A/N: I've had this saved on my hard drive for years, waiting to be finished. This one-shot is going back to my more avant garde roots (because it technically was written back then) (sorry, that sounds so pretentious), so I'm warning you guys: it's pretty abstract – at least, more so than my most recent stuff. It should piece together towards the end though.
"The truth is simple, you do not die from love. You only wish you did."
He could smell the earth.
At first it was just a faint smell, a slight whiff of soil and dirt and rock, but as they dug further down the soil grew moist. The scent was stronger now, so strong that he could almost taste it in his mouth, the old and the dirt of each layer over layer over layer. He looked up at her sometimes, wiping his brow and panting for breath, and he didn't know why. He knew she would tell him when to stop when she wanted him to. Instead he just saw her frizzy dark head, bobbing with the heaving motion, shovel against soil, eroding and digging.
She didn't say a word to him as they dug. All he heard was the soil. They were chipping away at it and the longer they did, the more he thought he was going insane. It was speaking to him. Not in any definite language, but just in the way soil does. At first he thought it was the silence. You keep at silence long enough, your ears start inventing sounds. But it was different, because it was faint. Not any loud distraction or long sweep from his sanity.
The more he heard it, the more he wanted to lie down and press his face against it. He'd never gotten to know the earth before. He'd never wanted to. He walked on it and cursed it and littered on it and occasionally fucked on it but he'd never actually gotten to know it. Never asked how it was doing, or asked how its parents were doing, or if it was seeing someone. And it was sort of funny to him, realizing all of this now, and then also realizing that he was doing to die someday, and then they would have all the time in the world to get to know each other. Six feet of earth above him, countless feet of earth all around him, and he would certainly do his best to get to know it then.
He didn't realize she'd said something until he absently looked up at her and realized her shovel was down.
"Put down your shovel," she said.
So he did. They were in a hole now, five feet deep. Her face was shiny with sweat and he could see it sometimes, the way it kind of shimmered, when she slanted it just right and it caught the light from the moon.
She took the few steps toward him. It occurred to him that this was only the second look she'd given him tonight. Then she got down on her feet, lying down. He didn't have to be told, so he did the same. The moment he lay down he smelled it – smelled it so strong the scent went up his nose and seemed to go everywhere in his body. Spicy and overwhelming and now he was covered in it.
"Can you see them? The stars?"
He shifted beside her, trying to get comfortable. The soil was hard in some places, and soft in others, but never hard or soft in the places they needed to be. "No."
"They'll come out later," she said. Then they were silent, pressed up against the dirt like they were lovers, doing nothing, just breathing. In. Out.
He could taste the dirt on his tongue. "Granger," he said. He didn't have to ask it. Just like how she hadn't had to tell him to lie down with her.
"How do you want to die?" she asked him. "Do you know?"
"Do you want to grow old? Get so old that there's nothing else to do but die? Wait until your body tells you it's not working anymore? And then wait for it to just. . . give?"
He knows why she's thinking about this. She doesn't say it, but he knows. Funny how their entire relationship was built on the things they knew but left unsaid. He always told himself this was a house built on sand. Some day the tide would come in and it would collapse. The nails would fall out and get buried underneath the dirt. The wood would float away to the ocean. Eventually nothing would be left. No indentation. No trace.
"She'll be fine," he said, his face even. So even, in fact, that it almost hurt.
"She's shitting on herself."
"I don't want her to die in a pile of her own shit, Malfoy." Her voice was strangled. She wanted to bury her face in the soil, wanted it to fill her mouth and her eyes and her nose. She thought it would put it out. It couldn't solve it but it was wise. It would tell her what to do. "Anything but that." Then, she said, just as he swore he could feel his heart thudding against the roots and gravel, "Promise me you won't die before I do."
"Fuck," he said. "Granger, you know I can't do that."
"You can try." She paused. "I'm sick of burying people. Goddamn sick of it."
"You wouldn't have to bury me," he said, and at first he meant it to be light. A joke. But it didn't come out that way. "I could just disappear, if you want."
He was good at it. Especially at building houses on sand. It would be better, this time, if she told him to. That way it wouldn't take as long to get started again.
"Good," she said. "That's good. Just disappear."
But he didn't. At least, not then. Or that night. Because even though she had told him to, outright commanded it, she pinned him down, her soft warm body weighing him down against the cold dirt ground. When they kissed he tasted dirt. When he sucked in his breaths, he smelled it – on her, on him, everywhere. It was surreal. And when they fucked the harsh sound of the scuffling, shifting dirt, listening in and responding and whispering, clamored in his ears. There they were, in a hole five feet into the earth, but he felt his brains whirl out into the sky, ripping past gravity, reaching orbit. But when he opened his eyes he saw it – why he felt repulsed and enamored by dirt in the very first place, why it almost suffocated him but thrilled him to be so close.
The air was getting colder. He could almost smell the decades of trickling rain in the soil, washing it out, traveling. He had always wondered why he could smell the soil so strongly after it had just rained, and why it soothed him in a way nothing else did.
She blinked at him, her breaths hollowing out. "Don't," she said curtly. Don't ask me.
He hadn't been going to. By now he'd learned never to ruin a good thing by asking questions.
By then she'd rolled off of him and he had buttoned his pants up again, and she had done the same. He could feel tiny rocks in his clothes, scratching against his skin. It reminded him of her. She always found a way to get in, and once she did, it was hard getting her out. He knew this because he had been trying.
"So," he said, his breaths panning out in his chest. "How long are we going to stay here?"
"As long," she said, "as it takes."
"I'm not sleeping in a hole five fucking feet in the dirt, Granger."
She laughed bitterly. He watched the vibration in her bare throat, milky in from the moonlight. "Then don't."
What he hated about her now was that she was tightfisted with answers. Real ones. When they had been younger she'd been all about them. She'd had answers jingling in her pockets like spare change when she walked. Now she rarely said anything that resolved, not even when he asked. Like the mystery had caught up and swept her right up in it.
After a stretch of silence, she only asked, again, "How do you want to die?"
She looked nothing like her.
She was a sunny blond, with icy blue eyes. She contradicted herself in that way. When they were together she waited for him to hold her hand, just let her hand dangle there in the unwavering space between them, waiting, silent. But she never asked, never grabbed his hand instead. She waited and waited and waited, never saying a word. That was why he had never been able to tell her he just wasn't the handholding type.
With her the answers were too easy. She was too willing to let herself unravel, mostly in front of an audience. He never even had to ask. Not the first time, not the last.
When he saw her at a party, it was within an instant that he smelt the dirt. Moist and spicy, he began to smell it, even though they'd had a drought for the past few weeks, and they were surrounded by glass walls and concrete.
"She's pretty. Gorgeous," she said to him when he approached her. "Good one."
"She's a show pony," he told her.
"No." When he talked to her, he never planned things out. He hadn't planned this out. He just said it. "Not you."
He made sure to mean it, to sharpen the edge so thoroughly that it cut through her thick skin. He wanted to be cruel to her, to hurt her feelings, to feel some familiarity in a strange place. But he wanted to hurt her the most, even if it meant stooping to insult her looks.
"Well," she said, taking a sip from her beer. "I was never your type in the first place. Just a random occurrence, one of those spontaneous matchings, like those astrologists say. Weird planet alignments. Mine was Jupiter. I think you're a Mars."
He smiled a little at this, because he was nowhere near a fucking Mars. "Sure."
An hour later he scrambled to find the light switch. Someone was moving things around – stout metal beams, boxes, making room. When he finally did it was a dim bulb, buzzing noisily from an old current and wire, hanging above them with cobwebs and thick layers of dust. They were in a shed. Nobody would look for them here.
Whenever he kissed her there was a thought in the back of his head that he should be repulsed. And sometimes he was. In the beginning, he had been. He always thought he tasted mud, and it made him want to throw up, the way it was slimy and thick. But now he always found himself kissing her whenever they wandered off somewhere nobody else was. Or when he thought no one was looking. She never made the first move. Except that night in the dirt hole. She had made the first move then, but never any time else.
He could feel the fresh splinter he'd gotten, stinging on his palm. It was just a tiny insignificant detail, just another clamor and sensation in his body. He was trying to get his zipper down and he was clumsily rolling up her dress. He reminded himself that he always liked it when she wore dresses because she rarely ever wore them.
The only time he ever felt his heart go violent was when they fucked. It was the strangest damn thing. In the dirt hole, he had felt like it'd wanted to skyrocket to the moon. And here, in the shed, he could feel it jumping to get closer to her, even though he could spend weeks at a time trying anything physically possible to get farther and farther away. He craved her sometimes. Just like when he craved a cigar, or meat. But it was different, because she wasn't good for him. He wanted her the most.
When they finished they sat down on the floor of the shed. He tried to calm his breathing and pressed his splintered palm against his chest to feel his heart. He wanted to tell it to stop, for it to know better than to tire this hard for someone he cared nothing about. But then he realized that if it did, he would die.
"She's going to find out, you know," she said to him. Her dress was wrinkled and it still exposed too much of her. He wanted to tell her to cover herself up. "Women always do. Especially if you belong to them."
"I don't belong to her," he said, "or anybody. I fucking belong to me."
She laughed at him. "You need to control yourself."
He looked at her. "You didn't say no."
She shook her head. "That's not the point. The point is that you shouldn't start things. Because you never finish them. Can't, it seems like. Have you ever noticed that? You don't ever finish a damn thing."
She was silent. He looked around at the array of boxes and furniture they had around them. They were all covered in thick dust, and some were rotting and damaged. Funny. Just like them. "How old are we? Do you remember?"
"I don't. Not really. Twenty-three. Twenty-two." He thinks that he should feel bad that he doesn't remember. But he doesn't. It had never really mattered to him.
"I think we should start keeping track again," she said to him.
"You're however old you feel, not how many years you've been around," he said, suddenly feeling restless. "Why are we sitting here?"
"Because we're tired. And you're sweaty. God, you're a sweaty fucker." She looked at him, her expression blank. Not questioning. Just. . . blank. "It's not nice, you know."
"Nothing ever really is," he said slowly. "Nice."
"No," he said. "You're not." When she threw him a questioning look he wanted to tell her that she wasn't nice because of the things she did to him. Not just their history, but their present. Why he hated thinking about her when he tried his best to move away and clear his head. Why he tried to fill his time with blond, blue-eyed women that were brittle and proper but wild so he could cleanse himself of her. He wanted to be who he used to be. Because that meant he wouldn't have to fight himself all the time.
"Nice," he said instead, "is a horrible word. Worst fucking word in the history of word-making. Besides 'handjob', and 'clown.'"
"Why the fuck aren't I nice?" she asked.
"Nobody's nice anymore, Granger. They've all got hidden intentions. Even an asshole can be nice if he thinks he's going to get laid."
"So just like that, nobody's capable of being nice," she said. "Just because you say so."
He nodded. "Just because I say so."
"And here I am thinking I've lost faith in mankind just because I dug a hole in the ground," she said, "and didn't want to get out. You're worse off than I am. At least I still believe in niceness." She paused, searching his face with her eyes. "So why are you here with me, then?" she asked. "If I'm not nice?"
"I'm not," he clarified, "with you."
"Right now you are." She smiled an ironic smile. "Physically, existing, you are."
Her question stumped him. Why was he with her, if she wasn't nice? Why was he anywhere, if nobody was nice? She wasn't fun. She wasn't hilarious. She didn't excite him. She did cruel things to his heart; she made it suicidal. But that was only when they had sex. When they weren't, it was silent, and calm. Not gone as it usually was. Just calm. Just there.
What did she do for him, exactly? His self-loathing only multiplied by the dozens after a fresh encounter with her. She ought to be worth the agony. She ought to be worth the painful extractions of the rocks from the inside of his shoes and shirt. She ought to be worth the disillusion he was living now.
He wanted to tell her this was why she wasn't nice. She was asking him this and he didn't even know how old he was.
"Why are you with me?" he asked. "If I'm not nice."
"God knows," she snorted. "What do you say to that? I spend almost every conscious minute trying not to find the answer to that question."
The thing was that they both had an angry sprinkle of red, scarred, star-shaped scabs on their shoulders. She'd done it to him. He'd done it to her. Tried to kill each other but wimped the fuck out and only gave each other a dislocated shoulder and a bad scrape. He remembered that night. He had never seen her that way, so wild and frightening. He had really thought she was going to kill him. And he had really thought he was going to kill her back.
"Call me that name," she'd said to him, her wand pointed. Her cheek was bleeding and her robes were torn. "And I'll kill you. Say it. It means nothing unless you die for it."
He didn't die for it. At least, not that night. Now he's been dying for it every night. He saw that torn seam on the shoulder of her robe and the blood before it dried into the speckle of a red scab. Now he could see it underneath the thin strap of her dress, shameless but fading.
She never hid her scars because she didn't have anything to be ashamed of. It was different for him.
"The thing is," she said, "I don't think you're nice. I think you're mean as hell. But you are something else, too. I don't know what it is. To be honest with you, I could live without knowing. I'd probably live better without knowing, too."
He thought about what she said. He spent a few seconds waiting for it to settle, because it was that kind of sentence that spends a few moments hanging out in the air for a while before it finally wafted on down so he could rearrange them the way he wanted. With her, they were always out of reach.
She lifted her head.
"I am not," he said to her, "a Mars. I am no fucking Mars."
Nice was relative. Is. Is relative.
If he were nice he would have switched sides because he'd known what was right and wrong. If he were nice he would have donated to charity. If he were nice he wouldn't have said foul things and meant them. If he were nice he wouldn't have killed people without a single afterthought, without remorse.
If he were nice, maybe he would still be alive.
There were days he wished he remembered how he died. Then there were days where he didn't remember it at all, and that even if he did, he found it very hard to care whether he had been dead or not. The thing was, he did not remember dying but he does remember being dead. If he had to describe it in one word, it would be this: lightness. Absolute, incomprehensible lightness, a detachment and a floatiness. Like an almost-non-existence. Just hanging by a thin, silver thread.
Death was forgetful. That's what they tell you. That's what they told him. In reality, death had a way of cementing everything you knew in a way life never could be able to – as if you were stuck, frozen, no time, no space. Death didn't happen to teach you a lesson. Death didn't happen for any benefit at all – it just did. Because it had to.
He wasn't in heaven, but he wasn't in hell. Maybe he was InBetween. Nobody actually knew. He didn't want to ask. But wherever they were, they still had soil, and shovels, and cigarettes, and sex. There were people, but it wasn't crowded. And there was always a silent, dead calmness in the air. That's how he knew he was dead. The silence was different here. Dull and airless and flat.
And the only person he knew was her.
"What are you doing here?" he had asked her. He'd walked out of the place he'd woken up – his manor, with no one in it and the paintings silent and still – and had found her.
She didn't look up. "I'm looking for a place to dig."
"What else do you dig?" she asked. "A hole. A fucking hole."
He watched her feeling around the grass, and he suddenly felt angry. "What the hell for?"
She looked up, settling on her knees. She squinted at him. "Malfoy?" Then she started again, her palms skimming the ground. She started to laugh. But it was dry, and it quaked through her rusted, dead lungs. "You should know, Malfoy. You should fucking know."
After they left the shed, it was no longer there. The party vanished. And his pretty blond friend was nowhere to be found. They found themselves back where she'd dug the hole, and after a few moments of staring, she climbed back in.
"I think," she said in a low voice, when he reached the bottom, "that we killed each other."
At first he was shocked by it. Then he let it settle, and it came down, like the concept of gravity still applied here. It was heavy but suddenly it made sense. Why they were here, and why nobody else seemed to matter to him except her. And that whenever he wasn't with her, he felt like he wasn't there at all. Nothing. Like he didn't exist.
He thought hard. "When?"
"I don't know. I can't remember."
"But I didn't kill just you. I killed—"
She shook her head. Her voice cracked. "Shut up. Just shut up."
They were silent for a long while. She stood there, her back against the dirt, her face hard but he could see that it was breaking. Her dark eyes became shiny, lost, and unfocused. She asked questions but he knew they weren't for him to answer. And while he tried to remember his past he almost felt himself sink into the ground, like quicksand, as if he had gotten so heavy he was passing through the dirt. Except he couldn't. There was nowhere for him to go. There was no other side. They were trapped here.
Then, his hands fisting beside him until his knuckles showed white, it all came back.
"I buried you," he suddenly said. He remembered the dirt, and the way he had been covered in it. He had smelled it all over him; strong, overwhelming, and inescapable. It had just rained. "You were dead, so I buried you. Right here. I buried you, right here. Outside of the manor. Because it was the only place I knew that had good soil."
She was silent for a minute. "How did I die?"
"You looked at me and you didn't know me. Everybody said it wouldn't happen, but you woke up. But you forgot me, and you forgot everything, and at first – at first I thought it was great. Fucking convenient. The world was back in order, and we were out of that hellish vacuum where nothing made sense except war. It was a new start. I could finally escape you, because you forgot all about me."
She was looking at him. Her muddy eyes, matching her dark muddy hair – if he closed his eyes, he could see them just as clearly on the underneaths of his eyelids.
"Is this what you wanted?" she whispered to him. Her voice sounded so sad he felt it like a dull thump against his chest. A sole knock, one plead, with no one to answer it.
"No," he said back. "But it's what I have."
"How did you die?" she asked.
He kept his eyes on the sky. They still had stars here, but they didn't twinkle. They didn't die or emerge in new places. They were tiny distant lights, not stars. Even though they had spent the last years of their lives in darkness, they still knew how to tell the difference.
"Did it hurt?"
"Like hell." He felt a heaviness in his chest now, sitting on his airways. He concentrated his eyes on the unfading stars and his ears on the sound of her breaths. He could almost feel the ground beneath them inhale and exhale with her.
Suddenly, he felt something against his face. "We're going to be okay. We're dead, aren't we? How much worse can it be?" When she smiled he saw the old her. He was catapulted back to marble floors and mile-long corridors, to busybody coursework and tedious schedules. Their lives had seemed so small then, yet simultaneously stretching out before them like shadows from the moving sun. So full of possibilities. Yet only so few greeted them, in the end. War. Life or death. Grief. Loss.
He didn't want to think of her that way. Young and so alive and just so happy to be. One of the last peaceful days of Hogwarts had been a sunny one, and he remembered the hoards of students that had taken to lying on the lawn, their robes cast off. She had been there, with her friends. A stack of books by her side, her hair tied up so that it showed off the seductive slope of the nape of her neck. He could have kissed her then. Had he known what would become of them, of all of them, he would have. He would have kissed her without shame.
"It's strange how life happens, isn't it?" she said. She was deep in thought, her breathing shallow. "I'd always gone on with the firm belief that if you tried hard enough, you could make a difference. You could change what you didn't like. If you were just brave enough and made the right decisions and loved people hard enough, you could decide which way your life would go. That life didn't have to happen to me, but that I could steer it. That I could have a say."
She was silent for a few seconds. He listened to his own pulse for a change.
"We lie to ourselves so well. We're born learning how to. Our parents lie to us. The world lies to us. The people who love us lie to us. I think we lie to ourselves to convince ourselves it's worth going on. That it's going to be worth it, in the end."
"Stop," he finally said. "Just stop."
The sky changed above them. Suddenly the stars were gone and he could make out dark rainclouds emerging from the darkness, thick and bulbous.
She looked at him, her lips pressed into a thin line. "Stop? You don't get to tell me to stop, Draco. Fuck you. Fuck you." She began to scramble up to her feet, her dress stained dark from the dirt. "Fuck you. Forever."
Across the sky, he saw a single vein of silver lightning. He could smell water in the air.
"I didn't ask to die," she yelled at him, as he followed her out. "The war fucked all of us, okay? In every fucking way possible. But at least when I was alive I could still see a sunrise, or a sunset. I haven't seen a single one since I've been here. All I've seen – people, and bodies, and none of it matters except you. You think that sounds romantic? It's terrifying. Except emotions are different here, aren't they? They're stale as fuck because our hearts don't even pump blood anymore. I can't even be properly furious with you, and I hate you for that." She whipped around to hit him, but she missed. "You said that you loved me, but the truth is you love yourself. You're a selfish asshole. You couldn't live without me so you solved that problem, didn't you? If you can't be happy, then nobody can, isn't that right?"
"And you think this all still matters?" he shouted at her. "Look around you, Hermione! We're alone! And when we're with other people, we feel only half as present!"
"You don't get to decide who lives and who dies!" she screamed at him. "We fought a war to change that!" She collapsed to the ground on her knees, and it began to rain. He felt a fat one on the back of his neck. It was warm, almost scalding, like her tears.
"I'm sorry," he said. He didn't know what else to say. "I don't know how to fix it."
"You can't," she wept. "I'm stuck here now."
He watched her for a little while more until the rain subsided. The rainclouds stayed, letting no light through. She crumpled up against the ground, sniffling, not once looking up at him.
He did the only thing he could think to do. He walked away.
He wasn't sure how long it had been. Days, weeks, months. Time ceased to be a factor here – days and nights came without the courtesy of dawning and were instead sporadic and came without warning, like somebody opening a box to let light in, before closing it back up. But keeping time was such a human habit. It was a hard thing to forget.
Eventually they found their way back to each other. It was a small world, after all. It was bound to happen when they were the only two souls here that mattered.
They had found an edge of a cliff. She sat down on the end of it, her feet dangling.
"It won't work," she told him, as he inspected the darkness at the bottom. "You can't kill yourself when you're already dead."
He looked at her again. "I'm sorry." It was an encompassing Sorry. A Sorry that was supposed to cover a multitude of sins – address them each individually, gather them up, and wheel them away to fall into the abyss. "I do love you."
She looked at him for a very long time, her face giving away nothing. "I know. Even if I don't know anything else about this place, that is one thing I know for certain." She licked her lips before pursing them thoughtfully. "I love you too."
They sat there for a good minute, just looking over the edge.
"Where do you think everyone else is?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"Maybe, some day, we'll run into them somehow."
"That'd be nice."
"Because I'm already sick of you, you know."
She smiled at this, revealing her teeth. She laughed. At first he was shocked, because it had been so long since he'd heard her laugh like this. It was a such a good sound. For the first time, he didn't feel sad because of what it reminded him of.
Afterwards, when he kissed her, it felt like the first time. He ran his hands down her shoulders, riding up the hem of her dress, and she slowly but nimbly unbuttoned his shirt. Her bare back scratched the soil beneath her, and Hermione watched, her eyelids fluttering open, as light ripped open the murky sky above Draco's head. It continued to flood through the horizon, bathing everything in its path. As she arched her body and shut her eyes tight to scream, his pulse electrifying long dead arteries, his mouth resurrecting numbed senses, his breath inflating her crushed chest to the point of completion, she saw the whites of her own eyes.
Then the light ate him, too.
In a single room at a distant Infirmary, Hermione Granger's eyes opened to the sight of bare white ceilings.
Drop me a line! Tell me what you thought! Thanks for reading!