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Days Gone By (They Never Die)

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He was the last person she expected to see there, but yet there he was. She thought he was an illusion at first, something conjured from the depths of her own mind, but she wasn’t that lucky.

He was older than the last time she had seen him — his hair was a little grayer, his eyes a little duller, his face a lot more serious. His hands were stuffed in the pockets of a pair of slacks that looked more suited to a Muggle than a wizard.

He didn’t approach her, but she knew he was watching her. She tried to ignore him, slipping her sunglasses on and acting as if she didn’t know he was there. But she wasn’t fooling anyone. After all these years, she could still sense him near her, no matter how hard she tried to pretend differently.

•••

She was the last person he expected to see there, in a small ocean town in the middle of nowhere, but yet there she was. Appearing out of nowhere to haunt his waking moments, the same way she haunted his dreams.

She looked exactly like he remembered her. Maybe a little older, but still just as beautiful. Her hair was a little bit shorter, a little bit sleeker, the bushy curls of a teenage girl long ago chopped off. He watched as she moved, every motion more graceful than the last. Even from a distance, her presence overwhelmed him.

He knew she knew he was there, even though she was pretending otherwise. She didn’t look at him or acknowledge him. He knew he should keep to their deal and do the same, but he couldn’t help it. He found himself simply staring at her from across the way, wondering yet again how his life had come to this.

•••

It took him five days to finally approach her. She was secretly impressed by his restraint. But she had known he would cave in eventually.

He sauntered over to where she was and sat down beside her. He stared out at the water, she kept her eyes on her book. Two perfect strangers who just happened to be at the same place at the same time.

“How is Astoria?” she managed to ask. She never took her eyes off her book.

“Over,” he said, and didn’t take his eyes off the horizon.

“Ron?” he managed to ask.

“Please,” she scoffed.

“Kids?” she finally said.

“Fortunately not,” he said.

This time, he turned his head to her. This time, she met his eyes.

“You?” he said.

“Please,” she said again.

She was glad he didn’t bother to ask her what had made her change her mind.

•••

She waited two days after that to talk to him again. He didn’t have to ask why. He considered himself lucky that she had anything to say to him at all.

She found him drinking a cup of horrible Muggle tea. They exchanged pleasantries, caught up on their jobs.

Yes, the Ministry was fine. Sure, she loved being an auror.

Most of their words, though, went unspoken.

“It could have been different,” she said, as she sipped her own drink. Her voice was calm and cool, the way he figured she had practiced it would be if she ever saw him again.

He didn’t answer for the longest time, scenarios of the life they could have had running through his mind.

“It could have been better,” he finally said.

She didn’t say a word. She didn’t have to. He could hear her reply hanging in the silence between them.

It wasn’t my choice to end it.

•••

She let him slip her shirt off and tried not to think about how wrong this was. She had promised herself if this moment ever came, she would have more restraint. He belonged in her past. Yet there she was.

His fingers skated down bare skin, his lips practically burning her flesh as he planted soft kisses between her breasts.

In her mind’s eye, she saw them. Young and naïve. Hopelessly in love. Planning a future they never would come close to getting.

“I loved you,” he said. His lips trailed down her stomach, finding the waistband of her knickers.

“It’s too late,” she said. She arched her hips, letting him remove the last piece of clothing from her body.

“It doesn’t have to be,” he said. His fingers reached between her legs. She tried not to think about how much she used to always like that.

“Yes,” she said, before she changed her mind. “It does have to be.”

•••

He knew it was the last time the second it began, but he couldn’t help asking. He’d always been a fighter. He’d fought for everything he had ever had and ever wanted.

It was as though she was reading his mind.

“You should have fought for me,” she said. He undid his own pants, but his eyes were focused on hers. In the moonlight, hers looked like steel.

“I know,” he said. He waited for her to spread her legs. She looked like she was contemplating it.

“Was she really worth it?” she finally asked.

“It was never about her,” he said. He hoped she knew he was telling the truth.

“Right,” she said, and her voice changed. The calm, detachedness vanished. He thought he heard a touch of bitterness. “It was the fame and the riches you wanted.”

“Hermione—“

“Don’t say my name. It was never about me.”

He wanted to argue with her, or maybe to explain, but in the end there was nothing to explain. His father had given him a choice, and he’d picked the wrong one.

She finally spread her legs. He slipped inside her.

“We can’t go back,” she said, as if he didn’t know.

“I know,” he said anyway.

•••

As much as she had tried to forget him, she had imagined this moment a hundred times over. It was different than she had pictured. But it also wasn’t anything like how it had once been.

Maybe that was a good thing.

“This doesn’t mean anything,” she said when they had finished. He nodded. She thought about telling him to leave, but somehow she couldn’t make herself utter the words.

So she rolled over and closed her eyes instead.

She felt him lie down beside her, the night air full of regret and sorrow and things they couldn’t change.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered into the darkness, long after she figured he thought she was asleep.

She wanted to say she was sorry, too, but she didn’t. It was way too late to matter.