By: Provocative Envy
Author's Note: THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU WHO FAITHFULLY REVIEWED AND FOLLOWED THIS STORY AND MADE ME REALLY, REALLY BASHFUL AND HAPPY WITH ALL OF YOUR THOUGHTFUL COMMENTARY AND SUPPORT.
I have plans for more Tomione now that I'm done with this, but for the time being I'll be working on finishing up 'War Paint'. I wrote a short one-shot as well, titled 'Exit Wounds', which is set ENTIRELY from Tom's point-of-view, so if that's your thing…it's there. For your perusal. And enjoyment. Or whatever.
Also, there is now a playlist for this story on 8tracks. There's a link on my Tumblr as well as my profile here. Good luck with that.
JFC I'M SO EMOTIONALLY SCATTERED RIGHT NOW.
I love you all.
July 21, 1997
"You're not lying? It isn't Castor's? The two of you are so bloody cozy together, and you know he was rabid for you most of fifth year—"
I threw my head back and laughed as I took a carafe of raspberry lemonade out of my parents' refrigerator.
"It isn't Castor's," I said, rolling my eyes. "As if you wouldn't know if he and I were—God, that's practically incestuous, I can't even say it out loud."
"You know you aren't actually related to us, though," he said. "Despite what my grandfather likes to think."
I blushed; the Lestrange twins' grandfather had always been unaccountably fond of me.
"It isn't Castor's," I said again, emphatic. "It's—you don't know him."
I don't either, I didn't say.
He sipped his lemonade, expression thoughtful.
"Is he a muggle?"
My lips twisted into a sour smile.
"No," I answered, immediately picturing gleaming white teeth and long, nimble fingers wrapped around a sleek black wand. I shivered. The context for such an image wasn't there, not really, but—"He's not a muggle. He's—older. I doubt I'll see him again."
"Hermione," he said, voice suddenly dangerous, "if someone hurt you—"
"No!" I was swift to interrupt, holding my hands up. "No, it wasn't like that, please don't think—no one needs a repeat of the Ronald Weasley incident, alright? Everything with…the father—it was consensual. It was…"
He quirked a fine black brow.
"It was?" he prompted.
I placed my elbows on the kitchen island, bracing my weight against my forearms as I leaned forward, sighing pensively. I could almost, barely, not quite remember—
"Bloody fucking hell—Pol, 'Mione, you'll never fucking guess what just happened at the Ministry!" Castor shouted, bursting into the kitchen. His seersucker shorts were hanging low on his hips, and his pale pink polo was tight around his abdomen, dark with sweat at the small of his back. His chest was heaving; his brown eyes were bright.
"What were you doing at the Ministry?" I asked, unimpressed. "You're thirty minutes late, you know, my appointment is in less than an hour—"
"A bloke fell out of the fucking sky!" he cried, triumphant. "Literally, though, just—you can't Apparate in and out of the Ministry, everyone knows that, but he just—appeared, and he was holding this kind of—weird-looking time turner, I guess? I don't know, it had an hourglass—and he's, just, you know, all dapper and handsome and unruffled and I'm not even exaggerating, Pol, if I swung for your team I would have been all over him—"
I stopped listening.
I stopped breathing.
—he was holding this kind of—weird-looking time turner—
—it had an hourglass—
—fell out of the fucking sky—
I collapsed onto the nearest barstool.
Excitement and dread were pooling in my stomach, syrup-thick and oddly sweet—because this was it, this was what I had been waiting for—this was why I had woken up the week before at seven-fifteen on the dot and sprinted into the bathroom with an uncontrollable surge of nausea and a silver time turner tied around my wrist and a scar on my arm, what, when, how, it wasn't even fresh—
"Where is he?" I demanded.
Pollux cocked his head to the side—and then grinned in understanding.
"Christ. He's older, eh?" he chuckled. "I swear, 'Mione, the way you attract trouble—if I hadn't been physically present for your Sorting, I would've guessed you were a bloody Gryffindor."
"That isn't even remotely funny, Pol, I am embarrassed to be related to you right now," he announced. "But what are you talking about? What did I miss? Besides the lemonade, obviously, because, 'Mione, you know you'll always be our best girl, but your mother's lemonade could literally end wars—"
"Let's go back to the bloke who—fell out of the sky? Is that what you said, Cas?" Pollux interjected, glancing at me with bemusement.
"Yeah, yeah," Castor replied, nodding vigorously. "It was weird, which—that's a relative term, yeah, especially when you consider the comparative levels of attractiveness between Snape and his blonde fucking minx of a wife—quick tangent, though, do you think she has some kind of headmaster fetish? Is that a thing? I'd quite like to know now that I'm a teacher, all official-like—"
"Narcissa Black does not have a headmaster fetish, oh, my God," Pollux said, slapping his palms against the counter. "And Snape's not all that bad-looking—he's got a dynamite voice, all deep and growly, and that's not even mentioning his hands—"
"Anyway!" I exclaimed, pointedly clearing my throat. My lips were dry. My hands were shaking. I felt impatient, disconcerted, and I knew where this was going, knew that I might have answers, soon, soon—
"What? Oh, right. Time travel bloke. I don't really know much else. He asked to speak with the Minister—said he had pertinent information regarding the Department of Mysteries, it all seemed very grim—and then he was gone. What a conundrum, yeah? I mean—Hermione? Are you alright? Wait—who's at the door? I thought we were going to the muggle doctor to get your unmentionables inspected—"
Pollux pounded his fist against his sternum and hacked out a cough.
"Christ on a fucking stick, Cas, what are you—"
"I—I'll get the door. My parents are at work," I said, standing up on visibly quivering limbs.
"Hermione," Pollux started to say, concern evident.
"I'm fine," I told him, exhaling. "I'm—it's going to be fine."
I toyed with the wrinkled crease in my sherbet-colored linen skirt and walked out of the kitchen.
"—wouldn't she be fine, though?" I heard Castor mutter to Pollux.
My jaw clenched, ostensibly of its own accord, as I stood in my parents' entrance hall, gaze trained on the small square of lacquered stained glass that sat in the center of the front door—I could just make out the shape of another person on the other side, a shadow, a shade, blurry and indistinct, and my scalp prickled with awareness as the doorbell chimed once more.
I straightened my spine.
I thought of the dim snatches of memories that I had left—lustrous black hair and flashing brown eyes and a crippling sense of unease that accompanied the realization that I was in the presence of a predator—
I grabbed the doorknob. It was warm beneath my hand.
I pushed down.
The lock clicked.
The latch opened.
A damp, mid-afternoon breeze filtered in and I catalogued broad shoulders and a lean, tall frame with pale skin and blood-red lips and a strong, square jaw—
"Hermione," he said, and his voice cracked, and it sounded as if my name had been wrenched from some bleak, external part of him that had forgotten how to speak, truly, because it was scratchy and it was hoarse and it was desperate, too, like untreated wool and harsh, haunting radio static.
And so I stared, and I stared, and I stared—
Because I knew him.
I knew him, somehow, and there was a name, balanced right on the tip of my tongue, waiting for my brain to catch up and pull the trigger, for my synapses to fire and my nerves to respond—
"Tom Riddle," I whispered. "You're Tom."
I had tried, more than once, to use the time turner I had found—to return to the past, presumably, to find this person who my gut was insisting was terribly important, to find him and then take him with me—but it had not worked. I had concluded that there was a formula to it, a specific number of turns, down to the most minute, most precise of fractions, and perhaps something about the sand, something about it being released from the hourglass—I briefly considered smashing it, felt a glimmer of recognition at the thought—and I might have figured it out, maybe, eventually, but even I if had gotten to him, the time turner would have been destroyed, and we would have had to stay where he was, when he was, and that was not—that was not acceptable.
Bad things happened to wizards who meddled with time, after all.
I had memories, though, memories that were faded and threadbare, hazy like the air before a summer storm—shrouded, smoky dreams intermixed with moments of disbelief and horror and inescapable pain, a villain with a bizarre name and a wild-haired woman with a knife—the details were inexact, but I had two best friends, two boys, and I could not remember their names, their birthdays, could only remember that I had, at one point, known both as well as I knew my own—and we were on the run from someone, from something, and I was sad, I was miserable, I was lost without them—
The dreams would then shift, turn darker, if that was even possible, but also take on a warmer, more comforting cadence—as if there was a happy ending in sight, if only I could get there intact, if only I could play the game with cunning and with fortitude and so that I could finally fucking win—if only I could save him, this treacherous boy that I had been searching for fruitlessly, with everything I had, because he would explain and he would fill in the gaps, provide the missing pieces, and he would keep me upright, stable, sane—
I had done research, of course.
I had gone straight to Diagon Alley and purchased every book that had ever been published on the subject of time travel.
I had learned about time turners, learned about how they were made, learned about the experiments that had been conducted, the generally accepted limit of two hours in either direction—I had learned about paradoxes, alternate realities, parallel universes and the butterfly effect—it had taken me less than twelve hours to determine that my dreams were not dreams, no, nothing so simple, so ordinary—they were flashbacks, reminders, and I was not who I thought I was, my life was not what I thought it was—I was a time traveler, and I had done something disastrous. I had meddled.
That had been six days ago.
Since then, I had felt itchy, unsafe and uncomfortable inside my own skin; I took a muggle pregnancy test, panicked, panicked, panicked, and cried to Castor and to Pollux and felt my heart freeze in my chest at the thought of having to lose them.
Because I was Hermione Granger, I was the brightest witch to set foot in Hogwarts in at least a century—I had been a prefect, I had been head girl, I had been the first fucking muggle-born to ever be Sorted into Slytherin—I was brilliant, I was brilliant and I was loyal and there was nothing I would not do to protect the people I loved most.
But even as I had the thought, I was bombarded with an onslaught of emotions that were not my own, could not be my own, but were, too, somehow, some way—I remembered virulent rage and stubborn defiance and helplessness, hatred and bitterness and fear, so much fear, and I had been afraid of this boy, this Tom, I had loathed and resented and—I had trusted him?
It took me several seconds to untangle the gossamer-thin web of memories—
A threat and a ring and a wand and a sweltering common room fire and his mouth against mine and his hands beneath my thighs and white roses on Mondays, Parseltongue and a messy pink scar—mudblood, mudblood, screaming, no, mudblood—and Polyjuice, a diary, a blond boy with a bruised nose and a dead girl with sallow skin—another ring—you are just as much mine as I am yours—a creaking bed and tightly knotted curtains and fuck, fuck, yes, fuck, gasping breaths and pristine skin and damp knickers scattered buttons swollen lips and I'm pregnant, Tom, I'm pregnant—this is bad, this is catastrophic—a wolf and a lamb and a serpent and more bruises, more of the blond boy, lies, lies, countless, endless, two more boys I did not know did not want to know and—mudblood, mudblood, who was Edmond, who was Edmond—I would fucking bleed for her—another man, well-dressed well-spoken and a time turner, another lie—fine, kill him, then—three bursts of vivid green light, a ring, a diary, a wand and a decrepit old house and a cornfield and three more men and two more corpses and what had I done what had I done what had I done—I will ruin him, he will be in pieces—all for a wand, all for a time turner, all for him, all for me, Tom, Tom, Tom—you are just as much mine as I am yours—
"Hermione?" he was saying, anxious and angry.
"Forgive me," I replied, meeting his eyes with—with awe, and with trepidation, with confusion and fascination and—"This is all very startling."
His nostrils flared.
"You don't remember," he observed, toneless and flat.
I hesitated, lips pursed—I studied him warily, took in the immaculately tailored suit, the skinny black tie, the highly-polished leather loafers—his expression was difficult to decipher, nearly impossible to read, and I deduced that he guarded his secrets with unparalleled skill, with rugged determination and a sly sort of cleverness, like a lockbox with a missing key—a problem that necessitated a complicated, creative solution; my very favorite kind.
I then considered what I knew about him, what I had been able to recall, feebly and fleetingly.
He had loved me.
He had protected me.
He was as ruthless as he was intelligent, and, for whatever reason, I had been unwilling to care for him, had fought against myself for weeks, for months, before I had deigned to admit that I would always put him first, always—
Our relationship, I decided, had been one of absolutes.
There had not been room for anything else.
"I remember the important bits, I think," I replied honestly.
The skin between his eyebrows puckered in a frown.
"Oh?" he asked, skeptical.
I smirked, stepping forward. I was curiously calm.
"Your name is Tom. I met you at Hogwarts, in the past. You kept me safe. You manipulated me. You got me pregnant. You made a horcrux, I think—a ring, possibly—and you can speak Parseltongue. You have bled for me, and I have killed for you, and—" I broke off.
He reached for me, hand suspended above my shoulder.
He had loved me.
I had loved him.
It had been obsessive, possessive, unhealthy and unrestrained, raw in the best way—I was sure of that. I was sure that he had been worth the sacrifice, sure that we were going to be worth the chase—he had followed me through time, and I had followed him into hell, and my instincts were overriding the reedy ghost of a whisper that was ricocheting around the back of my skull and hissing that I had been frightened of him, I had not trusted him, I must have had a reason—
"You are just as much mine as I am yours," I said quietly.
His eyes blistered, and then he was touching me, a fingertip skimming feather-soft down the slope of my neck, stopping to rest right at my pulse point, soaking in the roar of my blood and the heat of my skin.
I kissed him first.
His lips parted in surprise, and I wondered at that, just for a moment—but I couldn't think—because he tasted familiar, he tasted like home, and I had done this before, I had felt the gentle press of his tongue and the awkward rub of his smile and there was so much that he could teach me, so much that I needed to re-learn, about him and about myself and the past, this other life that I had lived and left behind and—
"Hermione?" a new voice choked out.
Tom went perfectly still.
I pulled away.
He didn't let go of my waist.
"—taking so long?" a second voice complained. "Thought we needed to—fucking hell, is that—time traveling bloke? Hermione? Why are you and time traveling bloke—oh, my God, your spawn is from a different dimension, how could you not have told us—"
I turned around, still nestled in Tom's arms, and bit back a nervous giggle.
"Castor—Pollux—this is Tom Riddle," I said, lips tingling. "He's—"
"—here to stay," Tom finished smoothly. He didn't offer his hand.
Pollux narrowed his eyes.
"Right," he replied, unflinching. "And where did you come from, exactly?"
"It's fine, sweetheart," Tom murmured. His body was firm and solid against my back. "I'm from 1945—Pollux? And Castor? Your last name doesn't happen to be Lestrange, does it?"
Pollux's fingers twitched towards the pocket where I knew he kept his wand.
"How'd you meet Hermione?" he asked. "She's never mentioned you before—at all, actually. Not even once."
"I hardly have the energy to explain to you the intricacies of time travel and the effects that it may or may not have on the rendering of certain memories," he said between gritted teeth. "Suffice it to say, however, that your entire existence is not a foregone conclusion. Funny, that."
Pollux's face flushed red with indignation.
Castor, meanwhile, was sneering.
"Look, you pompous fucking fuckwit bastard," he seethed. "I don't give a fuck if you fell out of the sky, okay—
Exasperated, I wrenched myself out of Tom's grasp.
"I'll be in my bedroom," I announced scathingly, beginning to climb the stairs. "You're welcome to retrieve me, Tom, as soon as the ritualistic, obligatory male posturing is all over and done with. We have things to discuss, don't we?"
I heard Tom swear, and then there were footsteps, frantic and heavy, and the telltale scraping, slapping sounds of a tussle—
I continued up the stairs, humming loudly.
"—not fair, can't just use your wand—"
"—fight like gentlemen—"
I reached the second-floor hallway.
"—seem awfully comfortable with stunners—"
"—buggering fucking hell that hurt—"
My bedroom door was the third from the left; green wooden letters had been tacked onto the front panel, my name spelled out in a neat, symmetrical arc.
"—wandless magic, Pol, maybe we shouldn't—"
"—not the vase! Fuck!"
There was a violent crash.
"—both idiots, just like your bloody grandfather, swear to God, just—let me fix it, fuck, and don't fucking pout, that isn't going to even bruise, is it—"
I moved into my room and sat down on my bed.
I glanced out my window.
I noted the rapidly darkening sky—storm clouds were rolling in.
I reached into my bedside drawer for the mysterious silver time turner. It was unadorned, relatively plain, and inscribed with an unusual runic pattern; a mix of Norse and Italic, the runes themselves ancient, but the engraving seemingly brand-new.
"—fucking hurt her, we will gut you—"
"—legally exempt, yeah, she is fucking special and you are fucking nobody—"
I tuned out the conversation coming from downstairs. I fiddled with the cuffs of my gauzy, long-sleeved indigo blouse—I had taken to covering my arms for the past week, despite the muggy July weather. Pollux had probably noticed. He had not pried.
"—not so bad, I suppose, you know some bloody wicked Dark magic—"
"—teach us, yeah, 'Mione's always been weird about that stuff—"
"—got nice teeth, her parents will appreciate that—"
The voices faded.
The staircase creaked.
Tom appeared in my doorway.
"Is anyone injured?" I inquired, nonchalant.
He shifted his weight onto his heels.
"Want to tell me what that was about, then? Because Castor and Pollux are my best friends—they have been since we were eleven. That isn't negotiable. They're overprotective imbeciles a vast majority of the time, yes, but you can't just attack them for caring about me."
He crossed his arms over his chest reflexively.
"I don't—share well. You used to know that. Before. It didn't bother you."
I flopped backwards onto my mattress.
"Our dynamic—our relationship—I remember some parts of it, I already told you," I reminded him, irritated. "I remember loving you, obviously, and I remember loving you so much that I was consumed by it—but I don't remember why. I don't remember what you did or what you said that made me love you. And stop staring at my Pensieve—it was a graduation gift, and we're not using it. I somehow doubt that your version of the events that transpired in 1945 would at all match up to the things that I do happen to remember. It's called perspective. It's subjective."
He relaxed, slightly.
"If you feel that way, then why did you kiss me earlier?" he asked.
I rolled onto my side, propping my head up on my elbow.
"Because I'm pragmatic," I said bluntly. "And I'm pregnant. And it's yours. And—"
I picked at the stitching on my pillowcase.
"There may be other…intangibles, as well," I said. "Emotions—feelings—what have you."
He shut the door behind him, lips curled up at the corners.
"You're different, here," he confessed. "But you're the same, too. It's strange."
"This whole situation is strange," I retorted.
He nodded, kicking at the plush ivory carpet.
"I'm assuming you were a Slytherin?" he asked, impassive. "Had to have been, if you're—friends—with members of the Lestrange family."
"The Lestrange family has never been anything but kind to me," I snapped. "Their grandfather—he was Minister of Magic, for years and years—he even wrote me a recommendation so that I could become an Unspeakable. I'm supposed to start in the fall. Was I not a Slytherin—before?"
He appraised my open wardrobe, Slytherin green and silver ties looped tidily around their chestnut hangers.
"You were in my time," he said, evasive. "But not in yours."
"What was I, then? A Ravenclaw? The hat did have some reservations about not putting me there, but ultimately decided that I was wily enough to go to Slytherin."
He snorted out a laugh.
"Wily? Your word choice, or—"
"The hat's, actually," I interrupted.
He regarded me with a vague sort of amusement.
"You were a Gryffindor," he finally said. "Brave, and proud, and…indomitable. Stubborn. Clever. Very clever."
"And I was scared of you."
He bent over my window seat, hands spread out on the ledge.
"You weren't—scared of me, per se," he replied slowly. "You had been through a lot, in your old life. When you arrived in 1944, you weren't particularly eager to trust anyone."
"How did I come to trust you, then?"
His shoulder slumped down, curving his spine into something like a liquid, slanting question mark.
"I was persistent," he shrugged, looking back at me.
I tapped my thumb against my lower lip; he traced the motion with his eyes, scorching and searing and sharp. I pressed my thighs together.
"And the time turners? I woke up with one around my wrist. It's…not like the ones that the Ministry has—I was given one at school so that I could take more classes. I would know."
He grinned at me, indulgent.
I chewed on the tip of my tongue.
"I had to alter mine so that I could travel here, but you got yours from Gellert Grindelwald," he informed me casually. "He was the one who initially brought you to the past."
I was less startled by that revelation than I thought that I should have been.
"Grindelwald," I mused. "That's—do we know why he did that? Was I important, in my other life?"
He straightened and walked around the end of my bed.
"Sort of," he answered, sitting down. "You gave me your memories of—before. I could show you, if you'd like. It might help you understand."
I watched, entranced, as he brushed his fingertips over my white lace eyelet duvet cover, the edge of the underside of his palm just barely grazing my ankle; the movement was graceful, fluid, calculated, and I felt it like the aftermath of a splintered limb, like an ache, bone-deep and permanent.
"Where are you staying?" I asked abruptly.
"The Minister's residence," he replied, unfazed. "He's looking into my records—which are immaculate, of course—before deciding whether or not I'll be best utilized as a publicity stunt or an employee. Which reminds me…"
"There's a marriage license," he said innocently. "Filed at the Ministry. Hermione Granger married Tom Riddle in April of 1945—"
"You had a contingency plan," I blurted out, astonished. "Oh, my—I can't quite decide if I'm impressed by your forethought or just infuriated by your arrogance."
I was mostly impressed. He didn't need to know that.
He twisted around to crawl towards me, smirk steady and gaze intent—and the atmosphere suddenly felt stifling, air thick and humid and heavy, hard to breathe, hard to fathom—and I was conscious of the slowly rocking mattress, of how much larger his shoulders and his chest and his hands were, of how my body had responded instinctively, intuitively to the change in his position, knees falling open and heart rate skipping faster and stomach clenching and hollow and knickers wet and sticky and so fucking hot that they felt cold against the empty space between us—
"I don't think you understand, sweetheart," he drawled, voice low. "I don't think you understand what I am to you—what you are to me."
I tried to swallow.
"Then explain it to me," I challenged in a near-whisper.
His features rippled with satisfaction, and I collected a short swell of old, fractured memories—shiny lips and white cotton knickers and his tongue and his mouth and a wave and a crash and a whirling crest of yes yes fuck more taste so fucking good yes yes yes more—
"You are more than just mine," he said matter-of-factly, breath ghosting across my throat. "I would—I would let the rest of humanity fucking burn, sweetheart, watch all of them die gruesome, bloody, awful fucking deaths so long as I got to keep you. I need you to know that. I need you to understand that. I'm not capable of changing."
I didn't speak—couldn't speak, not at first, not when he was hovering above me with such paralyzing confidence, like he had pounced and won and caught his prey with claws out and fangs extended—
"That isn't romantic," I told him. He plucked at the collar of my blouse, dragged it down, jostled the fabric—I shut my eyes, ignored the rampant hypersensitivity of my breasts, the pinpricks of pleasure so piercing and so insistent that the tightening of my nipples was almost painful, almost, almost—"That isn't sane."
His hand slid up the inside of my leg.
It was like silk.
"I have never claimed to be either," he said, digging his fingernail into the sewn-in seam of my underwear.
And then he was finally nosing a path up my jawline, melding saliva-slick kisses with the salty sheen of sultry summer sweat that was pasted across my skin—and kissing him felt like sunlight streaming in from behind a cloud after a day full of rain and fog and misery—
I jerked my knee to the left, hard, directly into the soft part of his abdomen. He reared up, cursing, and I grabbed onto his shoulders, pushing him to the side and rolling us both over; he laid on his back, stunned, and I straddled his hips, pressing my forearm—my right, unmarred forearm—into his windpipe.
"I imagine that old me was quite susceptible to your seduction techniques," I said, tone mild. "I survived an incredibly confusing adolescence with Castor Lestrange as a best friend, however—I'm rather immune."
"Now," I continued briskly. "Why don't we have a rational discussion about our respective expectations regarding this relationship? I'm on board with the star-crossed lovers story you've put in place at the Ministry—it's clever, and it's sweet, and it's honestly quite believable considering our physical chemistry. But I get the feeling, Tom, that you're a bit slippery—and while I would normally find that a commendable trait, it's bothersome, at present."
I was utterly unprepared for how beautiful he was when he smiled.
He used seven of my mother's mason jars to store the memories he had of my previous life.
I then sent him into the kitchen to wait.
The contents of the jars swirled in a writhing grey mist in the shallow stone basin of the Pensieve—like dry ice on Halloween.
I only hesitated for a moment before accepting the accompanying free-fall.
After that, it was an assault on my senses, a rapid sequence of flash-bang riotous explosions—there was a snake-faced monster with red eyes and razor teeth, a tent and a forest and a group of grimy men in shredded tartan trousers pointing their wands at me, at my friends—Harry Potter was there, with a lightning-bolt scar on his forehead and gaunt cheeks, tired eyes, and Ron Weasley, too, his expression serious and frightened and desperate like nothing I had ever seen before—mudblood mudblood mudblood—and there was a mansion, stately and gorgeous, and a drawing room that triggered me for fight and for flight and fucking run, Hermione, run now—a pale blond boy stared at me from a corner, frozen like petrified wood, and there was a woman in a black damask corset dress, shrieking and shrill and I was on the floor, I was bleeding, I was crying out, no, no—mudblood mudblood—and my forearm throbbed and I steeled myself against the glint of a blade—
It was chaos.
It was vertigo.
It was a nightmare.
Despite the clear promise of an incoming storm, we went to a nearby park. We were surrounded by a veil of birch trees that swayed hypnotically in the wind, and a rusty, decade-old swing set that groaned in protest when he dropped down into its vacant plastic seat and pulled me onto his lap.
The gravity of what he must have meant to me—once I had gotten to the past—after escaping that fucking travesty of a future—
I laced our fingers together.
"Do you know—did I tell you anything? About what I…that was a war, wasn't it? I lived through a war?"
He hooked his chin over my shoulder.
"Yes," he replied, scuffing his foot against the ground and propelling the swing gently forward. "But you only showed me what you did because I wouldn't stop asking about the scar. On your arm. You still have it, don't you? Hence—the long sleeves?"
I carded my free hand through the split-ends of my hair.
"I've never been called a—that word—in my life," I admitted. "It's foul and it's degrading and no one—the blood purity thing died down in the sixties, when Castor and Pollux's grandfather was elected Minister. And then I woke up last week and had this—this slur carved into my bloody forearm—I can remember pieces of what happened on my own, but nothing…concrete. Nothing that feels real."
He drew me further into his arms, closer to his chest.
"Maybe that's a blessing," he suggested quietly.
A distant boom of thunder echoed through the park.
"Maybe," I said, tilting my head back, resting it in the crook of his neck. "But, earlier you told me—you told me that I needed to understand what you would do for me. And I do. I understand that sort of devotion—that loyalty. I get it. I would—I am not unfamiliar with the concept of loving other people to the exclusion of everything—and everyone else. I understand that part."
He squinted at me.
"And—there's something you need to understand," I went on. "About me."
I yanked at a loose thread that was hanging from the hem of my skirt.
"I am not the same. The old me, the one that you knew before—I'm not her. I haven't…I haven't fought in a war, and I haven't ever had to run for my life, and I haven't been discriminated against. I wasn't a Gryffindor. I'm not—"
"You're better," he interrupted, earnest and fierce. "You're—God, before, in the past—you were fragile, sweetheart, fragile and—futile, I think."
"Futile," I repeated.
"Yes. There were—problems, and you didn't understand the difference between what should have been done to fix them, and what needed to be done to eliminate them," he clarified. "You were naïve, in that respect. You thought, right up until the very end, that you could reconcile one with the other. And when you couldn't…"
He didn't finish.
A vein of lightning punched through the sky.
The wind picked up.
The clouds shattered.
And the rain smelled like cherries and summer and freedom, as if I had been at a crossroads, as if I had made a choice, and I knew that I had been lost and that I had been found and that I had been almost willfully unafraid, all along, I had to have been—
He kissed the nape of my neck.
The nightmare was over.