And Cast Away...
Hermione steps outside the tent into a
charcoal sketch. Mist rises from the melting snow and threads through the trees
like smoke. Mingling with the shadows, it shrouds rocks and fallen logs, and
footprints. All familiar markers, all reminders lost. All the better, perhaps...
She swallows the dampness in great gulps and looks up through the bare, black branches
at the moon, which floats like a far-flung ghost. Her feet are bare and his
shirt barely covers her thighs, but what makes Hermione hug herself and shudder
is a sound in the night.
It’s a short and solitary burst, a single wild cry at first, a shock amplified in the stillness and by the remoteness of place. Just a fox, she tells herself, although how far off, she cannot say. Except for water dripping from the trees, the air is still, but when it comes a second time and then, again, darkness and distance warp its alien-throated exclamation into a single word.
It sounds like home, over and again, as if repetition of a thing could mend what a moment had broken, could stay the invisible blade that twists inside her gut with the sound of each far-off, desperate bark. Home... Is it here or there, now or then, was it all she thought it would be? All she thought she ever wanted...was it worth it? She wonders. Now it’s done; even magic cannot mend it, so why linger over it? Why can she not summon the courage of those falling droplets, those vaporous tendrils?
She stares out at the patchy snow. By morning, it will be gone to ground, taking all traces of them with it. Gone to ground: how she hates that expression! It makes her think of something small and wild, hunted down, hounded into hiding instead of—
There’s a rustle from inside the tent, a mutter and then, the oaths that always follow his match strikes. Multiple strikes. A corner of her mouth twitches. She, who has never failed to bring a brilliant flame to life, can’t understand how Harry can summon so much heat, yet cannot conjure the simplest lick of candlelight.
“Hermion—ugh!” She hears him stumbling over their bedroll, over the empty space she left behind, along with their pile of discarded inhibitions. When she tries to rub some warmth back into her arms, his scent rises from her still sweaty skin. Were they too hungry, too hasty? Perhaps it never would've happened if—
“Hermione, where are you?”
The quaver in his tone reminds her of that faraway fox. The fine hairs on her nape prickle and her tongue turns thick. She swallows hard before she says, “Out here, Harry,” while Home...and if and if, as if... ricochets off every tree trunk and settles deep within in her bones.
“What are you doing out here, trying to catch your death of cold?”
“I thought I heard,” she murmurs, as his warm arms engulf her, knowing that death isn't something you catch. Death is a small, wild thing that catches you while you're busy pretending it isn't there.
“It’s just an animal, Hermione,” he says, nuzzling her neck. “We’re quite deep in the woods, you know.”
She knows; but death is not all that lies in wait, she decides, as his hands slide beneath the worn flannel shirt and over her hips. She wonders if it is their sudden warmth or the growing faintness of the fox’s cry that makes her gasp. She wants to will a wall against that warmth but finds that her resolve has become like so much snow and fog. As his hands—his maddening, marvelous, insistent hands—trace new paths across her skin, she realizes which things are worth lingering over and which others are best lost. Their Then has turned to Now, and now, now—a pocket of peace in a dark wood—and Harry—Harry is all she wants; all she's ever wanted.
As she sinks beneath his shadow, wanting what she wants beyond all logic, beyond all reason, she wants to tell him.
But then, she wonders...