Words: around 3300
Summary: It's June, and tomorrow she has lived five years in a world where borders constitute truths.
Notes: Birthday fic! And it's rather Romantic, by my standards. Happy (very) belated birthday, ishtar79. ♥ ♥ If my memory serves me, we once met because of our shared weakness for this Ron-bashing, OOC, gloriously clichéd pairing? So. Here, have some bleak-post-war!porn until I'm close enough to hand you booze. Title from Adrienne Rich, characters and verse borrowed from Rowling. Don't sue.
words blew our lives apart, like so,
(Adrienne Rich: 'For an album')
It's the last time again.
She knows, because she has been growing irritable over her teacups and polite conversations this week. Has watched the sky for omens and made simple mistakes with her magic – a stutter, an incorrect angle and it all comes down. There, in the pit of her stomach, is that nervous flicker; you need to work less, Luna says softly and removes the caffeine from their bowls of afternoon coffee. Hermione puts it back when she's alone. Household charms, those banal combinations of useful jinxes: she is quite good at them now (like Molly would never believe.) It's just one of those things she had to learn, after all, even if she's nobody's wife. Beside her cup, she notices an untouched slice of wheat cake with honey and cinnamon, the sort that Luna bakes every Thursday and Hermione doesn't quite know how to swallow. She can't say that, of course, so she eats it anyway or throws it to the birds.
Today she wraps it up and puts it in the large pocket of her robes.
"Don't be too late," Luna says when she sees Hermione leave. "Hannah and Ernie will come over for supper."
Once she leaves the visible borders of the wizarding world and steps into the sphere of untouchable lines and limits, she feels her muscles ease around her bones. It's the shell of her other life that slowly rushes through her and lands beneath her feet. It's her core responding to freedom.
It's June, and tomorrow she has lived five years in a world where borders constitute truths.
When the war was over and they had won, the transformation started. Out of respect for the victims, the Ministry said while their men and women begun working on Lists; the first time Hermione saw one her name was followed by a note, a few words in red ink: former Muggle; passed and confirmed NEWTs. It means you count as a witch, Percy whispered to her. His hand felt like glue on her back. Everything takes place in front of their eyes the morning after that night when Ideas conquered the dark; it's a system of additions and subtractions, of separations.
But she counts. She's not blamed for the Muggle victims or the wizards who died like dogs (oh but for a good reason, she reminds herself, such a good reason) and she can live where she wants. The freedom to choose not to be here. Not here, not in the no man's land between the borders. These lands are for others, for the unmentioned people and their worlds. Those who have abused their right to belong, she remembers someone said once, those who do not deserve.
It's an indisputable honour to carry a wand.
He lives in the crowded places now. She supposes there's irony in that. There, just beside the tree that once was broken by lightening, where you can see the fairies dance if you squint. A kind of fantastic music from a forgotten time; it becomes a silent kinship among those who can watch, a way to keep the others out. Muggles can' t see fairies. (Although Luna claims that some of them do, except they mistake the phenomenon for dragonflies and forget all about it.)
A hybrid between the universes his house looks as misplaced as it must feel to him, its shape and breath against the sky both frightening and pathetic. She knows the door by now. Leans against the wall while she knocks, throws the bread on the ground (he'd never let her forget that gesture, however well-meaning) and breathes.
Severus looks at least a year older than last time, as always.
"Granger." He pronounces it like it's a foreign word, managing to sound surprised.
"Oh for Pete's sake, call me Hermione," she says and lets herself in. Before he closes the door behind her, she spots the shade of a smile in his face.
She knows war by now and this is part of it. A measured victory: Well played, just, expected and with an aftermath that is disastrous or liberating - or likely a bit of both.
The first time she fucked him, the ground beneath was hot and thick, wet grass sticking to his back and her knees. Hermione pressed herself as close as she could while he slowly went limp inside her and the whole echoing summer calmed down over their heads.
In the autumn that soon followed, she found his new home. Worn-down and flaked-off, the smell of dampness and nicotine-and-chemicals-stained surfaces. (We don't intend to rob anyone of their human rights. Arthur Weasley, under pressure but always a Believer, would talk to her about the new world. And it's not Azkaban, Hermione.) Somehow, she sat in his kitchen one afternoon. They've both forgotten why. He had never invited her in.
Winter, and his hands became rougher, his hair a little greyer, their game less studied and more honest. Sometimes, merely kissing him felt like an evocation of a past she never wanted to live through. Sometimes, he made her laugh.
A moon full of glass in April, in between still-sleeping flowers and thick moss in his overblown garden where their clothes fell like rain and Hermione thought she could see through his skin. (It was only the light, but for two or three breaths, she dragged ice into her lungs.) It had felt like forever then, since she had met him during the Day of Peace and held on to his gaze a moment too long. Forever since he scorned her, then fucked her dry in the abandoned toilets of some seedy pub she never found again. Even longer since those days they keep unspoken in the depths of their memories so they never have to remind each other of how Hermione cried in his bedroom like a stupid child, or how she brings him food and books that she leaves outside because she can't bear the cruel words as she hands him those gifts. (Or how he once woke up entangled in her hair and didn't move for an hour. She counted the minutes.)
Now it's June and it has been a year.
In a world without nuances he is her doubt, an uncertainty in her blood; the starved fingers clasp hold of her wrists and leave echoes, questions. In her memory, he remains the only one who turned around when everything else was too late. That glint in his eyes, the mastered fury. He wasn't fighting for his life (like the rest of them, clutching their survival instincts beyond the point of breaking); he was fighting to the death.
"It's that time again," she says in his hall, halfway inside his trousers. "Of anniversaries."
"I've noticed." He hasn't forgiven the outcome; she sees it in his face always, the lines around his mouth as he bends down to place it around her right nipple. (He doesn't forgive anything.) He didn't expect to live.
Hermione drops her skirt on the floor, doesn't bother with the thin Muggle vest. Severus places two fingers under the straps and pushes her up against the wall, up against him and it's almost enough to make her dizzy even after all these months. She never grows used to him, to this. Dirty. She opens her mouth for him, for salt and blood. Repulsive. Unwashed, unshaven; her fists in his hair keep him grounded where she wants him; she wraps one leg around his waist and reaches for his cock.
He smells of sulphur and shamrock tonight, a shroud of what he does over what he is – she sees it fail at times, often when he buries himself in her and forgets, and odd images of someone else are falling through the gash. She tries to read them, but it's over before she knows it. Hermione holds his head with both hands as he enters. Her thumbs caress his lips, part them slightly, rub them hot and soft; he catches her with his teeth but makes nothing of it. In, out, in and she wants to hold him there, clenches around him for as long as she can, driving a moan – throaty, dark – from his lips. Driving fingers into her ribs, too, as he pulls out and thrusts back in. When she yields and arches up – out - he lets his hands slide down her back to cup her arse and force them both to be locked up in a position where the rhythmic (oh, fuck me- fuck me- fuck -) thrusts along her spine and in her cunt imitate a heartbeat. Her counter-rhythm - a slowing down of his motions, a whispered word of stillness so often used that it feels like a kiss, no worse than a kiss – hits him when he closes his eyes. I'm sorry. Old habits.
It's a dangerous game, shady and unequal, but it's what they do. It's what they like. Stretching it out, gathering time like pieces of gold; he leans back and allows her to kiss his neck, put her tongue to the bobbing Adam's apple and let his scent spill into her. He groans when she opens his shirt, kisses the thin frames of scars and history, smells him, tastes him, and wants in that insane surge of desperation she has only ever felt for him. As though he's not ugly and disgusting, as though his way of doing this to her isn't impossible and painful, as though he's absolutely the only thing that is worth anything anymore.
And later, as the magic ceases to have an affect and he's revengeful, he fucks her so hard that Hermione hits her head against the wall, feeling pierced through; helpless, panting, biting his arm when the pressure has sent an orgasm up her back and belly.
"God, it's stale in here," she murmurs afterwards, and he opens a window so the stifling afternoon air can run through her damp hair the way the rests of him run along the insides of her thighs.
He gets dressed and walks into the kitchen. She keeps her gaze on his slumped shoulders, their decoded language for defeat. In fifteen minutes, or half an hour if he's careful and not very hungry, he'll offer her half-hearted, badly cooked supper. She will accept; she misses him already.
(This doesn't count.)
She wakes up in Severus's bed, not aware of falling asleep in the first place, thinking she used to know much more about things. About ideas and ideals, peace and justice; she used to think she knew what was best for everyone else, too, but forgives herself.
Now she doesn't know at all. (It's strangely soothing.)
She no longer knows how the sun sets or why, she only knows that it does, a few seconds before her sense starts to flicker and fade. That's hours ago now. They are hours into a night when the stars rest firm in the sky and no wishes are granted; (but we mustn't believe in fate, Luna whispers and Luna, in all her craziness, is usually right. We must be fate.)
Tomorrow is the Day of Peace. One of the first things the New Ministry set up, once the elections and by-elections had been arranged and the excessive funerals were over, was the Day of Peace. A day, they said, of celebration, their day of victory. Bonfires and fireworks over wizarding Britain. Remembrances. (Hermione remembers how faces are smoothed out by death, how everything sinks into them and disappears. Remembers dead bodies in the streets; the scent of rotting flesh; Horcruxes; flashes of the darkest kind of light; remembers sacrifices and losses that have no name.)
It will change again. That's what the faithful claim. Perhaps not now, or soon, or even in a near future, and perhaps not easily – but it will change.
Or perhaps everyone will forget. The heroes and their friends, the figureheads of society and the puppet-masters behind them, even those in the outskirts and between the borders forgetting and living on, like it has always been this way. (Never forget Cedric Diggory. They did, almost instantly. He wasn't heroic enough in the end.) Even those, Hermione thinks and sneers into the empty bedroom, who saw their wands burn. Disapproved. Charged with misuse of magic. One who does not count. Severus.
"Shouldn't you be heading back home?" he says from the doorway. "My neighbours aren't exactly famous for their kindness towards strangers after nightfall."
Hermione nods. Hannah and Ernie must be in their flat now, all worried smiles and loud discussions. If she closes her eyes, she can be there with them, gulp large cups of the spicy tea that Ernie often brings. Spices and wheat cakes with honey and cinnamon and her eyes sting; Severus walks closer to the bed, she can sense his presence in the air above her.
"Take my wand," she says suddenly. Words that flutter out of her, quickly, like something beyond her control.
"I don't want it." She opens her eyes and meets his face closer than she expected. She means it, she realises as the words sink in.
And Severus changes, sinks down on the bed, too, while something in his eyes go blacker and gentler than before. "It doesn't work like that," he says, softly.
Hermione sits up. The wand's in the messy whirl of clothes on the floor beside the bed, she picks it up and holds it out for them both to observe. He's right, of course. It doesn't work like that. A wand is a personal matter: a part of one's essence as a magician, the centre of one's magic. If she destroys this now she will go through trials to have another one. They will test her, judge her, measure her qualities; it probably means weeks of paperwork for some idiot at the Ministry.
The oppressed rebellion in that thought.
The crack when she breaks her dragon heartstring (thud-thud-snap), its wooden screams.
The sensation of Severus's teeth in the crease where her thighs merge into buttocks, the frame of his shoulders beneath her palms as he slips a cool tongue inside her and she crumples the sheets with her heels. No magic, she reminds herself.
No magic. Only a mouth that plays with her, nags and sucks and licks until she wants to shout and almost does: oh fucking he-
"Don't stop," Severus mutters, bent over her again, his lips carrying her scent.
So she screams. The second time, mindless and spinning, she feels how hard he is, his cock throbbing against her belly. When her fingers curl around it, he pulls back in one raspy sigh; clamping down on her intentions with hands that are glistening with her and taste of metallic earth.
He slides into her, thick and heavy-breathing, inch by inch and Hermione agrees with her legs spread as much as she can, only to close them over him when he's in place. So familiar now but it feels new. She feels vulnerable, naked, like that very first time with Ron when she wept and he had to stop five times before it succeeded (and even then, she was so worried about limbs not responding and nails being too sharp for the head of his cock that she will always remember it with a flavour of terror). Severus catches the doubt in her body; she shrugs it away, kissing him. It's nothing important. His arms wiry and strong on her sides, his head bowed so she can feel his forehead against her own if she lifts her head just a little bit. She can hear her body respond to his motions – click-click-click; she's wet and swollen around him, the friction is tiny and he seems to feel it as well, collapsing somewhat and coming even closer. One hand on her thigh, making more room, the other keeping him up her although his eyes turn defenceless and dim – he groans loudly as she grazes his hips, then seizes them and pushes him harder into her. He is riding her now and she cannot think, cannot breathe, sprawled with fingers digging into his scalp and his mouth open and wet against her throat. She's holding on to him as he comes in deep, quick thrusts, one final push and his face between her hands; look at me, she chants quietly, look at me, look at me. They rock to a halt, but she doesn't let go.
She's drowsy when he finally rolls off her, when her hands are too tired to cast mundane Muggle spells and Severus hands her a dry, clean sheet. (There's a prosaic sweetness in that, and she falls asleep with a smile hanging above her head.)
Because it's always the last time she has him memorised: his skin; the shape and weight of him in relation to her own body; how he suppresses amusement with a low, unsteady snort; the fact that he takes milk but no sugar in his tea but prefers his coffee black; the distant pounding closeness in his gaze when he wakes up to find her sitting beside him in bed. His home: a desk without treasures; walls covered in books; two lamps (in the winters it's almost never enough light in his rooms); a vase from China (left behind by someone else); a big green pillow that was handmade for him (out of love); a handful of photographs (one of Dumbledore, one of Hogwarts, one or two of stern-looking joyless parents and a cat).
It's the details that can fit in the pale hollows of the world where boundaries constitute truths, in a distance-length between the spheres where they are masters of their own game.
It's the Day of Peace, and it rains.
He stands in the doorway when she is about to leave.
"You do know who killed Harry, don't you?" Severus delivers the words as if he's been forming them for a lifetime, yet cannot imagine speaking them. He's closed and harsh, his fingers strumming the wall behind him.
"I know." She tucks the pieces of her wand back into her pocket and feels only slightly stupid now, in a sober, satiated state of mind. When she takes a few steps towards him, Severus stays where he is. He has no softness in his gaze today, no ghosts of his other faces. She prefers it this way.
"Don't you want to know why?"
At that he slips – and it's such a small slip that he doesn't seem to notice it – so that his mouth becomes slack, the curve of it completely different. Hermione stands close now, she can lean in and put her own mouth over it, make a join of them. He looks away as she does it. Look at me, look at me, look – She wraps her hands over his arms; she places her chin in the hollow of his chest between bones and muscles where his heart beats against her face.
"Not today," she says.
That new curve of his upper lip falling into its familiar sneer.
That voiceless celebration of a day that remains undiluted within them, poisonous and wild; like a kinship, a sign.
The kiss before she closes the door, its overwhelming core beating down on her confidence.
It's never the last time.