain untouched for nearly a year and before he can lose his nerve he returns to the bedroom. Lucy is sleeping peacefully now, and Lysander hesitates before he reminds himself that she wakes screaming because of this every night, that she is destroying herself because of this, and before his morality overcomes him he finds himself whispering, "Obliviate," closing his eyes and beginning to dance his wand in an intricate pattern, reworking the memory until it is something a little easier to carry around.
He's not sure how Lucy Lucy will be in the morning. He doesn't dare change the memory too much for fear of damaging her permanently, but he muddles the facts and blurs the truth so that what happened on the clifftop was an accident, so that Audrey was just walking a little too close to the edge and the stone gave way with no warning and no provocation. Then he puts his wand on the bedside table and climbs back into bed next to Lucy and wraps himself around her before his conscious can convince him that he's just done a great wrong.
In the morning he wakes up to find Lucy sitting on the windowsill watching the sun rise, silhouetted against the orange sky. She turns her head to look at him as he sits up, and she smiles ever-so-slightly.
"St Petersburg forgot, too," she says, and he says nothing to the realisation that she is aware of what he has done, just sits and waits for her to finish. He is not disappointed. "The people who love it haven't forgotten but the city has. It's kind of serene, don't you think?"
Lysander sits and looks at her and wonders who they're talking about now. She is the epitome of serenity right now, that is for sure, sitting so still and so quiet against the window.
Finally he can bear it no longer and he says, "Are you angry?"
She thinks about that for a while, and then she turns to him and smiles wider than he's ever seen her smile and says, "Yes. But only because I wish you'd taken more. I wish you'd taken everything so I could start again."
"I couldn't do that, Luce," he tells her, getting out of bed and crossing the room to put his arms around her, "I've lost you too many times for that."
"Selfish," she breathes, but she is smiling still as she twists in his arms and wraps her arms around his chest, her eyes soft and sleepy as the sun illuminates her head and sends a fiery halo around her hair. "How long will you love me, Ly?"
Lysander smiles down at her and presses a kiss to her forehead and says, "I don't know. Until I stop."
"Please don't ever," she murmurs, and then she stands on tiptoes and pulls his head down to kiss him and Lysander decides then that he might even love her more than he loves St Petersburg.