Title: To the Victors Go
Author: Sullen Siren
Summary: "I'd say it was the pot calling the kettle black, Granger. But I think you already know that."
Disclaimer: I don't own anything of value. Characters belong to JK Rowling and the titans of Scholastic and such. This is just me swimming in their pond for a bit.
Note: I swapped tenses on this about a million times. In the end, I went with present tense simply because it was unusual for me and I wanted to experiment a little. I'm not sure if it works, feel free to tell me. I'm also not crazy about the title, but I haven't come up with better, so I left it.
"Life must go on
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on
Though good men die.
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine.
Life must go on;
I forget just why."
-- Edna St. Vincent Millay
He called me yesterday over a scratchy phone line while traffic and city life hummed in the background. He called me in the middle of the night, and I could hear it in his voice; he was broken. Monosyllabic and monotone, but I knew the shades of his voice, knew the resonance of his words and the shape of the things he left unsaid. I had heard him more than he would ever guess, watched him pass through dreams and nightmares, his voice distant and cold or warm and relevant. Always, I knew it, recognized it from a single sigh. I could tell from a word what he was feeling. Hundreds of miles away, over a static filled connection while the ceiling fan rattled in its circular path, always just barely keeping from plummeting, still I could tell. He was broken. Cold and lifeless, neither hope nor anger in his voice, just an empty blankness.
It didn't shock me, but then so little does, nowadays. What surprised me was me. I didn't care. Hundreds of miles away the love of my life was dead inside, and I couldn't find even a small part of myself that cared anymore.
Isn't it strange how we only see how much we've changed when we look at someone else? I don't even know who I am anymore. But that doesn't bother me. The only thing that upsets me even a little bit is knowing how much I should be bothered, but aren't.
I suppose I'm broken too. I wonder if somewhere, someone heard it in me over a long distance call. It seems unlikely though. And it would be better if they hadn't. The casualties were high enough, weren't they? Broken, battered dolls piled high against castle walls - cannon fodder shot down in the blossom of our youth. I wasn't young, and neither was he. And maybe he had started out broken. We'd mended him together, held him together with strings and love for a while. But it hadn't held. I wasn't broken to start with. I know that much, at least.
Some mornings, I don't even recognize myself in the mirror. Most mornings, I just don't look. I hate thinking these things. I've spent so much energy pushing this side of myself behind a wall. This morning, I don't have the energy to even try.
Waffles. I'd always hated them, but never got up the courage to say so. It was the only thing he could cook, and he did it every week, plopping them in front of us and sinking into a chair as if this - his only contribution to household chores - was the most difficult thing he'd ever done. It was Belgian this morning, with a faint hint of cinnamon and almond extract. The smell lingers in my nostrils and even the smallest bite sticks in my throat. Normally, he'd barely notice the way I picked at them. Today, he notices. I know better than to think that has anything to do with me.
Cool gray eyes. "Not hungry?"
I shake my head. "No. Not really."
A long, awkward pause. Red heads bend forcefully over sticky, syrup laden plates as they try to ignore the conversation they feel coming. "Phone rang late last night."
"I heard it."
A frown, tiny wrinkles appearing at the corners of pale lips. "You answered it?" Malfoy never mentioned the phone, the fax, the TV. Our small house sits on a strange sort of unseen border between the wizard world and the muggle one, and Draco's room had no electricity. It had when we moved in, but he firmly refused to live there unless it was removed or hidden. Accoutrements of muggle life were beneath his notice. That sentence alone tells me how much he cares
I sigh. I do that a lot. It never fails to irritate him. He scowls and I nod silently. He waits, one fair eyebrow lifted in wordless question. "He's in London. He just got back."
One of the red heads jerk up, eyes going wide. Ron asks what Draco won't. "Is he all right? How did he sound? Where has he been?"
I shrug. "He didn't say where he'd been. He was fine though." I try not to meet the gray eyes, but at times like these, Draco can capture a gaze and hold it until he chooses to let go. He reads the truth in my eyes. He's good at that, the bastard. Someone as callus as he is shouldn't be able to read people so well. But then, he's not exactly callus anymore, and I'm not exactly sensitive. Time changes everything.
Or almost everything. I wince as Ron stands up, a smile on his face. "We should go get him. Where in London? Is he back at that hole of a flat he rented in June? There's never anyone there, we could apperate in."
I can feel the gray eyes watching me, the twin brown gazes making a point of looking away as Ron frowned. "Hermione?"
"He didn't say."
"What do you mean he didn't say? Didn't you ask?"
I wish I was anywhere but here. "No."
A slow, drawling voice. The voice that taunted me second year, the one he used so much more sparingly now that he was older. That voice alone gave away his fury. "Because Granger doesn't give a damn where the famous Harry Potter has gone to sulk this time."
"He's not sulking." It's an automatic defense, and he knows it; mouth quirking up in a disdainful half smile at the half-hearted reply. I ignore him. "He knows where we are Ron. He could come home if he wanted to."
Ron snorted. "Bloody hell he could. Harry doesn't know what he wants. He's . . . "He purses his lips in thought, searching for a word.
"Empty." They all looked at me, and I regret the word. But once begun, I can't seem to stop. "Ron, you HAVE to see that. He's gone. He left after the war. And I don't just mean his constant trips to nowhere. I'm talking about . . . Harry. Every time we see him, there's less there to be seen. Something has been breaking away from him bit by bit for years. And now it's gone. I could hear it. Last night . . . it was like talking to a shadow. Worthless and . . . empty. Go and get him. Bring him back. It won't do any good." My arms wrap around my chest, trying to hold in warmth I hadn't felt for months. I can't remember, at that moment, what it felt like to not be tired. "Sometimes, I don't think Harry was ever supposed to survive the war." I hear the soft gasp, but don't look.
Strong hands close around my shoulders. I expect Ron, but my opened eyes find Draco instead. He is heavier than he had been in childhood, his face less feminine, not so narrow. But the hands around my shoulders are still soft, manicured - the hands of a boy who'd never known what it was to want for anything. "I'd say it was the pot calling the kettle black, Granger. But I think you already know that."
He sinks into a chair across from mine. He still moves like a Malfoy, most of the time. When he went rough, graceless, and boneless it was worrying. Or it would be, if I worried about him. Those immaculate hands tap a pattern against the scarred arms of the wooden chair. It is a long moment before I let myself look at him, and the fingers tap ever faster, never losing their rhythm. I want to stab them with a fork. When I do look up, I don't bother to hide the loathing. It surprises him, I can see that. And Malfoy isn't easily surprised. "Fuck you, Malfoy."
A slow drawl, but half hearted, uncertain. "Not right now, Granger. Ask later, when you're not looking so . . ." He trails off, shrugging delicately, letting the distaste in his expression barb the insult more cruelly than words would have. He'd learned that since we were children - then he hadn't understood that there were things that wounded worse than words. There is worry in his eyes, and longing. I hate that. I hate that, of all of us, he was the one who hadn't turned cold and unfeeling. I hate how the distance in him is an act, but the distance in me is a state of being. "What did he say?"
"He said hello. He said goodbye. He said that he almost died of food poisoning in Germany, and that he's not going to go to America because he's afraid he'll wind up in California, and that much sun might kill him. He said to say hello to everyone, and that he'd be home soon." I look at him, and revel in the hope in his expression because I know I can crush it. "He lied. He's not coming home. He's never coming home. He's going to be no one and nothing until he finally just fades away."
Pale lips tighten, the near constant smirk fading. I feel my own mouth curling in a mockery of his expression. I let it. "You can't know that."
"Eight years. Eight years I've known him. I've nursed him through death, through pain, through injury. I watched him while people fell away from him and died. I helped him step over the bodies and move on. I saw what it did to him, and I kept him going." I glance at Ron, see the horror in his eyes and I want to feel guilty. But I don't. "Ron and I watched it. Ask him. He remembers. Once, seventh year after Dumbledore died, Ron wanted to let him rest. He hurt for him. I couldn't. Ron was his heart - I was his drive. So I drove. I pushed him on, and he went on. But I knew what I was doing. I knew what the price would be. Even then, I knew." I shake my head, old voices speaking inside my mind. "I can know that, Draco."
Silver head bows, and there is a certain triumph in that too. It suddenly occurs to me that had I met myself when I was eleven - or even fifteen - I would have hated myself. What's more, I would be justified. "He could come back." He sounds like a child, standing in shocked tearlessness beside the grave of his first dog.
"He won't." I pause, and the gray eyes look up to meet mine. I drive a knife deep into them. "And even if he did, it would never be for you."
He looks away. "It wouldn't be for you, either."
I shrug. "I know." I did. I'd known that for years. I'd come to terms with it in a narrow bed draped in scarlet and gold, where the walls smelled of mildew and fireplace smoke. I'd accepted it when green eyes grew more and more distant and even the nights spent together felt like they were alone.
He stares down at his hands, and I sit back in my chair, pushing the waffles away. He is a puppet with cut strings dangling lifeless and morose. I think that if I looked in his eyes, they'd be empty. I'd have carved away all those things I did not want to see anymore. I want to regret that, but I can't. I watch instead, the silence stretching long and thin and fragile between us. A word breaks it. "Hermione . . ."
I look over. God, I hadn't thought I could still feel pain like that. Sharp and brittle and dull all at once. It fades too fast, gone so quickly I wonder if maybe it was just a stray memory. His freckles stand out in sharp relief against his pale skin, shock of red hair seeming to turn gray all at once in the morning sunlight. He shakes his head slowly. "I didn't understand. I didn't . . . . I didn't see." He looks like his father had when he'd held a broken body he'd loved in his arms. "This is all so wrong."
"Ron I didn't- I mean I wasn't-" But that is a lie too. In some way, on some level, I'd wanted to hurt him too. Because he still had hope, because he believes. Because he'd held onto the things I lost. "I'm just . . ."
"Don't." He is angry now. "Don't patronize me! Don't take it back. You meant it. You meant everything. And all along, I've been too stupid to see. Poor, slow Ron, waiting for his best friend to come back home. God knows I wanted him to - I needed a friend. I haven't had that since he left, you know that? It used to be the three of us, Hermione, now it's just me. Who the hell are you now? Is there anything left that you care about? Is there anything left of the girl I lo - knew?" His temper surfaces so rarely these days. The red stain on his face, the white-gripped knuckles, the clenched jaw; they were almost unfamiliar. I watch him for a moment, seeing ghosts of the children we'd been beside him and in him. "Well? Are you even going to bloody answer me?"
I shake my head. "I don't know."
"What? You don't know what, Hermione?"
"I don't know anything."
Draco's voice, brittle as porcelain. "Isn't that a switch. Not the brainy mudblood with her hand in the air anymore, eh Granger?"
I almost don't see it, it happens so fast. A blur of red and silver and flashing fists, and then Draco glares malevolently up from the floor, blood running down his face like a muddy stream. Ron stands still again. His hands are still fisted, blood smeared across one of them. He stares down at Draco, who just lies there, sprawled and watching. "I-" He shakes his head, too-long red locks flying. "I didn't-" He stops, fists slowly unclenching. "I'm sorry."
He turns on his heel and leaves, after a moment one of the red heads rises to follow him, her long hair hiding her face as she leaves. I watch her for a long moment and then turn to see Draco push himself slowly from the floor, grace turned into the creaking-boned movements of an old man. He sits back down and stares at his plate. When I speak, I can see that it startles him. "Do you remember seventh year, during the attack on the Burrow?"
A soft sound from the only red head that remains at the table, but I ignore it. Draco looks at me, blood still drifting down his face. "Not likely to forget it, Granger."
"You were with us. In a way, I was almost angry at you for coming over to the Order - did you know that?"
"I was neither blind, nor stupid. I leave that to you Gryffindors. You've perfected the arts, after all."
I ignore his barbs. "There's a list outside the ministry - I pass it everyday. Death eaters still wanted for that attack, and for the last attack on Hogwarts. I read the names, everyday." I look at him. "I left to find Remus."
"What are you BABBLING about, Granger?"
"She was out back, sneaking in. She wasn't herself - I could see it. Imperious, probably. Just this blank look in her eyes. I remembered that you had changed, and then I thought of the battle behind me. I thought of Harry, and I knew what he would do - what Remus would do. They're good, you see. Remus always gives people so many chances - even you, you know. It was he who convinced us to give you a chance when you came over. Told us there was more to you than we'd ever seen. Harry agreed. After all you'd done, after the monster you'd been he still agreed. I always thought it unlikely you were as foolish and shallow as you seemed, but I didn't think you could be good underneath it. I didn't want to. You were such an arse after all. You still are."
"Why thank you. I didn't-"
I go on, my words drowning him out and forcing him into silence. "I thought about what they'd do. Tie her up, jinx her, talk to her when it was over and quiet and she could lie to them. If they were lucky. If she didn't get loose. And then I thought about what Voldemort might have set her up to do, what he might see through her eyes. Maybe he thought you'd help her. Maybe he knew Harry wouldn't kill her. Maybe I was just wrong. I'd learned it sixth year - from a book in the Restricted Section that I don't think anyone else had read in centuries. It had fallen behind a shelf and gotten wedged. The dust on it was so thick I couldn't read the title, but I dropped my quill and bent to get it, and found the book. And I've always just done what needed to be done. I protected him - them. I always had. They broke rules and snuck out after hours - I broke laws and lives to help them. I still don't know if they understand that."
There is an odd look in his eyes, a reluctant understanding. "Hermione."
"Her name is still on the list. I killed her, and her name is still on the list. And every night I go to sleep, and I wait for the part where I have nightmares about it. I wait for the part where I'm sorry for it. I wait for a time when I see Pansy Parkinson's face and I have some kind of guilt for what I did. But I don't. Because it was war. Because I'm not a hero, and I'm not good, and I'm not anything but clever. And sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I'd been sorted into Ravenclaw, or Slytherin. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't met Harry, and hadn't been pulled into something that was so big, and so difficult that it sucked the life out of me."
His eyes aren't empty. I think they are teary, but maybe I'm wrong. Mine are dry. It is an old story to me, after all. "When I came back, Fred was dead. I wondered if maybe that was because I'd killed Pansy. I wondered, and I didn't really care. Because it was war, and I'd done what I had to. I'd done what they couldn't. And now there's nothing left that has to be done. There's no cause, no reason. There's just emptiness and grief, and I'm just the girl who killed someone and doesn't care."
I sigh, and the air in my lungs feels cold and heavy. "And last night, The Boy Who Lived called me from a phone somewhere in London, and listening to him was like listening to myself. The Dark Lord is dead, but there will be another one tomorrow, next year, two centuries from now - and Harry Potter is just another ghost in the rooms he's in. He survived, but he didn't. And most of all, I wonder what would have happened if I had just let him kill her. I could have made him do it. I was good at it. In the end days, there weren't many things I couldn't convince Harry to do. All his energy went to fighting the other side; he didn't have any left to fight me. He's gone anyway - I didn't save him by losing myself. So if I hadn't done it, would I be different? Would that phone call have broken my heart? Would I feel bad for not eating your fucking waffles, and for crawling into a different bed a few times a month, just to try to feel like I'm not a ghost in my own skin?"
"What do you want from me, Granger?"
It's an odd question, really. "Nothing."
"Then why tell me?"
I shrug my shoulders helplessly. "Because you're here. Because I don't mind if you bleed. Because I don't care what you think of me. Because sometimes it's your bed I crawl into, and I thought you might like to know. Because she was in your house. Because I don't like your waffles."
"Because you're leaving."
I feel a wry smile - an echo of his - tug at a corner of my mouth. "That too."
"My waffles are good."
"If you say so."
I sink into the long silence that follows. He breaks it abruptly. "I lied."
"You do that a lot." But that isn't true. He'd lied when we were children. He'd learned how much powerful the truth can be since then. He rarely speaks anything but that now.
"No. Not anymore. But I did just now." I don't ask - I just wait. "He'd come home for you. If he knew. If you told him. He'd come. He wouldn't for me - but he would for you. If you needed him."
I laugh. "Harry will always come when he's needed. It's what he is." And it's true. I knew that. I hadn't thought Malfoy did, though. Perhaps I don't give him enough credit. "What makes you think I want that?"
"I don't. I just . . . you should know that. You love him, don't you?"
Did I? Yes. I love him and Ron still - they are parts of me, parts I'd lost. But not as I once had. "Not the way you do."
"You used to?"
I smile. "Because I was supposed to. It was the way it was supposed to be, and for all my independence, I was a girl in love with fairy tales and cheap movies. Harry was the hero, I was the friend he'd turn to in the end - Ron would be there for both of us. Only it didn't work that way. It never does. Did you ever sleep with him?"
He blinks at the abrupt change in subject. "Once. After the final battle, when it was cold and he was bruised and bleeding. He called me Hermione and said he was sorry when it was done - sorry for doing it at all, not for calling me you. I doubt the prat even realized that part."
"He loved you."
I laugh at that, hating the sound of my own voice. "Maybe. But Harry always wanted to do what he was supposed to as well. Fairy tale endings are seductive, after all."
I stand and head toward my room. He stops me after a few steps. "Where will you go?"
"I don't know. Maybe the States. I could do with a California summer, I think."
"Will you . . . see him?"
I don't answer, only turn away. It's another voice - one I'd almost forgotten - that speaks. It's rough with disuse and pain; the silent twin whose voice and heart was buried with his brother. "It's not your fault. Fred - he knew . . . . We all knew. And I would have done the same thing."
I look at George for a long moment and then I smile. "It's all right George. I don't believe it either."
He starts to protest and then looks down again, going silent and withdrawn. Draco leans back insolently in his chair, napkin pressed to his nose, gray eyes following me. "Granger?"
I turn to face him, study him as he sits debating what he's about to say. He doesn't wear insecurity well. It is ill-fitting and unaccustomed. "Yes?"
"You would have been the same in Slytherin. You would have studied, and you might not have known Potter the same way, but you wouldn't have missed what was going on, and you'd have wanted to help. You'd have gone in on your own. None of us would have spoken to you, and you'd be mad at us when we cheated at Quiddich. In the end, you'd have known us better, and you'd still have fought against us. I'd still have changed sides, and Pansy still wouldn't have. And if you hadn't killed her, someone else would have."
He smiles slowly. "There were a lot of people in the Order, and not all of them were heroes. If one of us had seen her first, she'd never have made it to Harry, even if you hadn't taken care of it yourself. There have to be heroes, but there has to be the other kind too. The kind who do what needs to be done. Without them, the world wouldn't be saved. The right side might be more right, and the line between good and bad might be colored in darker. But it wouldn't matter, because the wars would be lost." He kicked out of his chair and turned and left with a strange abruptness, leaving me alone in a messy kitchen with only an empty red-haired boy who used to be half of a whole.
I whisper goodbye, not sure who I was speaking to. Maybe myself. And then I go upstairs to pack.</lj>
Am re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia again. It's amazing how well they hold up to adult-age readings. Still love them. And I like Prince Caspian much more now than I did as a kid, when I always thought that was the boring installment.