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She heard the voice before getting a glimpse of him as he hid in the shadows of the forest.

It was only natural, after all, for her to reach out to him when everyone else was looking elsewhere. Two weeks had passed since she was last able to see him, and she caught herself feeling the oddest of anxieties during daytime, and the most annoying of needs at night. It was all his fault. His fault for being out there, in the wild, while she was stuck in a goddammed castle all day with nothing to do but dream and think of how he feels like under the moonlight.

All his bloody fault.

"I almost believed you had given up."

The hiss sent a shiver down her spine. It was low, whispered, cold. It's ability to cut through the silence and shape her world was almost unnatural, and she melted to the sound of his voice. It had been so long. Far too long.

"I considered it." She turned around to face the darkness. "But how would you survive without me?"

He was there, she could sense it. There, waiting between the lines of dead trees. The wind threatened to take the cloak away from her shivering frame and suddenly she wished for him to step up and hold her, put an end to the cold. Then she remembered his own body was cold blooded.

"I can manage," whispered the crushed grass by her right side, "as I have for the last thousand years."

"A thousand years forgotten," she reminded the shadow.

All noise from the forest around them died once he chuckled. She ignored the tiny little spiders escaping eagerly from the sound and the menacing huffs of the centaurs in the distance.

Instead, she focused on his shape under the moonlight, shadows and lights playing a game of interest over his skin. Undertones shifted when he looked at her, the darkness under his eyebrows bringing out the intoxicating green of his eyes. He grinned.

"Now, now. Don't be mad, beautiful one. Come here and greet me."

"Why should I?"

His grin widened.

"Won't you?"

The silver cloak lay on the ground, long forgotten, as she moved slowly and steadily towards his shadow. She tried to appease the beast and keep herself under reign at the same time. He did not move, waiting for her to be at an arm's reach, look him in the eye for the last time that evening and take in everything she could, because she needed to remember his shape, his hair, his skin. And when she did, when she said she was ready and comfortable there, sitting cross-legged on the ground, he walked out of the shadows and out of her sight.

She did not dare to look back.

So, instead, she focused on the clear spot of green he had once occupied, and listened to the light sound he made while moving in circles around her. She remembered the rules.

Do not look back.
Do not look up.
Wait for him to reach you.
Wait for him to touch you.
Never look first.
Never reach first.
Never touch first.
Wait.

"Are you scared, Little One?"

Ignore the hiss on your ear, the warm breath that tickles your skin, the ragged ups and downs of your own chest at the closeness.
Do not look back.

"Always."

A light humming left his throat. Yet she kept watching the earth before her, even when a shadow killed the light of the moon, even when two pale and naked feet invaded her vision. Ignore it all. His shallow breath, the roughness of his voice, every long s and every airy h. Ignore your racing heartbeat because, if you don't, he'll notice. He'll be hungry.
Do not look up.

"Do you want to see me, Moon Child?"

"Always."

Always, always, always. She wanted to see him all the time. She wanted to see him when she was in class, dreaming about what it would be like to be one of his kind, a hunter of the night, an endless being with poison for blood. A king. She wanted to see him every time Malfoy or Weasley made fun of her for being what she was, for not being what she wasn't. She wanted to see him hunt Malfoy, terrify Weasley. She wanted to see him every day, every night, at every hour. She wanted him to see her.
Ignore the pain. Do not reach first.

"Do you need me, Beautiful One?"

"Always."

She needed him since the day they met. She was just a scared little child and he was there, standing proud after avenging his sleep and mind, magnificent and bloody and dangerous. She needed him since she saw his eyes for the first time. She needed him since the night she found a way to speak his tonge and access the Caves to keep him company, keep him sane. Ignore the memories, the wishes.
Do not touch first.

"Do I need you, my Love?"

She could not answer that. He knew it.

Once a dark clothing covered her eyes and was tightly secured against the back of her head, she felt him. Cold as the tip of his nose and lips traced an unseen path on the uncovered skin of her shoulder and neck. The ghost of a touch. And she reveled in it. In him.

He was in pain. She knew.

A caress would hurt him the same as a stab, if he was not the one to initiate it.

She would suffer with him.

She closed her eyes, threw her head back and listened as he inhaled her scent and became one with it. It was the reason he did not kill her on sight when they met. Her smell. Her.

He stepped away and changed. She smiled as the mutters of the centaurs faded away, knowing they would be running away from her love, her soul, her monster. She laughed as the terrified spiders killed each other during their desperate escape, as she knew they would. She went quiet, and waited until the silence and the emptyness were the only things that surrounded her. The void. The high pitch on her ears. His hiss.

"Time has passed. You are no longer a hatchling, Beloved."

That, she knew.

"I have missed you," was her whisper.

She struggled to hear his reply. Soft and warm and sweet and so unlike him it freightened her for a second.

"I know."

Grass shifted around her, leaves and bushes and trees moving to give space to the stranger among them. He moved, slowly, until his head was resting right across hers, as he had no need to raise himself from the ground to reach and surpass her current height. She knew this, and her body moved forward without her mind's consent.

His voice released a ghostly echo on the forest.

"I have missed you, too."

Her lips trembled.

"All night?"

"All day?"

The answer was yes for her, yes for him. And when her lips closed after failing to voice a question that had haunted her for years, he responded softly to the silent plea.

"I have learned, after a life of isolation, that humans are cruel and beautiful beings. I hear it all, down there. Even in my sleep. Even after centuries. Even after hunger and fear and anger. I listen. That's what Brother wanted me to do, when he build me a home inside the castle all those years ago. He wanted me to listen, protect. And I did, until he died and no Speaker of good will walked her halls again to wake me up."

His voice sent chills down her spine, and she became one with the slow, tender quality of him. He loved to tell stories. Stories of the Fathers and Mothers of the castle, stories of his Man Brother and all Speakers that listened to him and fed him, kept him company. Stories of stories about the time after he, his Chambers and all the good his Brother did were long forgotten. Stories of the boy that manipulated him with ancient magic to make him a shell of himself and keep only the monster, only the beast.

He loved to tell stories, she loved to listen.

"I slept, and in my sleep an arrogant hatchling found me, bound my natural form and took me away from my own mind. He forced me to maim and kill what I had sworn to protect. I slept again and again he woke me up, now in the skin of another's daughter, and set me to destroy what I had learned to love. And so I did."

"And so you did," she muttered, remembered.

"Don't forget, Brave One. You followed one shell only to find another. Found a way to set me free and all you had to do was reach my broken sanctuary and face a piece of the soul of a broken man. You were a child. And you were scared. He saw this, so he sent me after you. What happened next, Prey?"

"You chased me..."

"I chased you, because the command was strong and you were a witness and my mind was not my own. But I chased you because it thrilled me. It excited me to hunt, to try and reach that intoxicating scent that had wandered into my territory. The hunt brought back a part of me. The energy and need shattered a bit of the empty shell of my mind. I was not supposed to think. To feel. You ended that because I wanted, I needed, for a spare second, to catch you. Only a crack..."

"But it was more than enough."

"It was." He nodded, and left her to continue the story.

"I came back. After you destroyed the traitor and its flesh, after I watched you shape yourself into a human skin, after you looked at me and I looked at you and everything else faded away... I came back. Even after I woke up in the infirmary, and they told me they had found me in an empty hallway, and I kept the secret of your existence with my life. I came back. For you. For me."

"You did. And I owe you my mind."

"You owe me nothing," muttered her denial.

"I owe you my life."

"Nothing," she insisted.

"My existence."

"Nothing."

"My sanity."

"Nothing."

His breath brushed her face.

"I owe you everything."

He changed back into a man with black hair and green eyes.

"You owe me nothing."

His breath was cold, like his Caves.

"I owe you a touch."

His breath tasted like metal.

His skin was cold, she knew as much, but his mouth was warm and soft and it felt like blood. He didn't move, and neither did she. No other touch was necessary, not when their lips flared to life because of the contact. Not when her fingers brushed his naked shoulder, and they allowed it to happen even if it was the first touch she had ever initiated. Not when the metal merged with a different taste, reminiscent of mint and the memory of a lily, and she recognized the bit of venom in his system.

He pulled back, his mouth and hers so close still that distance was nothing but an empty concept. And they breathed. Together. She did not care that he was a snake that could kill with a look because his poison reminded her of flowers. He did not care that she was a human because her scent tasted like rain.

His question was a silent whisper in the night.

"Do I need you, Hermione?"

She took off the clothing that kept their eyes apart.

Harry's eyes were deep, sharp, cold.

She loved him because of that.

"Always."