Books Written for Girls
Author's Note/Disclaimer: The title is borrowed from the delectable Camera Obscura. The definition of hell as "proximity without intimacy" as attributed to Dante's Inferno is from Melissa Bank's The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing. Also, this fic isn't beta'd, so apologies for any glaring grammatical errors.
"…the wicked lie, that the past is always tense, the future perfect."
- Zadie Smith, White Teeth.
One of the greatest tragedies in this life was that he had a face that was unfairly classical in its beauty. It was a face that mothers probably slapped themselves over, one that made young girls weep – both in want and envy. He was genetically gifted and his parents (and their parents' parents, and their parents' parents' parents) made sure this was no accident. He was a mix of a porcelain figurine and a Greek statue. Nature was cruel that way.
But the beauty stopped there – it was purely surface glory. He exuded mean, exclusivity, vanity. He was spiteful, spoiled, sadistic, and many other S-words ("shithead" often came to mind). Once you got a peek in, you realized how terrible beauty could really be, how misleading, how wasteful.
He was about as easy to love as an icicle hanging over her door, but that didn't stop her.
At best, it only slowed her down.
When she was younger, there was nothing she wanted more than to be loved the way her dad loved her mum. She was a big fan, not only because it was the reason she would eventually exist, but because of how simple it seemed. Not easy – God, never easy – but simple, in the way happiness used to be so simple and never asked for more than what one person could give.
She used to go through the picture albums in their house, stacked underneath the coffee table, the ones with all of the pictures of her parents together. Apart, she loved them, still – but together, they were complete. It was like Winnie the Pooh. Winnie the Pooh by himself was just Winnie the Pooh, but with Christopher Robin, it was lovely, and it was magical.
When they weren't watching, she took one of their old pictures, the one at their old university when they had just met, and stuffed in into her jumper pocket. She would show it to her class for Show and Tell after Suzy Quimble and her plaque of dead butterflies. Afterwards, she kept it underneath her pillow when she slept and sometimes stare at it, for hours at a time, in want and in hope. One day she would have a picture like this. One day she would have that.
It was a simple want for a simple time.
It was around second grade when she started hearing that funny word: Divorce. The first time she heard it, it sounded so severe and adult, like it didn't belong anywhere near her. She'd asked what it meant, and they told her that it was when your parents don't love each other anymore and they split up to see other people. She laughed when she heard it, just because it sounded so silly. She lived in a world where that was impossible, where her parents, without each other, ceased to exist. It was beyond her realm of thinking entirely.
She remembered that day because afterschool she would see a dead cat in the road. It had been run over, with its fresh guts all spilled about, grotesquely flattened and with its bones crushed, and all of the mums gasped and grabbed their kids and went the other way.
The next day she would cross the same way, and the body would be gone. The only thing that would be left was the blood stain that they hadn't even bothered to scrub out.
Later, she would think about that and change her mind. Maybe they actually had. Maybe it was just that all dead things, whether you liked it or not, always left a mark.
Life had been difficult before Hogwarts.
Having been considerably neurologically advanced nearly all of her life, she'd learned to deal with the teasing and mocking from a very young age. She'd been ten when Beatrix Smithley – a native Londoner who'd been sent to her school to live with her mother when her parents divorced – decided she would do better as a rug.
The initial push came from behind her, and she fell forwards, scraping her palms and knees. Her books rained down on the damp cement. Lindsey Chatton held her face down while Beatrix Smithley sat on her stomach, making it hard to breathe. A crowd of children had gathered around to watch, neon flashes of their lunch boxes blurring together like traffic lights, their faces gleeful like secret, pending serial killers.
She could feel the puddles from the morning's rain soaking through her back through her shirt, and she flinched when Beatrix's face lowered towards hers.
"You still think you're better than everyone, Granger?" she sneered.
Lindsey Chatton jabbed her dirty fingers into her face, holding her eyelids open, as Beatrix spit into her eyes. The crowd cheered. Hermione felt something die inside her.
The weight on top of her released. She heard laughter and scurrying footsteps. Her eyes burned and she slowly sat up, her joints aching, puddle water stained all over her. She wiped her face with her shirt, but by the time she could open her eyes and look around, she was alone.
She was ten years old and still coming to terms with the fact that life was not a Beatles album. It was full of people like Beatrix Smithley, Lindsey Chatton, and the kids from her class who had stood around and watched. They would marry. Someday, they would procreate. The legacy of the cruelty strain in humanity would be passed along.
She secretly cried for weeks afterwards, trying to get her spit out of her eyes. She hated the idea that a part of this person she most hated was now inside of her. It was more traumatizing than a scar, or a black eye. It was DNA.
On the day she discovered she had magic in her blood, she would think about Beatrix Smithley and Lindsay Chatton. She would think about how much more powerful she could be with a simple flick of the wrist and a well-pronounced incantation than a shove to the ground and spit in her eyes.
That dead thing inside of her would stir again. It gave her back the sense of justice that day had stolen from her.
She remembered when things started to change at home. Her parents stopped being the people she recognized from their old college photo. Now they barely talked and when they did, it was in terse sentences, or it was through slamming doors or thrown dishes.
She didn't mourn over it, though. By this time most of her friends had parents that had split up, and by this time she knew that good things never really lasted. Not in a permanent way, anyway. By this time, that veil of innocence had been lifted, and now she spent most of her time reading old books or listening to her parents' pop records, turning it up loud enough that when they fought, she couldn't hear all the foul words they called each other.
That year she would get a mysterious letter in the mail. She would stay awake all night listening to her parents fight about it. In the morning she would accept, even before her mum crept into her room to let her know it was okay, and that her dad had left and she wasn't sure when he was coming back.
That day she would let her mum into bed with her while she cried and told her that she was sorry. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry," she would say, over and over. Hermione said it was okay and stroked her hair. She was apologizing because she didn't know how to fix it. That was often why people apologized. Not because they hurt you, but because they couldn't take it back and make everything like it was before. For that, they were sorry.
She hated herself for it, but she was happy to leave. She packed her things and as she was going through last-minute items, she found the old photo of her parents. She walked over to her trash bin to throw it away, but then she stopped. Instead she shoved it into her pocket.
And then she left.
She'd been infatuated with knowledge before, but it was at Hogwarts she learned the meaning of obsession. She tried to pinpoint why this was. She felt like a foreigner in a strange land and in the beginning she could hardly take it all in. She was enamored by this new world. In it, she felt powerful. She belonged.
It was at Hogwarts she got to see the constellations for the first time, projected on the ceiling of the Great Hall. All of them.
She listened to the conversations the girls had in her dormitory. She envied their experiences. First kisses and sweet notes, getting groped in the corridors, sneaking out at all hours of the night for a snog. She didn't fancy the groping much – and boy, did they go into detail about that – but she envied the elevated state of being that infatuation put their minds on. When they walked, they walked on clouds. Proverbially, at least. She walked the same way she always walked: quick, determined strides, with her right leg minutely more angled in than the other, resulting in the rubber heel of her right shoe always turning out to be a little more skewed.
She liked her life, sure. No – she loved it. She had great friends – loyal, funny, generally morally upstanding friends. She often wrote to her mum about them. Every Christmas she would send her a picture, and when she would go home she would see every one of them, tacked up someplace in the house – by the telly, on the fridge, above the fireplace. The three of them, gradually changing, getting older and getting taller, sometimes waving and sometimes just smiling. Her mum, in return, would send her packages – things like her favorite sweets from home, a scarf she'd seen at the market that she thought she'd like, or a book that her colleague had recommended – and tell her news about her relatives, and occasionally, her dad.
She was satisfied with this. It was only late at night, in bed, hearing the other girls snore their way into oblivion, that she found herself thinking about being with somebody. Was it everything the girls painted it to be? All of the pop songs and old movies? Was love really worth all the nights she spent dreaming about it?
She would get her first kiss from Viktor Krum. He would watch her in the library and try to talk to her in his gruff, clumsy English. They had very little in common, but he was sweet. He would bring her flowers that she knew very well she had never seen on the Hogwarts grounds and he would offer to carry her books. And then he had asked her to the Yule Ball, but not before he had kissed her.
Her first kiss would not be the kiss she would dream about going into her adulthood. It was nothing like the kisses she had seen on the old black and white movies her mum had lying around the house. He had just helped her reach for a book when he, looking down at her, paused, and kissed her. What resulted was a rough, unexpected kiss. She would have thought it was an accident if she hadn't looked up to see his dark eyes intensely staring down at her.
It left her stunned, but not reeling. Not reeling in the way she always thought she'd be, after her first kiss. Later on she realized this was because she had idealized her first kiss, for no good reason, except for those movies she'd watched with her mum. The ones where they always kissed passionately and the film blacked out while they were still in each other's arms. The ones that were so perfectly unreal.
He smelled like strong cologne and dehydrated meat.
Afterwards, she stared up at him in shock. He handed her the book and grunted, "Here. What else you need?"
"What about you, Hermione, do you believe in true love?"
It was a Thursday night, an hour before they were supposed to have lights out, and Parvati and the other girls were lounging around with purple facial masks on, flipping through Witch Weekly. She looked up to them staring at her expectantly, helping themselves to a bag of cheesepuffs that her mum had sent over last week.
She thought for a minute. "I don't and I do."
Lavender rolled her eyes. "As always, you've got to give us something philosophical right before bed."
"I just mean," she said, "I don't believe in one true love. Every love is real, and so it's true, isn't it?"
"But what about the one love that's truer than the rest?"
"Well," she said slowly, "what makes it truer than the rest?"
"Righteous shagging, of course," Parvati said cheekily, and the girls burst out laughing.
"And loads of diamonds and minks," she added on. "That's true love."
As the girls moved on with their conversation, she found herself thinking about Lavender's question as she lay in bed. But what about the one love that's truer than the rest? From everything she'd seen on the telly and heard in the songs, it was easy to see why Lavender asked what she did. But was it real? Did it really exist?
Here, where she lived. In reality, she meant. Not the reality in her parents' old college photo, and not the reality where girls walked on proverbial clouds dishing the details about how their boyfriends groped them and where. In her reality, where she slept alone, dreaming of no one in particular, but wondering about something she had never felt, and someone she had never met.
She thought of her parents and how they had been the face of true love for her, back then. They had been her nearest and dearest example of any kind of romantic love, and she had watched their gradual disintegration. Every Christmas home, especially the ones earlier on, had been like wading through the ruins of a battle. Memories of a time long gone tucked away, observing as her mum silently began to reconstruct another reality to fit her circumstance. She seemed happier, but she seemed sadder, too – all at the same time.
The truth was that she wanted to believe in love so she left. She wanted to keep her faith so she ran away from having to pick up all the pieces. Young as she was, she'd thought that staying and having to deal with the dissected remains of faded love would jade her.
She knew better now. It jaded her anyway.
She lost her virginity the summer before her seventh year. By then, she had been consciously collecting sex stories from the girls in her House, out of curiosity. It had been interesting for her to observe that once they had done it, their sexual appetite became seemingly bottomless. Not all of them, of course – but most.
It was with Malcolm. Malcolm was a boy she volunteered with at the library. He was a year older and was studying literature at Oxford, on break for the summer. They would talk for hours about books – mostly argued, but he was earnest enough to appreciate her arguments.
One night after their shift, he asked her out for dinner. They went out for a solid month before he took her back to his flat and she saw the pile of books stacked next to his bed. Most of them were the books she had recommended, and some were books that he liked to read over.
In a way, she had known it was going to happen. She had certainly thought about him that way, especially when they had started to snog inside his car. She felt things with him that she had never felt with Viktor Krum – things that fogged up her brain and made her look at him in a certain way whenever he bent down to get a book.
She did what she had seen every girl in the films usually did when they finally entered a boy's flat: she walked around, slowly, looking at the sparse photographs he had tacked up and all of his books on his book shelf, making small conversation about the interesting pieces, before eventually settling at the foot of his bed. She remembered how he stood completely still, watching her in a sort of hungry – but not impatient – way as she walked around. It made her feel powerful in a way high marks and knowledge couldn't. To know that she was wanted, physically, was a different kind of power entirely.
She had worn a blue summer dress that night. He unbuttoned it slowly while he kissed her.
Unlike her first kiss, it went exactly how first times were supposed to go.
Afterwards they lay in his bed and didn't talk about books. Instead they talked about life, and the future, and what they both wanted out of it. They had finally fallen into that rare niche of intimacy where they could tell each other secret things, secret things you don't even tell your best friends – secret things that they were afraid were too naïve and idealistic to be put out there, in the real world, where innocent things went to die. They let themselves be vulnerable, because it was easy then, and it was the only time they ever really could.
She remembered going to sleep with him that night, perfectly content.
They would carry on this way until summer ended. After, she returned to Hogwarts and he went back to Oxford.
She would never see him again.
She began tutoring Draco Malfoy sometime around the winter. Not by choice, of course. He had been forcibly enrolled in Muggle Studies to teach him and his father (who had led the committee to ban it immediately) a lesson. At first, being a mere observer a good distance away from the situation, it amused her.
Then he came to her in the library.
He slid in the chair across from her. "Granger."
She barely looked up from her book. "Go away, Malfoy."
"I have a proposition for you."
"And this is the face of someone who's interested?" she scoffed, still not looking up. "Sod off."
When she heard him get up, she assumed he had given up and left her alone. But instead she felt her book being lifted out of her hands and slammed flat on the table. What replaced her tome was now a long, pale forearm.
"Like I said," he said slowly, his voice low and menacing. "I have a proposition for you. And you're going to be a good little Gryffindor and listen."
"Threatening people you want favors from isn't exactly the best way of getting what you want," she fumed. She grabbed the book from underneath his palm and headed towards the other end of the library. He followed after her.
"I hate this as much as you do," he said. "But I need a tutor for that blasted course, Muggle Studies. And need I remind you of your heralded position as Head Girl?"
"Shame," she said to him, as she whipped around the corner, getting lost in the row of shelves. But soon she found herself facing a corner, dead-ended. Sighing, she turned around to see him blocking her path back. She was greeted with a twitchy blond brow on his narrow little face.
"What's in it for me?"
"Nothing, except the indulgence in the basic good of humanity," he sneered. "Whatever that means."
"Wouldn't that ruin your reputation, Malfoy? Acing Muggle Studies? Wouldn't that make you look bad to all of your pureblood friends?" She pretended to blow dirt out of her fingernails.
"I'm not asking," he clarified, "to ace it. I'm asking to pass. I'm required to pass, even if repulsed."
"Look, I know you're going to help me," he said to her then, smug. "You're Hermione bloody Granger. You can't help it."
She turned around. And then she gave him the finger.
A Muggle gesture that he, she was sure, was already familiar with – with or without the class.
It was a week later that she found herself sitting in Dumbledore's office, being educated on his orders for her to tutor Malfoy for the course.
"All in the spirit of helping each other out, of course," he said, after she declined an offer for a lemon drop. "And seeing as how you're Head Girl and he's Head Boy, I don't see anyone else more suited for the job."
"Right. I'd be happy to, then," she said.
She was a terrible liar but it would have inconvenienced their Headmaster too much to notice.
It was in the middle of quizzing him on the functions of a Muggle computer when she realized just how pale his eyelashes were. They looked like what other people's eyelashes looked like when they were dusted with snow. It was from that she began to look at him, really look at him.
He was eerily monochromatic, but it was haunting, too. He was all refined angles and lines. She amused herself by thinking he was made of marble. Cold and unfeeling. You had to chip away at it first to see anything good come out of it.
He turned the book around to show her something, pulling it towards her. It was during this that she felt his fingers graze against her hand, quickly, ever so slightly. They were warm, feathery. And not coated with poison like she'd imagined.
She glanced up at his face. Did it register?
He didn't flinch or catch fire like she thought he would.
Then again, neither did she.
Halfway through his class, it occurred to her that he no longer needed her services. The material was familiar to him now. He began to read the Muggle books mentioned in the text but not required for the class – Anglo classics like Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, and she'd even caught a glimpse of Jane Eyre in his satchel at one point. If he enjoyed any of them, she never knew. He never said a word about them.
One night, she decided that she was feeling careless enough to mention them. "It's okay to admit you like them, you know. The books. I'm not going to run out of the room screaming it through the halls. Literature is literature, Magical or Muggle."
He paused in what he was doing – filling out charts for the class – before he spoke up. "Perhaps I like them more than I care to admit."
Then he looked at her, briefly, before he looked away.
She held her breath. She gets it.
It was on a Tuesday that everything went to hell.
Security had been breached by Death Eaters and somehow Hogwarts was crumbling. Everyone was panicked and clustered, running every which way. It had been Malfoy who had woken her up, blasting off the locks on her door.
It was chaos and since she was Head Girl she was supposed to know how to make it better. She did the best she could. She herded them to the safest possible places, reminded them how to defend themselves, and told them everything was going to be okay.
He grabbed her arm, dragging her to an alcove a few feet away.
"Don't do that," he hissed at her.
"Make promises you can't keep."
"It's called boosting morale, Malfoy. You'd know that if you had any."
His eyes were hard, lips pink and curling. "If they're wounded, are you going to bandage that up, too? Kiss it and make it better? Hold their hand and wait for the sun to come back out?"
"I'm going to do whatever it takes," she said through her teeth at him. "Whatever is required of me, I'll do."
She knew they were in the first days of war. She tried to keep her head straight, keep the panic from bubbling to the surface. But all she could think of was how she had never said goodbye to her mum, and how she had never returned the books she had borrowed from her dad.
"Even dying?" he said to her.
"Yes," she said, her voice surprisingly convincing. "Even that."
"See, that's how I know you've read too many Muggle books," he spat at her. "There's no glory in being a martyr." There were distant explosions. The walls trembled and the flames from the torches flickered. "Not here."
When she finally found herself face to face with a Death Eater, she made the mistake of imagining Beatrix Smithley's face inside the hood. It had been perfectly preserved in her memory. Her rotund face, empty green eyes, and smirking lips. You still think you're better than us, Granger?
She whipped her wand to petrify but different words came out of her lips and her arm, as if no longer belonging to her, did the motions for a different spell.
There was a green light, and the body fell heavily to the floor.
She ran, feeling the adrenaline blasting through her veins.
Hogwarts, even with all of its defenses, fell in two days.
By then, her title as Head Girl had been officially voided. There was no way of keeping track of who was dead and who was alive. Many had disappeared. She liked to think it was because they had found a way out, a way to keep themselves safe. Many had run off into the Forbidden Forest despite her strong recommendations not to. She hoped she'd been wrong.
She found herself in Grimmauld Place with members of the order, huddled in the living room, collectively trying to conjure up a plan. She watched Harry from the other side of the room, his face decorated with dried blood and ash, jaw clenched with hard thought.
Lupin was the one to say it. "We can't stay here long. They'll find us, sooner or later."
She looked up, taking in all of the other faces in there with her, picking out one in particular from the crowd, standing next to Dumbledore. When the meeting ended, she followed him down the hallway, into a room.
She closed the door behind her, and he was not surprised to see her there.
"You're here." She kept her eyes on him, steady. "Do you mean to be?"
He knew what she was asking. Had he meant to join their side, or in the panic of it all, had he just been clustered into it? Had the Death Eaters abandoned him? Did they know he was alive?
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"So don't tell me." She paused, trying to read him in the dim light. "But be sure." Then she repeated his own words back to him: "There's no glory in being a martyr."
The way he looked at her followed her all the way out into the hall.
"Hi Mum, it's me," she said to the sky. Her breath was white and smoky, and the stars were pristine and distant. When she was younger, she used to wonder if the stars were some kind of code – cosmic Braille, she called it – to be deciphered for the secrets in the universe. But not all, maybe. Just one. It was hard to be greedy at a time like this. One was enough.
"I'm fine," she said. "I'm alive. And I'll see you soon."
Their sky was still the same. If the universe was kind enough, it would deliver this message to her. Her mum would look at the same stars and she would know.
She did it even though Malfoy's voice had crept into her head. Don't make promises you can't keep.
Everyone changed in a war.
Harry had become closed off and distant, filling the shoes of the brooding Hero everyone had secretly predicted he'd become but never actually wanted. Shut out, she and Ron found themselves lingering at his doorstep, waiting to be let back in.
"You shouldn't mother him. He's old enough, don't you think?" This was the unwarranted commentary of Malfoy. "You know why he's doing it. Everyone else in his shoes would do the exact same thing."
"What do you know about it?" she snapped at him.
"Nothing. I know nothing about being Harry fucking Potter," he sneered at her. "But he's not going to let you back in until we win this."
She scoffed. "We?"
She knew she said the right thing when she caught the dark veil that instantly fell over his eyes. It was petty, she knew that. Everyone had, on some level, accepted him. It was scary, too, how organically it happened. He placed himself inside and they all just grew around him. It was hard not to when Dumbledore had personally vouched for him.
But did he deserve that? Had he ever even so much as asked for it?
"Don't tell me how to treat the people I love," she told him.
He shook his head, laughing. It was an empty laugh, one with sharp edges, joyless.
"You don't suffocate the people you love."
She was angry with him. She didn't talk to him for days.
What did he know about love? What did he know about caring for people? What did he know about being so agonizingly conscious of somebody else's pain?
But she watched him. She watched him play with distance. On their shifts, he stayed within eye's view or shouting distance. He didn't sleep. She thought of the few times he had ever touched her: when his fingers brushed against her hand during their tutoring lessons, when he'd grabbed her arm and lectured her about making promises. To anyone else, they wouldn't have found a reason to blink at it at all.
She was wounded on an ambush. She got hit from behind and was knocked unconscious. The world was washing out, gravity was letting her go. In a confused panic, her brain imagined a flooding green light. But in her last moments of webbing awareness, she could feel his hands on her, brushing her matted hair from her face, trying to shake her awake.
When she woke up, he wasn't there. She didn't see him for three days.
When she finally mustered up the courage to ask, they told her he'd gone on a side mission with Snape.
He returned in the middle of the night. She was woken up by a chorus of solemn whispers, and she went to his room.
"Are you hurt?" she asked him.
"I'm always hurt," he replied, shrugging off his cloak, sitting at the foot of his bed. It was the nature of war. It took things from you that hurt to go on without. That was the lesson of war: everything hurt.
"Well, welcome back," she said, arms crossed over her chest.
"Is this what it's come to? So many are dying that every time one of us comes back alive, we get a welcoming committee?" He shook his head, chuckling under his breath. "Jesus, Granger. You weren't kidding about being a soldier for team morale."
He was so good at being far away, at warding off anything and anyone that could get close to him. He was close one second and an entire planet's distance away the next. It baffled her. What kind of person could live like this?
"Why? Am I being suffocating?" she said. He froze. "Would you like me to try being distant and make sure I'm not in the same room with you for too long?"
He scoffed. "I don't think there's any room for me on your extensive list of people to smother, Granger."
She tried not to think about how intimate of a moment this was. Her talking to him while he – more or less – undressed. She watched him neatly roll off his socks. This was something couples did.
"I don't smother."
"And I'm not the type to take kindly to being smothered."
"Then it's a good thing I could never smother you." There was a jagged edge to her voice. He stopped undressing and looked at her, standing up, barefoot. "For one, you'd actually have to get close enough for me to do it."
She left him, then, walking down the hallway to her own room. She locked the door.
That night, as she lay awake in bed, she remembered what Dante had considered to be the definition of hell: proximity without intimacy.
It was closeness that magnified longing. Closeness that teetered control.
Her mind went quiet.
The next morning, there was sun. It felt like a decade since she'd seen sun, and even longer since she'd felt it on her skin. The war had crept into the climate, too. Dark and rainy, the vanquisher of all hope.
She went outside. There were a few others out there, too, basking in the momentary warmth. She exchanged a few words with them before she walked to a hidden corner of the yard, covered by overgrown trees.
She sat there for a few minutes, writing imaginary letters to her parents in her head. Tried to imagine the world once they had won. She was optimistic that way. She tried never to think of the word "if." They would win. They had love on their side, real love. It was just a matter of when.
She heard the rustling of leaves and she looked up to see Malfoy there, his pale, faintly bruised skin speckled with glowing spots from the sunlight filtering through the trees. She didn't blink. She subconsciously held her breath.
He was so beautiful it made her stupid.
He sat down on the bench next to her, his long legs stretched out. He was wearing black trousers and she thought, for a second, that they looked like a road, laid out in front of them. A road with no one on it. Beautiful, but not what it was made for.
"I've never seen you in sun before," she said. "The glare coming off of you is painful to take."
He laughed. And the urge struck her to try and isolate that moment, just that part, where he'd forgotten to pretend.
They tested Dante's theory.
His wet mouth trailed up her neck, one hand down the front of her jeans.
"Is this close enough for you?" he said, hoarsely.
She stopped seeing flashes of green light when he kissed her. It was so poetic she wanted to write to her mother about it until she remembered that she couldn't.
He kissed her and now she was even more afraid of dying.
It was the wrong thing to feel in the midst of a war with a growing body count.
I hope you're not worrying too much about me. I'm fine. Harry and Ron are alive, and Harry is letting us back in, bit by bit.
She tried to think of how she would tell her mother about Malfoy. What her mother would say back to her. Probably something wise, like, "Falling in love is a lot like going blind. You're in a dark room and you hope someone else is in there with you."
She knew it wasn't supposed to happen like this, but life rarely happened the way you meant it to. They had all the makings of a beautiful gasoline rainbow. It was hard not to sigh a little bit at that.
On her side of his bed, she refrained from asking if he'd ever loved anyone else the way he loved her.
He was a lesson in control. In the fact that she could be good at chaos, at the face-flattening free fall. It'd been a hibernating talent, and now that she had discovered it, there was no going back.
From across the room, Ginny looked up at her from Dean's bedside, offering her a weak smile. Dean was asleep, one temple wrapped up from a nasty head wound, his hand limp in Ginny's.
She didn't know. Their arguments have blurred together – as have the weeks, the moments, the seconds. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. It was a botched mission. A lie. An injury. A night spent elsewhere.
She finished rummaging through the supply boxes just in time to avoid answering Ginny's question. She put the box away and rose to her feet. "Call us if he wakes up," she told her, instead, and left the room.
That night they ended with a disheartening briefing: they didn't know where the Death Eaters were. They'd disappeared and could be launching an attack at any point of night and they couldn't do a thing about it but be ready.
She checked on Dean one last time before she headed up to her room. She changed out of her clothes and crawled into bed. In the darkness, she watched the wall for any movement of light reflected from the door. She could have laid there for years and she wouldn't have known. These days, time either moved too slow or too fast, and she could never tell what kind of day it was going to be.
Finally, she saw a bar of light. It widened, then shrunk, then disappeared. The door clicked closed. Locked.
She heard the rustle of clothes before feeling someone get in beside her. He was close enough to touch – she'd earned that kind of psychic feeling by now – but he didn't touch her. He was withholding. Then again, so was she. And that seemed unfair in a war, but they were young, and they were inconveniently in love, and they had everything to lose. They were going about this all wrong. And she was scared but she didn't know how to fix that, especially when everything else around them seemed so much more broken in comparison.
It felt selfish to think about the weight of loving someone at a time like this. But her whole body was aware of how much she loved him. It was hard to forget when every part of her knew.
She felt his breath on her bare shoulder. It was warm and alive and it brought her back to reality.
"I've never done this before," she finally said. She meant it all. I've never loved anyone like this before. I've never lived through a war before. I've never been so afraid of death before.
I've never been so afraid of not growing old.
His voice was heavy and sagged against her bones. "No one has," Draco says.
She felt it, then. His face against her shoulder, the feel of his eyelashes on her skin raising goosebumps on her skin. Strange how this exhausting, terrifying time was punctuated with small moments of intimacy just like these. And these were never going to make it on the newspapers. They would never tell their children because these were the details that would get lost in the montages of grime and blood and death and disillusion. These moments that meant so much to keeping hope and their humanity would be forgotten in the bigger scheme of things, no matter the end result.
Every time he touched her she wanted it burned into her memory.
"We won't lose. History has proven that." It was a flimsy argument even on its best day. They both knew it.
"History can be wrong," she said, her whisper barely audible.
They were out of Grimmauld Place. It now lay in smoking rubble, just like Hogwarts.
They were on the run now, Apparating from place to place, losing members, trying to squeeze out the last drops of their six month-long adrenaline rush. In her exhaustion, she was almost splinched.
He raged at her for this. "Don't get weak on me now, Granger. Everybody here is fucking tired. That doesn't mean you have permission to die."
When he stormed away, she turned around to see Harry watching. He had heard everything.
"You're not weak, Hermione. You're human," he said to her. "Malfoy loves you. He thinks this means you've earned the responsibility not to get yourself killed."
She took in an ugly, heaving breath. Her face was dirty and wet. "Have I?"
He didn't answer her because she knew the answer even before she asked it.
There was a point when she stopped caring who heard them. Their fights came in violent spurts, aided by frustration and desperation.
"Being fucked up isn't an excuse to treat people like shit!" she yelled at him. "Nothing is an excuse to treat people like shit! We're not at Hogwarts anymore. You don't have that kind of power here."
"You think I don't know that?" he snarled.
The truth was that these days they always knew more than they wished they did.
Had they still been at Hogwarts, they would have never gotten here. She knew that. He would have never let himself love her. She would have never let herself even entertain the thought. Their love was circumstantial. She couldn't say anything about fate. That meant it was theirs to end at any time. There were no stars up in the sky designated for them, telling them it would be good enough to last forever.
She was on shift with Ron. He began to chuckle under his breath, his face obscured by the darkness.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I was just thinking about how we got here." He moved in his spot, shifting some leaves. "Where would we be without the war?" he asked. He turned to her. "Where would you and Malfoy be without the war? Do you know?"
She didn't say anything. She pictured them with their Heads badges. They would have parted ways without ever knowing the depths of how much they could care about each other. She watched an alternate history play out before her: he would've married another Pureblood aristocrat. She would have read about it in the papers. Never would she have wondered if the way he kissed her would've felt anything like relief, or like the books she'd read as a child.
She would've been happy letting him be one-dimensional. Another bully to group in with the likes of Beatrix Smithley and Lindsay Chatton. She wouldn't have known any better.
"See, that's the sad part," he said.
"Are we suffocating each other?"
The truth was that, at the time, she hadn't known what it meant to love someone. She thought it was supposed to be easy, that it smelled like a bouquet of fresh flowers, and kissed you on the forehead when the moment warranted it. No, she didn't believe in helpless princesses up in towers, and she didn't care much for muscular, majestic steeds, but she did still subscribe to some whimsy. Part of her had believed in the pop songs and ballads. Part of her had believed in a love that felt so natural it was like slipping into an old pair of pajamas.
"I don't know," he said, quietly.
"All we do is fight. All we do is worry about each other," she whispered. "I don't think it's healthy."
"We're in a war. We haven't slept in six months. We haven't eaten in weeks. Nothing about this is healthy."
"What if we weren't? What if the war ended, tomorrow? Where would we be then?"
He glared at her in disbelief.
"And you think not being together would fix all of that? Would keep us from fighting? Would keep us from worrying about whether either of us will still be breathing by morning?"
The way he looked at her, his eyes shiny but mercurial, with his nostrils flared, made her want to retract her words. She heard the stupidity behind them now, screaming at her.
"I love you. I'm sorry if that isn't enough, that it isn't stupid pop ballads and butterfly kisses. But for me, fighting in this sodding war and hating every fucking second of it, it is."
And then he left, and for hours she couldn't stand being inside her own skin.
She found him later. She apologized and she kissed him and she breathed him in when he held her close.
She told him she pitied that version of her that didn't know how it felt to love him.
He told her he pitied that version of her too.
"I can't wait 'til I tell my mum about you," she said in her sleep.
During the final battle of the war, the night was so dark it was like all of the stars had been blown out.
There were green lights flashing all around her. They all seemed to be telling her the same thing: Go.
Every Death Eater she killed bore the face of Beatrix Smithley. They were all her, but she was none of them.
Where was Beatrix Smithley now, she wondered. How many other pairs of eyes had she spit in since her? Or before her? Did Lindsay Chatton still follow her around like her shadow? Did they ever still think of her?
She allowed herself to feel ten years old again, walking home from school alone. But this time she was not powerless, or weak. She had her wand. They could not erase her.
Not if she erased them first.
In the morning it was all over. She surveyed the destruction, the dead bodies, and the land their battle had spanned. Harry and Ron were there with her, helping aid the wounded. There was a prickly stone in her throat and she could feel her eyes growing hot as she looked for Draco, her footing clumsy, her knees rickety, her clothes torn.
He was wounded, but standing. Dark blood was seeping out of his shoulder, and she got it on her when she ran into his arms.
"You did good, Granger," he said against her ear, and she could hear a tired smile in his voice. She was laughing and crying, lightheaded, and practically drowning in her joy.
"As if I ever needed your validation, you insufferable man," she said. Validation was the watered down stuff. Love was potent, more true.
The sun was rising, casting a surreal glow on everything around them. They all gathered together, nursing the wounded, hugging each other, mourning the fallen, all the while delirious from lack of sleep.
Here she was, at the end of war, her face to the waking sun, in love. And loved back. In multitudes.
It was how all stories should always end.
On her mother's doorstep, days later, he put out his hand.
"I'm Draco Malfoy. It's nice to finally meet you," he said.
She'd never thought so much good could be packed into just one sentence.
She was wrong.
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