And today I come bearing fic. Not beta-read, though I did look it over myself, so forgive any mistakes.
Title: Go the Spoils
Author: Sullen Siren (adena(at)direcway(dot)com)
Summary: When the war is over, its survivors learn to live with the people they've become. Sequel to To the Victors. Harry goes to find Hermione.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all of his crazy friends do not belong to me. They belong to Warner Brothers, J.K. Rowling, and various other powerful entities that have made themselves rich off of his little scar. Please don't sue. I have nothing worthwhile to pay with anyway.
Feedback: It makes me smile.
Note: A sequel of sorts to To the Victors, written simply because I had the urge to see where the Hermione from that story went. You don't NEED to read that one to read this, since the situation is evident within this story as much as it was in the last, but it has more context when read with its precursor. Dedicated to maleficently, because I probably would never have finished this one if she hadn't dug the first one so much.
"I watched you fall.
I think I pushed.
Maybe I'm crazy,
Maybe I'm innocent.
Maybe I'm finished."
-- REM, "Diminished"
There is a hotel in France where a rock star died that he had never slept in. He'd never seen the Rolling Stones play, and looked to see if there were strings holding Keith Richards up. He'd never told a girl he loved her, and meant it. There was a church somewhere in Mexico where Jesus bled for his people, and Mary wept for their sins - he had never prayed there. He'd never tried to believe in God and failed. He'd never seen a sun set in New Orleans. He'd never drunk a whole six pack and called his ex at two am. He'd never told her he was sorry; he'd never asked her for forgiveness. He'd never tried to be redeemed. He'd never had a dog. He'd never seen an opera. He'd never tasted tequila. He'd never been sailing. He'd never told them he hated what they made him become. He'd never told them he was grateful for what he'd been forced to be.
The big thoughts, the big ideas, and the big reasons - they stopped working when he was fifteen and watching his last tie to his parents disappear. His heart had stopped acknowledging them when he saw the way Lupin's eyes turned away for a moment whenever they settled on him. They didn't blame him, they'd always said. They didn't have to. He blamed himself. And in that moment, before Lupin could look at him, Remus had too. It was enough to know the truth. He'd loved Lupin for that, in a way. It was more honesty than most ever gave him.
Friends, family, war, right, justice, revenge - they stop meaning anything, when the blood beings to flow freely enough. In the beginning, those reasons had pushed him to keep going. Eventually they weighed him down. He got out of bed because he put them aside. Because he remembered that he'd never lived in a seedy flat in London, that he'd never eaten a hot dog from a New York stand, that he'd never slept with someone and not called them the next day, that he'd never fallen off of a rented horse.
He kept going for the little things. For the moments. He kept going for the things he could do when it was over, and he wasn't the Famous Harry Potter. When he was just a boy. When he was just a man. When he was just alive, and not a hero.
And now he is. They'd cheered him in the pubs and held gaudy parades in muggle streets for him in America - but they forgotten so quickly. And they didn't know. They didn't see how close it had been, how it changed both sides. Even now, even when it was over, he carried secrets. He carried the truth of what it had cost them. Only these, he didn't carry alone.
He'd long ago stopped wondering why that wasn't a comfort to him.
They'd wanted him to stay, but he couldn't. He left so that he could heal, but he found the only way he could stay whole - or nearly so - was to keep moving, keep away from the embracing arms and loving looks. He hated the gratitude they offered without thinking - if he'd been what Dumbledore had hoped he'd be, the price would never have been so high.
Every night he dreamed of George's face. Fred's face had been tranquil in death - George's had been just as lifeless, but so much more horrible. He wandered and he did the things he'd told himself he had to live for, but he no longer wanted any of them. He didn't want anything. And on the nights when he couldn't sleep at all, it was that lack of desire that he felt the most. It was emptiness, a lack of anything. He didn't even really think he wanted it to go away. Harry didn't want anything anymore.
He called late at night, so that they weren't awake to pass the phone about, or to think of good questions. That ploy would never have worked on Hermione, but she rarely asked much. Sometimes, he thought she might understand more than any other - but he doubted it. She was Hermione, and she'd never given up on anything in her life. She wouldn't be able to understand wanting to give up on a whole life.
And he supposed that's what he wanted to do. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be no one forever, but it was what he wanted now. He wanted to walk streets without memory, and buy train tickets from men who didn't know his name, and didn't care for the scar across his head.
He hadn't thought it was in him to worry about anything anymore. He was wrong. The first night he called and no one answered, he assumed that Hermione wasn't home. The others never woke to answer the phone, so it was always her he spoke to. Every little noise had always woken Hermione up.
The second time no one answered, he thought it was odd, and he thought to call again the next night. But he forgot, or decided against it - he couldn't remember which. A month passed and he called again. No one answered. He called the next night and it rang over and over until he finally hung it up.
It was noon in England when he called, much later where he was. The voice that answered the phone sounded thin and foreign over the phone lines. "Malfoy?"
"No. This is the cleaning lady, Esmerelda. I have Malfoy tied to his bed upstairs. I only came down to fetch some honey and wax candles; can I help you, miss?"
Harry gritted his teeth. It was amazing how Draco still managed to annoy him; after all he'd gone through. "Malfoy, what's going on? Since when do you answer the phone? I thought you didn't believe in muggle devices?"
"The Weasels went to work, and I stayed home and did not, because Malfoys don't work. You have been gone far too long to have kept properly abreast of what I will and will not do. And the enchantment on the damned ceiling fan in the living room isn't working properly, and it is making this humming sound that's driving me mad."
It wasn't that far out of his way, really, was the uncharitable thought Harry managed to suppress. "It's not enchanted, it's electric."
Harry sighed and a long paused stretched thin and awkward between them. Harry knew he likely owed Malfoy a long overdue apology. But he was Malfoy, and Harry couldn't make the words come out. "Where's Hermione?"
When Draco answered, it was in an oddly cautious tone that Harry couldn't remember him using before. "She left."
"To go where?"
"No one knows. The Weasels think it's to find you - the ones that speak anyway."
Harry felt like the center of the world was suddenly shifting, and his balance was lost as he teetered, ready to fall. "She - she's just gone?"
"Packed her bags and left. Left a note for them."
Harry shook his head slowly. "But not for you."
"We said our goodbyes."
"I'll find her."
"She doesn't want to be found Potter. She - hello? Are you there?" Draco's voice was small and distant; coming from the dropped phone as Harry closed his eyes and remembered the house they'd all shared.
The apparation felt unnatural, it'd been so long since he'd done it. But it worked. When he opened his eyes he was standing in the kitchen beside a dumbfounded Malfoy who still held a dead phone to his ear. The kitchen had changed since he'd left - modern conveniences added. (Likely at Hermione's insistence, she'd never mastered wizard cooking or household tasks.) It still smelled slightly of the mildewed walls, and Pig sat on a small perch near the kitchen window, hooting happily at the sight of Harry.
He spared a last look around, blocking away the conversations that threatened to bob up in his mind and swath him in memory. "Malfoy? Where is she?"
"Hello to you too, be-spectacled git. Gone for HOW long and you pop back in here without a hello and then-"
Harry sighed inwardly as Malfoy glared, sharp nose twitching in irritation.
Even after Malfoy had changed his colors, it had always been a source of comfort to Harry that the blond boy's nose twitched like a ferret when he was stressed about anything. He searched for something to say. "How . . . are you?"
"I'm living with red-heads, in a rundown shack in London. The Ministry still refuses to unfreeze my accounts, so I have to exist on a paltry living expense allowance, and haven't been allowed back to my ancestral home. The house elves have probably starved to death by now, along with the owls in our owlrey and the hell hounds we had as guards - though they might have eaten the house elves, I suppose. I live in squalor and poverty and yesterday Ronald Weasley called me Mate. I'm PEACHY. How about you?"
Harry rubbed at his eyes tiredly. "I'm fine." He looked at the blond boy. Draco looked older, he realized. He'd always seen Lucius when he looked at Draco, but now he saw more of his mother in the young man. "Where is she, Malfoy?"
Draco sank into one of the kitchen chairs with a grace that Harry was positive came with the bloodlines. There was elegance to him. THAT was his father, Lucius had it as well. Or he had, before he died bleeding and hissing hexes. Harry wondered, with a wry sort of bitterness, if the elegance came from inbreeding. "I don't know, really."
"Yes you do." Harry could tell that Draco knew more than he was willing to say. He knew that Malfoy would tell him, eventually, too, though he didn't know why he knew that.
Draco drummed long fingers on the cracked and battered ceramic top of the table. Harry could see the moment when he gave up and just answered. "California." He lifted his wand and accio'd an envelope. "She wrote a few weeks ago, asking me to send her a few things. Books mostly. This is the address."
Harry took it, trying for a moment to imagine Hermione in a sea of tanned, blonde Americans. "Thank you."
"Potter?" Draco waited till Harry looked fully at him before speaking. "Don't go. Leave her alone."
"Because it's what she wants. Because you won't like what you find."
Harry felt an odd thing, a small ribbon of worry threading through his conscience. He savored it. It had been so long since he'd worried for anything. "I have to go."
Draco nodded, threads of artfully placed pale hair falling in front of gray eyes until he swept them aside with a theatric gesture. "Fine."
Harry stood, awkward and unsure. He wanted to vanish again, but he felt as if he should say something. He remembered once, during the war, when he'd been drunk and afraid and Draco had been willing and warm, and Hermione had been far away, drowned in tactics and attack plans. "Malfoy, I'm--
He looked up, fury flashing across his sharp features, nose twitching. "Don't dare tell me you're fucking sorry, Potter."
Harry shrugged. "All right. I'll see you then, Malfoy."
"Get the hell out." Harry turned, tucking the envelope into his pocket, planning how he would get there when Draco spoke again, his voice oddly quiet. "Will you be back, after? Will you be . . . home?"
Harry shuddered inwardly at the idea. The thought of coming back, of sitting at dinner with Ron and George and Ginny, of late night talks with Lupin, of coffee and waffles with Malfoy - the thought of living a real life was repugnant. He smiled instead - the hero's smile, the one he'd trained himself to give when he felt like he'd never smile again. "I'll be back soon." It was what he'd said when he first left, what he always said on the rare occasions he spoke to someone other than Hermione.
Draco stared at him, gray eyes flat and distant. "Right. See you then, Potter."
Harry walked out of the house, letting the door shut silently behind him as Draco sat silently at the table, straight-spine slipping over into a boneless slouch.
He found her at a beach in California, three miles from the posh hotel she'd given as her address. He'd been surprised at the opulence of the place. He'd somehow expected something elegant and vaguely old fashioned. Something more like Hermione. Instead it was gleaming and modern and high tech. It felt cold and empty - he found it oddly appealing.
She lay on a thread-bare lounge chair away from the dwindling crowds. It was the dying end of the evening and the sun was fading into a pale yellow-gold color he'd never quite seen on an English horizon. She made no move to leave. He didn't think she'd been here long. He wondered if she did this often - came to sit on an empty beach as night fell.
She knew he was there. He could tell from the way her shoulders curved, the way she cocked her head to the side, and the set of her spine. But she said nothing; instead she stared out over the ocean as the sun sank into it. He followed her gaze, half expecting the waves to hiss and steam as the fiery orb extinguished within its waves. "I hate that this is how it ends." She told him quietly, and he knew that she only spoke because the silence had grown too heavy to bear. She turned finally, smiling faintly. "Hello, Harry."
He settled beside her as she looked away again. Her long thighs were still pale beneath the modest blue swimsuit she wore. He wondered if that was the English in them. He'd been on the beaches of Greece for three months last year, and his skin never tanned, only burned and peeled and then showed white again. "How did you want it to end?" He smiled, and it FELT sharp and bitter, and he wondered when the last time he'd really smiled was. "We're too old to believe in fairy tale endings after all."
She twisted to look at him, the fading sunlight casting shadows over her, so that she was all half-shapes and angles and big bruised eyes he was sure had long since forgotten how to really sleep. "That's not true."
He looked away. "What's not true?"
He saw the smile from the corner of his eyes - sharp and bitter and filled with a thousand things she would never say out loud. He hated the smile more when she wore it then when he did. "I believe in happy endings. I believe in love that lasts forever, and that sometimes the prince finds the glass slipper, slips it on the princess' tiny foot, and they live happily ever after in a palace by the sea, raising dozens of tiny aristocrats. I believe in a world where magic doesn't just come from wands and Dark Wizards."
She turned away from him, watching the setting sun without blinking. "I believe in all of that. That's what makes knowing that we'll never see any of it so much harder."
She leaned back, head against the rickety back of the lawn chair she lounged in. "Harry Potter sits on a beach in California, waiting for it to get dark. Poetic, no? Like a scene in an art house movie, where the tasteful lighting tells us the state of the beleaguered hero's soul."
"I'm only out here because you're here. I was worried. You weren't home . . ." It was an odd thing to realize, that he'd left them all behind because he'd known they wouldn't understand, but she had. He'd underestimated her, for the thousandth time since the day they'd met, probably. Or maybe he'd overestimated her. Overestimated her strength, believing it would keep her whole the way his hadn't been able to do.
He still thought she was stronger than him, though.
"Were you?" She looked at him and she smiled again. "It was all right to be nothing when you could pretend the rest of us would recover, wasn't it? When you were the only one broken? But now you've been back, and suddenly you remember that there are ghosts in other people's eyes too."
"Hermione . . ." He hated how familiar it was to look at her. How like a mirror her eyes were. "I'm sorry I left." He said finally, unsure of what he could say to her, when no one had ever found the right thing to say to him.
"Sorry?" She looked at him and then laughed. "Oh Harry, it had nothing to do with you. I'm not your fault. I wasn't a soul you were supposed to save. I wasn't part of your destiny." She smiled and there was neither humor nor kindness in it. Just the fondness of a woman for a boy she'd once known. "It isn't about you anymore Harry. My world doesn't hinge on you. And the rest of the world doesn't hang from your scar either. Not anymore. You're not sorry you left. And neither am I."
He felt a burning pressure behind his chest, pushing its way out. He quelled it, fought it, subdued it, as he'd done so many times. "So what then? Life on a beach for you? Dozens of men lined up to hold your hand while you sit on the sand in the dark?"
The sun was almost gone now, and the neon lights of the concession stands sent sick pink light over the golden sands. The light licked at the fuzzy halo of her hair, cast strange shadows across it.
She looked old, and he wondered if he did as well.
"The beach for a bit. Maybe I'll go to school. Or to Paris for a while. Maybe I'll stay in the Muggle world, maybe I'll help rebuild the Ministry again."
"You're not going to . . . leave for good?"
"I'm not you. I can't walk away forever. And I don't really want to."
"Hermione . . . what do you want?"
She turned over to lie on her side, hand trailing through the sand, brown eyes staring at him with the same unblinking consideration she'd given the sun. "What do YOU want?"
"I don't know." That wasn't true. "I want to WANT again. To not feel as if everything is distant. I want to not feel alone, even when I'm with people I've known for years."
She pillowed her head on her arm, hair falling over one eye. Her suit had ridden up her thighs, showing the curve of her buttocks, a hint of dark fuzz between her legs. She made no move to cover it. "I want to see places I haven't seen. I want to build something worth building. I want to be a mother, maybe. I want to live. I just have to see if I can remember how. I want to forget the last few years, and the way I've felt since the war. I want to sleep without seeing dead faces. I want to eat escargot because Ron always said he never would, and I have some childish need to prove that I'm more sophisticated than he'll ever be." She smiled faintly. "I want to go to Disneyland, just to say I've been there, and that I hated it. I want to be in love and not have it be a lie I tell myself because I don't want to die alone."
He didn't want any of that. Harry didn't want anything, or so he'd though. But sitting here with Hermione - who was broken and battered, but trying to heal - he wanted to stay with her. Because maybe if she could heal herself, she could heal him too. "I could go with you. Sit on the Teacups, try not to throw up. We could be together." He added the last hesitantly, searching the shadowed planes of her face.
She smiled, reached out with her slim fingers to run her hand along his face. He remembered long ago, when that hand had run along the skin of his back, over his cock. When he'd held both of her hands in one of his, the other over her mouth to smother the soft cries she gave as she came. "No."
She pulled her hand away and stood, pulling a long shirt over her bathing suit, picking up her bag. He saw that the bag held five books of varying thicknesses, not one of them looking remotely like "light reading". He wondered why the familiarity didn't comfort him.
The last bits of the sun lit her silhouette as she turned back to face him. She looked unreal, a half-thing made of shadows and sighs. "I want to forget the dead faces, Harry. And yours is the one I see more than any other. I'm sorry, but I want a life without you." She looked sad, regretful - but honest. "I don't want you anymore. And I can't fix you. My life is mine now. Your life is yours."
"I don't have one." He felt himself whisper, the emptiness settling back over him like a familiar noose.
"I know. But I won't let my life become about you. Not anymore. Not for anyone or anything." She tilted her head to the side. "We all orbited around you, Harry. Moons around your sun. And they keep waiting for you to shine again. They always will. But I can't."
She smiled sadly. "Ron, Ginny, Lupin - even Malfoy. They wait, and they love you, and they think that if you came back, then it would be set right again."
"He does. It's a thin line between love and hate, as the old clichés say. And he spent so long hating you in so many ways, I'm not even sure if he can tell you when he crossed the line. I'm not even sure that he really did. He still hates you. But he orbits you. He always will. Just like Ron. And if you don't go back, they'll always be waiting." She shook her head. "I think that might be better than going back and showing them the truth. That seeing you will only make them realize that there's nothing left to want, or believe in."
He stared down at his feet as she hovered over him. "I never thought I'd see you give up on anything. Let alone give up on me."
She smiled again. "Things change. The list of things I gave up is getting longer and longer. I gave up a childhood, I gave up innocence, and I gave up the right to sleep at night without knowing that in fighting the evil, I became it.. And yes. I'm giving up on you. I'm not yours to protect anymore. And you're not mine to fix."
She stepped closer, toes digging into the sand. "I'll write."
It was a pitying gesture, and he hated it. "Don't."
"All right." She leaned down and kissed him on the forehead. He shrank away from the touch as if it burned, but if she noticed, she gave no sign.
He watched her walk away as the light left the beach, save for the unnatural pink and green of the neon lights. "Goodbye, Hermione."
I am way too into the Olympics. I was sitting there screaming "STEP OUT STEP OUT!" at the screen when the Romanian women were on the floor last night. And how adorable were the men's relay swim team? They showed that shot of them celebrating their win like thirty million times - and I still got all happy when I got it. Pretty, happy boys with swimmer's builds. It doesn't get much better.
And the Hamm twins in gymnastics are so cute. Not like sexy cute, but adorable cute. Alexis Nemov for the Russians continues to be sexy. I've had a crush on him through three Olympics now.
Okay, I am done.