Katie was blindfolded and bound, the smell of a dank basement cell all around her. She struggled against the bonds at her wrists and ankles; there was a little give in them, but not enough to slip her slim wrists free. She was alone for the moment, and she managed to contort herself enough to get her fingers close enough to her ankles to touch the ropes. She grit her teeth and tried to curl up a little bit more, enough to get her fingers through the ropes to try to undo them.
"What's this?" she heard a voice say as the cell banged open. She had managed to undo one of the knots before she was seized by her hair and lifted off of the ground. She managed not to make any whimpering noise; he liked it when she was in pain. He liked the taste of her blood.
He suddenly made a choking sound and Katie fell from his slack grip. As he gurgled, another pair of hands were at her ankles, undoing the knots. Katie was hauled up to her feet, and she swayed suddenly. Large hands caught her, one of them splayed across her chest beneath her breasts and one at her back, steadying her. "Easy," the new male voice said in a hoarse whisper. There were bangs from above them, and Katie could feel his hands tighten on her for a fraction of a second. He shoved something in her bound hands that felt like a wand and he dragged her out of the cell and into a musty hallway. "You have to go this way," he told her, voice rough. It sounded familiar, though she couldn't place it. He pushed her along a hallway, urgency in his movements. "Just run, don't look back, don't even try to stop. Just run."
She began to run straight ahead, removing the blindfold as she went. She didn't look back, didn't check to see whose wand she had in her hands. There was an explosion from somewhere, and she ducked even though she was far enough underground that nothing fell. She ran, feeling as though she was being followed, as if one of the other Death Eaters was there in the shadows, ready to pounce. The hallway was longer than she remembered it being, and she felt claustrophobic. Merlin, she was about to be recaptured...
Katie shot upright in bed, breathing heavily. It had been a while since she'd had this nightmare, but it was at least better than the ones where she had been raped or beaten. Those were harder to shake off, even if the nightmares were hazy.
She headed into the Falcons' practice pitch early. She ran on the charmed indoor track for an hour, then went to lift weights. By the time it was light outside, she was soaked with sweat and the last of the nightmare had faded. Katie was headed for the showers when Alicia arrived for practice on the pitch. "Another nightmare?" she asked sympathetically.
"Eh, you know how it is, this time of year," Katie said, hoping her voice sounded light and unconcerned.
Alicia always saw through her, but didn't say a word about it. "Just rinse off and then get up on the pitch with me," she said. She smiled suddenly, her whole face lighting up. "Your admirer is in the stands."
Katie groaned and pulled the elastic from her dark hair. "Shut it about that. You can't say he's there for me."
"Tall, dark and hooded always leaves if you're not at practice," Alicia said loftily. She spun on her heel, her blonde ponytail swinging merrily with the movement. "He's not there for anyone else. We've all taken note of it. Most reservists don't have groupies, you know. It's an honor."
Katie frowned and used cleaning charms instead of the showers. It had been three years since the end of the Second Wizarding War, and most of the country had tried to pick up the pieces. She had certainly tried, and being on the Falmouth Falcons' reserve team helped. It gave her a focus for her days and something to do. She practiced almost every morning, especially the mornings after a nightmare, and in the afternoons she helped her parents in their shop. It was an endless cycle of work and more work, occasionally going out with teammates or old friends from Hogwarts, and staving off the occasional nightmare.
Okay, more than occasional. Her friends didn't need to know that, though. She was tough. The Death Eaters had used her more than once, and she had survived. No one really wanted to know the details about it anyway; even the Order members that had debriefed her three years ago hadn't bothered to follow up afterward. Participating in the Final Battle at Hogwarts had certainly helped to purge some of her demons, but that didn't erase the damage.
Katie climbed up into the stands, startling her admirer and making Alicia look up in concern. She stopped in front of him. "Hey."
He was in a hooded sweatshirt beneath a Muggle style coat that vaguely resembled robes. His shoulders had been hunched, and his trousers and boots had looked rather worn, if cared for. He looked up, dark eyes meeting hers. He didn't move when Katie reached out and tugged down the hood. "It's not that cold out, and the warming charms on the seats should help."
"Thank you," he said, eyes never leaving her face. His voice was gravelly and rough, as if speaking through vocal cord damage. A large, thick scar wound its way down from the right temple along the jawline and neck, disappearing under the clothing. It was still very unmistakably Marcus Flint.
"You come here every morning, then?" Katie asked, not sure what she wanted to know. She knew who he was, of course. He had been years ahead of her at Hogwarts but she remembered playing against him at school. He had been a vicious player, but not vindictive. It was a game he was willing to win at just about any cost, which was how she tended to play as well.
"It's quiet," he said, something about his rough voice sparking up a memory in the back of her mind.
"Hopefully not too boring, then," she said, turning slightly. She deliberately tripped, throwing herself toward him.
Marcus moved quickly, his reflexes not dulled by time in the slightest. It was the way he caught her that made her freeze. It was just like in her dream that morning, a hand at her chest, just below her breasts, and one at her back. The spread of the fingers was the same, and she was hovering over the floor the same way.
"Easy," he said, his voice a rougher growl than it had been three years before. "If you break your neck on the stands, you can't play for the first string team."
Katie righted herself with his help. "You think I can make first string?"
"You're better than Hammond," Marcus replied with a slight smile. It was crooked, partially hiding his teeth. Katie dimly remembered all the awful things said about him at school, and it didn't quite gel with his appearance on the stands.
"Thanks. I'll head to practice, then. Ali mentioned you were up here a lot. She hadn't recognized you, though."
Something in his eyes shifted. "You recognize me?"
Katie wondered if she should have kept her fool mouth shut. "Yeah. But then, I always took note of who the good fliers were back in school." She forced herself to smile brightly at him, which made the tense set of his shoulders relax a fraction. "I wanted to knock you off your broom to repay you for my first season."
Marcus actually laughed a little. "Quidditch is a rough sport."
"That it is," she agreed. "Do you play anymore?" He shook his head but otherwise didn't answer. "Too bad. You were a brilliant tactician."
His eyes looked distant for a moment. "Things change."
"Yeah, I guess they do. It was good to see you again, Marcus," she murmured. She left for the pitch, his startled gaze following each step.
It wasn't difficult to follow Marcus. She begged out of the extended practice session, which raised a few eyebrows. She merely stated that she had been there since four am, which Alicia knew could very well be true. When she all but shoved Katie off of the pitch, the others could tell it wasn't a boast. They knew Alicia was protective of her friend, and they certainly didn't want Katie burnt out. She was the best reserve chaser they had, and if something happened to Hammond, she was next in line to make it to first string. Marcus hadn't been far off the mark with his observation at all.
Marcus walked right past the apparition point and continued to an area she didn't know very well. Before she knew it, they were walking into Muggle territory, and now she was truly lost. She kept a close eye on Marcus, watching as he fumbled with keys to enter a building. Katie approached slowly afterward, wondering why he hadn't simply apparated there. She noticed an older woman gardening in the front, and smiled at her a little. "Um, excuse me," Katie began, a trifle uncertainly.
The woman paused in her weeding. "Oh. Can I help you?"
"Marcus Flint lives here?"
"Who are you, dear?" she asked, getting politely protective.
Katie felt like a stalker. "I was a few years behind Marcus in school, and I thought I saw him just now going inside. But I don't want to be a complete idiot if it's not him..." Katie shook her head. "Never mind. Just explaining that sounds stupid."
The woman smiled at her. "That was Marcus. It's nice that someone remembers him. He said he had no friends left after his accident."
Katie remembered the thick scars on the right side of his face. "Did he say what it was?"
"A car accident three years ago, poor dear. Doesn't have any family and no one visits. You can go on up, if you like. He rents the second floor from me. Quiet and polite all the time, working so hard to make the rent. I haven't the heart to increase it the way I really should." The woman struggled to get to her feet, and Katie moved to help her up. "Oh, thank you. I can just let you in..."
"I don't know if I should. We weren't close in school, and I don't want to intrude..."
"Oh, nonsense. He's always in his flat after his walk, and he goes to market after lunch. He might be glad of the company. I know I'd be."
Katie found herself knocking on Marcus' door under his landlady's watchful eye. "I thought it would be nice for your friend to visit," she said when Marcus opened the door. She sounded entirely too pleased to say that, and ignored Marcus' very visible shock at the sight of Katie. "I'll bring up some tea and biscuits if you don't have any, Marcus."
"N-no need, Mrs. Merriweather," Marcus said, tripping over the words.
"If you're sure. Just let me know if you do. I'm out front weeding."
"Thank you, Mrs. Merriweather," Katie told the woman politely as she left. She looked at Marcus uncertainly. "She kind of insisted I should come up."
"She gets like that," Marcus agreed with a solemn nod. "Nice woman."
"She seems like it. Lovely garden, too," Katie murmured, fingers twisting together in front of her out of nervousness.
"I'm the same age as her grandson," Marcus murmured, his eyes taking in her appearance. "He lives upstairs."
The silence between them was awkward, and Katie couldn't stand it. "Can I come in?"
Marcus considered that for a moment. "You probably should," he answered, stepping aside for her to enter his flat.
It was sparsely furnished and seemed to be mostly hand me downs or antiques. The walls were bare, and the curtains at the windows were thin and faded. There were books on the shelves in the room, which was likely the only personal touch Marcus had made. She had no sense of his personality, of what he had been through over the past three years. She assumed that he had been a Death Eater in the war; she remembered vaguely seeing an obituary in old issues of the Prophet while she was in St. Mungo's after her escape from captivity. His father had been killed in an accident in London, leaving his only son behind to look after the family interests. It had seemed to be polite code for Death Eater activity at the time, but it had gotten her curious. She hadn't really known too many Slytherins very well; as much as everyone said that they were all Death Eaters, she had always found it unlikely. She had searched for back issues of the Prophet out of curiosity, and saw that his mother had died during his seventh year of Hogwarts after a protracted illness.
"I'm sorry if I'm a bother," Katie murmured, looking at Marcus' bland expression.
"You're not a bother," he returned in even tones. "Would you like to sit?" he asked, gesturing to the faded antique couch in the sitting area. "I really do have tea and biscuits if you'd like them." Her stomach rumbled in answer, and they both smiled. "I'll take that as a yes and put the kettle on."
Katie sat on the couch, which was more comfortable than it looked. The flat was small and cozy, and she could hear him in the kitchen. "It's a lovely place you have here. Quiet."
He brought out the biscuits on a plate that definitely looked like it once belonged to Mrs. Merriweather. "Not too many options after the war, after all," he intoned.
She looked up at him curiously. "What do you mean?"
Marcus' eyes raked across her face; she wasn't sure what he thought he would find, but he relaxed his stance a fraction. "It was difficult after the war."
"I hid and played Quidditch. I didn't want to pay attention to that," Katie admitted. "It was difficult during the war."
"Yes," he said slowly, standing up at his full height. "Difficult is certainly one word for it. I'll be back with the tea."
Katie looked down at her twisted up fingers and reached for a biscuit on the plate. "It's probably presumptuous of me to be here," she said abruptly, making sure her voice carried into the kitchen. "I mean, we weren't friends before. But... I mean..." How could she say that she remembered the man that had helped her escape the dungeon cell she had been kept in, the way his hand had felt on her stomach and the way his voice held a slight tremor in it? She had wondered why he had done it, whoever he had been. He had killed one of his own to help set her free, and never even told her his name. He hadn't wanted to be found, but had wanted to make sure she was safe.
He returned with the tea as she nibbled on a biscuit, uncertainty all over her face. "I get nightmares," she said abruptly as he poured the tea. "Sometimes. Not all the time. But I still get them, and I don't think anyone wants to hear them."
Marcus looked at her impassively. "There was probably a lot going on," he said after a moment.
"The way you caught me today..." Katie saw his hand tighten briefly on the kettle as he poured himself tea. "Was it you?" she asked, her voice small and fragile to her own ears. "Did you help me escape?"
He set the teapot down on the table carefully. "Why?"
She launched herself at him abruptly, wrapping her arms around his tight shoulders, burying her face in the crook of his neck. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you. I never knew who to thank, never knew how it happened." She could feel some of the tension bleed out of him, and he hesitantly circled her torso with his arms. Katie sucked in a ragged breath. "You stopped it from happening. Thank you."
"I didn't stop anything, really," Marcus disagreed, his large hands spread out across her back. "Not... It still happened. They still caught you." There was an incredible sadness in his voice, one that hurt to hear. "You really shouldn't thank me."
"It would have been worse without you."
He sighed. "Maybe."
Katie pulled back and hesitantly reached out to touch the scar tissue at the side of his head. Marcus caught her hand in his, and their eyes met. "Was that because of me? Because they knew you let me go?"
He shook his head. "I killed Avery's nephew, and everyone believed it was you. You did them a favor, as far as they were concerned. He was unstable, and he was getting to be a liability, but no one wanted to piss off Avery. I'd told everyone you couldn't know anything. That you weren't privy to anything Potter would have known, and you were just some girl on the Quidditch team. He's the one that wanted to keep you."
Katie almost wanted to withdraw and shiver in a corner, remembering how disgusted and dirty she had felt. She had never even known his name or why she had been taken. "Then what happened?" she asked in a soft voice.
"Caught by an Order member with shocking pink hair," he admitted ruefully. "I moved fast enough the hex didn't get my throat, but this was bad enough at the time. I was in Mungo's when the war ended."
"So how did you end up here?"
"Not important enough to string up with everyone else, I suppose," Marcus said blandly. There was no need to go into details regarding the mangled arrest that had nearly killed him. She didn't need to know details about the plea bargain. He had saved Katie for selfish purposes, but it had counted in the positive column as far as the Order was concerned. He had let a few others out that night, and had sabotaged a raid that would have left hundreds of innocents dead. No one really knew about that, and the public at large wouldn't care. It wasn't a grand, romantic kind of gesture. It was just passive resistance against a regime he hadn't wanted to be part of in the first place.
"I'm sorry," Katie murmured. She sat on the couch opposite him, closer than she had before. "And I'm sorry about your parents. I think the Prophet said they're both dead?"
"Yeah," Marcus confirmed, no inflection in his tone. "For a while now."
She sipped her tea, at a loss for words. "Why do you sit in the stands all the time, then?"
It seemed like an abrupt change in topic, and Marcus frowned at her. "You don't want me there?"
Katie shook her head. "Sometimes people show up to watch. That's fine. But... You're only there to watch me? Not anyone else?"
He had needed to know she was all right. He needed a reminder that not everything was destroyed after the war's end. But it probably wasn't what she would want to hear, so Marcus kept silent and sipped at his tea instead of answering.
"I'm not important," she said in a soft voice. "Not in the grand scheme of things, I mean. I play Quidditch and I work in a shop. That's it."
Marcus held onto his cup of tea. "I work in a shop, too. Stock. Can't work the front of anyplace. Scars make people scared or sorry for me."
"You seem to be handling it really well," Katie murmured. Her eyes searched his face, and he was almost uncomfortable with the scrutiny. "Are you though?" she asked abruptly. "Are you really okay, then?"
"I manage," he answered, giving her a negligent shrug. "Isn't that the best we can do?" It was certainly the best he could do, living as a Muggle. Following his arrest, his wand had been broken and he had been forbidden from using magic. Life in exile might have been considered a punishment to fit his crime, but as far as he was concerned, it fit his needs. He hadn't wanted to be involved in the war. He hadn't wanted to be branded and forced into falling into line.
Katie wouldn't understand. Despite the trauma she had suffered multiple times, there still was a sense of hope about her. Marcus didn't have that and didn't want to taint that.
They lapsed into awkward silence.
"It's good to see you're all right. I used to wonder who let me go, if he ever was hurt because of it." She gave him a shy, pained smile. "You can talk to me during practice if you want. You don't have to disappear as soon as I go."
It had never occurred to him that she would want to talk to him. "Oh. If it wouldn't interrupt."
She nodded as if he agreed, and her smile brightened a bit. "I'd like that. Will I see you tomorrow?"
"It's not your usual day to practice," he replied instantly. He regretted that as soon as he saw the start of surprise on her face.
"I might be there anyway. I don't have too many other places to go," Katie admitted. "It's there or my parents' shop."
Marcus nodded. For a wild moment he thought about offering to take her to one of the Muggle parks he liked to go to and think when it wasn't his shift at work. He thought about getting to know her, being friends with her, maybe something more. The nearly painful stretch of skin at his jaw reminded him of the arrest, of the blazing hatred of the Order members once they saw the Dark Mark on his arm.
He never wanted to see that look in Katie's eyes.
"Do you get nightmares?" Katie asked when he didn't reply. He was too startled to do anything other than nod. "Does it get better? It doesn't feel like mine will ever go away."
"I don't get them often," he said, voice soft and raspy. "It doesn't hurt as much as it used to."
Thoughtful, Katie nodded slowly. "So there's hope it'll get better."
"Try the park," Marcus told her. "It helps," he added awkwardly when she looked at him in surprise. "It's good to remember the war didn't destroy everything."
Her smile was painfully beautiful. "Thank you. I think I'll do that tomorrow."
It was hard to see her go, to see Mrs. Merriweather's shining and hopeful expression. It was hard simply to hope.
Sighing, Marcus went to his room to get ready for work. It was always a long day doing inventory and stock in the department store, but at least it kept his mind occupied and his hands busy. These days, it was all he could really hope for.
Katie wasn't at Quidditch practice the next day, which he found startling considering their conversation the day before. Had she regretted talking to him? Did she think he was some kind of stalker, intent on harming her despite saving her life years ago? That was a painful thought, and he couldn't help but remember the jeers of the Order members. You won't ever amount to nothing, one had sneered in a thick accent. Might as well kill yourself now, save us all the trouble of a trial.
He thought about leaving. If Katie wasn't at practice, he usually left. Normally the team didn't notice him anyway.
Alicia Spinnet whizzed past the stands in his broom. "Oi! Flint!"
He turned without thinking, and wanted to curse himself for a fool once he realized what he had done. "Spinnet," he said in an even tone.
"Katie said that was you in the stands. She actually owled me, said she wasn't coming in. I figured I'd save you the wait."
It wasn't a sneer or joke at his expense, but an actual thoughtful gesture. "Thank you."
"She wouldn't likely be with her parents this time of day, so I've no idea where she is." Alicia paused, considering Marcus for a long time. "I didn't know you were sweet on her," she said finally, in a speculative tone of voice.
He thought about denying it as he shrugged. She would believe it anyway, though. "She's an excellent flier," Marcus told Alicia in a neutral tone of voice. "The rest of the reserve team isn't interesting enough to follow." He got up, aware of her gaze on him. He shoved his hands in his pockets, his shoulders somewhat hunched. "I'll be around on other days, then."
Her gaze on him was assessing, as if weighing her options. "You know, she said something about wanting a calmer place to think. Would you know anything about that?"
Marcus frowned at the blonde in front of him. "No. Why would I?"
Alicia frowned, as if that wasn't the answer she had expected. "Huh. Well, I guess I'll see you around, then."
Marcus didn't know anything about Katie, really, not much more than he had been able to glean from her time captured or watching her play Quidditch. Then again, he had also just told her that he spent time in parks. It was likely that was where she was headed. She likely used Quidditch to try to forget her nightmares. Marcus would have done the same if he hadn't been barred from magical society or using any magic. While it didn't take spells to fly, he had been denied access to a broom after the arrest.
He wandered around that part of town, looking for a park she might have gone to. There were few near the pitch, so Marcus had to wander quite a ways past his usual route back into Muggle territory.
It was uncomfortable to be this far away from the Muggles. He was intimately aware of the magic all around him that he was unable to use. Though there was no brand or mark indicating his arrest, Marcus still felt uncomfortable in the area. He wasn't familiar with it anymore and felt like an outsider. He knew he wasn't welcome here. He knew he didn't belong.
Marcus saw a dark head sitting on a park bench some ways from the pitch. It could have been any brunette with her back to him, but somehow he knew it was Katie. She was in the park, looking at gardens and shrubbery, sitting alone on the park bench. He could talk to her or he could walk away. He was frozen in indecision. Should he try? She had sought him out the day before, after all. Katie likely didn't think badly of him. Then again, she didn't know about the arrest. She knew he had been a Death Eater, knew that he had been there during her capture.
His feet were moving of their own accord, and before he knew it, his shadow was falling over her.
She blinked slowly, as if coming awake, and looked up. Katie smiled when she saw him, a bright and sunny one that indicated she was pleased to see him. "Marcus!"
"You weren't at the pitch," he told her, feeling stupid.
"As you can see, I'm taking your advice." Katie patted the bench next to her. "Sit. How'd you know I'd be here? I didn't tell Ali where I was."
"I guessed," Marcus intoned, moving to sit beside her. It felt like he was moving underwater. This didn't make sense to him at all.
"So you came looking for me."
"I suppose," Marcus told her after a moment.
She laid her hand down over his, her touch gentle. "You're right. It's peaceful here. Like there was a point to the pain after all."
"I'd like to think so," he told her. "I try to think of it that way."
"You've lost a lot in the war."
"So did a lot of other people."
Katie turned to him in concern. "What did happen to you?"
"Nothing worth mentioning." Nothing he cared to repeat, he meant. Nothing he wanted her to know and then judge him for.
"You live in a small flat in a Muggle town and don't use magic anymore." She frowned at him. "Was it terrible?" she asked in concern.
"What? Was what terrible?" he asked in confusion.
Hesitantly, Katie brought her fingertips to the scar tissue. "Getting this."
Marcus remembered the sneering Order members standing over him, the knowledge that they wanted him dead. He opened his mouth to speak, but didn't know what he was going to say.
Her thumb grazed the edge of his lip, her eyes soft in her concern. "I don't want to trigger bad memories."
"I live with this every day, Katie." He leaned into her touch slightly, hoping she wouldn't move yet. "You haven't triggered anything. I remember it every day."
It wasn't pity in her eyes at least, but concern. "I'm sorry."
"This had nothing to do with you. It was my own choice. I accepted that this was a possibility long ago."
"Why? What happened?" Her fingertips brushed across his skin again. "You're so alone, Marcus. How did it get to be that way?"
He didn't want her drawing away from him the way everyone else did, but she hadn't been as concerned with his Death Eater status. "The mark on my arm isn't exactly welcome right around now. No one wants to remember why the war happened, all the people that were lost in it. Being arrested was the least of it, Katie."
Her thumb still grazed the edge of his lip in a careful caress. "So now what do you do?"
"Live and work in Muggle places and try to forget I ever wanted more than that."
"What did you used to want?" she asked softly, eyes searching his face.
This was madness. He shouldn't have been talking with her. His tainted reputation would corrupt hers, and no one would want to promote her to first string, then. No team, even one built up of friends, would want to ruin themselves that way. He couldn't do this to her. Marcus had saved her once, and it would simply be killing her by inches if he allowed this to progress any further.
"I need to go," he told her, starting to get up.
Katie moved quickly, darting forward to press her lips against his. "This is what it was, wasn't it?" she asked, lips still hovering close to his. "This is why you saved me, why you watch me play, why you're leaving now."
"Don't read more into this than you already are," he intoned, voice flat and emotionless.
She pressed herself against him and kissed him. Marcus was determined not to react to it, to close himself off from the sensation of her body right up against his. Then Katie slid her hand down his abdomen, boldly cupping his manhood. He sucked in a pained breath, and she seized the opportunity to slide her tongue between his lips and lick into his mouth. Her other hand was at the back of his neck, holding him close. He couldn't move away unless he shoved her, and he wasn't willing to do that. This was likely the only kiss he would ever have, the only caress. There was nobility in not wanting to soil her reputation with his, but Marcus was also a selfish bastard. He wanted this badly enough that he would take it and run later.
His hands were on her shoulders, and she moved one of them to her breast. He didn't resist, and she felt tiny and fragile beneath his palm. "I need to go," he said against her lips, his voice hoarse and strangled.
"Coward," she accused.
Katie moved to draw her tongue across his lower lip. "Come with me, Marcus. I've seen your flat, and now you should see mine."
The intent in her words was unmistakable. For an impossible instant, Marcus was tempted. She was obviously in her right mind, obviously wanted this. Yet if he accepted, if he gave in now, he would never forgive himself later. She wouldn't be able to live it down, and everyone would judge her for the association. He couldn't do that to her. He couldn't save her from Avery's nephew and subject her to this.
"You can if I bring you there," she continued softly.
"You don't know me, Katie," Marcus said in a low tone, withdrawing slightly. "You can't, and I won't let you."
"I know enough for a beginning," she said quietly, seizing hold of him. "Enough to want to learn more."
"Let it go, Katie."
He wanted to curse her for a fool. Silly Gryffindor. She wouldn't know how to protect herself even if he drew her a diagram. "Katie," he said in severe tones. "Let me go. Nothing good will come of it."
"Then nothing does," Katie said softly. "But I want the real thing, Marcus. I want the one that saved me, the one that watches over me." She touched his shoulder gently, running her hand down his arm. "I'll be okay. I'm sure of it."
It felt like he was cutting his chest open to stand up and look down at her with a curl of scorn in his lip. "You never could protect yourself."
Marcus left the park and didn't look back, even though he wanted to. He would get used to this pain, just as he got used to all the other pain. She would forget him, and she would be fine once she did. It was better this way. The taint of his arrest would ruin her budding career, and he couldn't allow that. It was the only gift he could give her right now.
Mrs. Merriweather seemed to perennially weed and garden in front of her house. She brightened when she saw Katie, who had argued with herself for days whether or not she should return to Marcus' flat. He hadn't come to see her practice any longer, and Alicia had looked at her in concern. She admitted to telling Marcus that she thought he was sweet on her, which she thought had set him to running. Katie knew better, but didn't clarify. She wasn't sure why she was digging in her heels this way, why she was so insistent on pushing her way into Marcus' life. She had been content for so long to let him sit in the stands without finding out who he was. Now that she knew who he was, she didn't want to simply let him run away in an effort to protect her. Interacting with former Death Eaters wouldn't ruin her career, not necessarily. There were plenty of people in government or in the Wizarding media that had once been a Death Eater or affiliated with them in some way. Part of it was making a big show of not being the isolationist and prejudiced magic users that the Death Eaters had been, but part of it was to try to reintegrate society.
Everyone was still healing after the war, but it looked like Marcus was stuck in the same place.
"Hello, dearie," Mrs. Merriweather said, putting her trowel down. "Are you having a good afternoon? Marcus is off at work, the poor dear. They gave him more hours at the store, he told me. He always looks so tired now."
Katie smiled at the old woman, not sure what to say. She didn't know what was going on with him. He wouldn't let her find out. "Do you need any help in the garden?"
They weeded in companionable silence for a while. "Something bothers him," Mrs. Merriweather said after a moment. "Do you know what it is?"
I snogged him silly and threw myself at him, then he ran like a scared little girl, Katie thought, though there was nothing she could say to the old woman. "I haven't seen him in days," she said finally. "I didn't know him well at school, and I know even less about him now," she admitted. "I don't think he wants to let me."
"The accident was hard on him," Mrs. Merriweather replied, leaning to pull out a weed with her gloved hands. "No friends, no family, no resources..." She shrugged. "He's struggled a lot, dear. You know the type, don't you? Can't take charity because of pride but can't live without it?" She didn't even wait for Katie to acknowledge the statement before pointing up at the building behind them with her trowel. "That's our Marcus. If it smacks of pity, he won't take it even if he truly should."
"Well, that makes sense. He was a bit of a bully in school." At Mrs. Merriweather's guffaw, Katie smiled. "Maybe more than a bit."
"I see why you say you weren't friends then. But you're both different people now, aren't you? I can't see why you can't begin again."
"I'd like to try. I'm not sure he does."
Mrs. Merriweather snorted. "Since when do men ever know what they want? My Henry, God rest his soul, was dragging his feet. I had to propose to him, which would have been quite the scandal in the day." She smiled fondly in memory. "Worth the risk at the time, and I don't regret a thing since then. Even the troubles seemed worthwhile."
Katie smiled and pulled out the last weed within her reach. "I'd like that in my future someday."
"You seem like a nice, sensible girl. The future comes before you know it." She put down her trowel and peered at Katie. "So what are you going to do about it?"
"You are meddling," she accused with a smile, grinning at the old woman. It was nice to know she had some kind of approval from someone.
"Call me a romantic," Mrs. Merriweather declared, leaning back on her haunches. "But if a girl comes 'round hoping to learn more about a boy, it seems to be a strong signal she's interested in that boy. I happen to think this one deserves it and I like seeing kids happy." She returned Katie's grin. "He should be back late tonight, about nine or ten if you'd like to try to catch him again. Assuming you're interested, of course."
"I expect an invitation to the wedding, dear," Mrs. Merriweather declared as Katie got up and brushed off her denims. She smiled at Katie's delighted laughter and waved as she left. She finished her weeding and went inside for tea with a pleased expression on her face.
Marcus was startled to see Katie sitting outside of his flat, a Muggle book in hand that she was engrossed reading. "What in bloody hell are you doing here?" he nearly shouted.
Katie looked up, an owlish expression on her face. "Waiting for you to get back, of course. I bought this at the book shop a few streets down, the one next to that nice pub on the corner. Delicious fish and chips." She slipped the receipt into the book as a bookmark and shut it as if Marcus wasn't glaring at her. She pushed herself up to a standing position. "I do have something for you, if you haven't eaten yet."
"Daft bint," he growled. "I told you to leave me alone."
"Yes, and I've told you just as many times that I don't want to."
"Move aside," Marcus snarled. "This isn't worth ruining your career over."
Instead of listening, she grabbed Marcus by the front of his uniform shirt and pulled him in for a kiss. He dropped his apartment key and tried to push her away, but she hung on as if he was a trick broom and pushed him up against the wall. "I asked," she panted when she pulled away to breathe. "Nobody cares. It's not in my contract that I have to be squeaky clean, and I wouldn't be expected to be some kind of role model if I made it to first string. Ginny Weasley's engaged to Draco Malfoy. Oliver Wood's seeing Augustus Rookwood's nephew. There are plenty of people out there freely associating with former Death Eaters, even ones that did time in Azkaban." Katie looked up at Marcus when he froze. "If that's what you're afraid of, you don't have to be."
"I didn't save you for this," he said in a low voice.
"You saved me so that I could have choices," Katie said softly. "I choose to get to know you. I choose to go out with you and snog you silly because you kiss really well when you put your damn mind to it. I choose to find out what kind of man you've become." She gave him a sad smile. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. I'm not so deluded I think it's going to be easy. I don't think everything will fall into place." She took a half step back, no longer crowding into him. "I know what I'm asking for. I do. You have to trust that I can take care of myself, Marcus."
"You don't get it," he began through grit teeth. "You--"
"You aren't listening," Katie interrupted patiently. "Whatever you're afraid of, it doesn't matter. It won't ruin my career, it won't make me hate you. I'm not even declaring undying love, in case you haven't noticed." She grasped his hand in hers. "I want to get to know you. The real you, not the voice that was in dreams for years. I don't expect a fairy tale, Marcus. That's not what I'm asking for."
"I was arrested," he ground out. "They laughed and said I was better off dead. Order members gave me this scar. I won't have you looked at like that."
She pulled his hand to her chest, their fingers still entwined. "Then we start near here. Let's go to that pub on the corner. Or you show me your park. I want to start, Marcus. That's all I'm asking." She reached out to turn his face back to her when he started to look away. "I promise I won't look at you the way they must have years ago. I just want a chance to see what would happen."
"Why is it so bloody important to you?" he asked, trying to keep his voice neutral. Instead, his voice sounded strained even to his own ears. He was wavering, just as some part of him knew that ever talking to her would be a bad thing. He would want too much, feel too much.
Katie ducked her head down. "The only things that matter are the people we know, the chances we take. Isn't that so? Otherwise the darkness wins. I refuse to let it win."
"You can't outrun it just because you want to."
"Sometimes you can," she countered. "That dungeon wasn't the first time Death Eaters used me for their own reasons. And I haven't had any nightmares since we started talking. That has to count for something. We're alive, Marcus. That has to count for something. You can't just hide away because of the past. Otherwise, they win. I refuse to let that happen."
"It won't work," Marcus intoned.
"Then it doesn't. But at least we tried."
Marcus raked his eyes across her upturned face, the sincerity there. She meant what she was saying. Then again, she had always been optimistic and overly enthusiastic. He remembered that even from the Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts, the fierce tiny thing determined to stay upright on her broom even when he knocked her off of it.
Some things never changed.
"You had food, you said," he told her, voice rough. "Might as well bring it in. Can't let it go to waste, now can we?"
Her smile was radiant, and for the moment he could almost believe that everything would be as bright as she said. His tiny flat was still just as small as before, but it seemed a little brighter just for having Katie in it.
Maybe it would work out, maybe it wouldn't. But for the moment, he was willing to try and see what would happen.