…Till It’s Gone
She loved him.
She had loved him for years. Two years, five months, and fourteen days to be exact, if one was keeping track of that sort of thing. Since the day he told her he’d never met anyone else who appreciated magical theories the way she did. Silly, she admitted, but it made everything “click” in her mind, and in that moment she knew. Knew that he was the perfect man for her. Not a perfect man, Godric, no, there’s no such thing. But definitely perfect for her. The next two and a half years had flown by in a muddled haze of late nights at work, lunches in the café, Friday nights with friends, Saturdays of take-out containers strewn over parchment-covered coffee tables, and countless hours of snarky retorts and (usually) harmless bickering. They traded quips with seamless precision, often leaving nearby coworkers gaping in shock, unsure of whether they should be concerned for the well-being of either party, who had typically gone right back to work by that point.
He was the reason she looked forward to going to the office every day. Oh, she loved her job, make no mistake, but she could do her job from just about anywhere. It was knowing that she would see his face within minutes of entering the building (since they usually arrived around the same time), and would immediately jump back into the conversation they’d been having the day before. It was gazing into those pewter grey eyes, the ones she’d used to think were cold and cruel, but now knew were warm and kind and often filled with teasing mischief. It was his presence, made known by the spicy scent of his cologne, right on the other side of that little half-wall, that brought balance to her world and made her feel like everything was going to be just fine.
Except now it wasn’t.
She was leaving.
She had tried so hard to be patient, tried to show him in a thousand different little ways that she cared for him. She knew he was reluctant when it came to matters of the heart, or anything that dealt too heavily with emotions of any sort, but surely he must have some inkling of her feelings by now. He seemed to care about her, too, if the daily cups of tea and thoughtful Christmas and birthday gifts she’d received from him were anything to go by. At the very least he was extremely observant, but that wasn’t enough. She wanted to know how he felt; wanted to know if she’d wasted the last 29 months of her life; wanted to know if he thought of her as anything more than a friendly coworker. Was that too much to ask?
She would give him one more chance. Tonight there would be a going away party for her after work. She knew they’d go together, since they’d gone to every Ministry event together all this time, regardless of whether it was a casual gathering where some exciting announcement was to be made, or a formal gala where all the “big names” in Wizarding society were expected to put in appearances. She didn’t mind attending functions, and honestly enjoyed catching up with friends or making new acquaintances, but she always gravitated back to him in the end. Tonight would be no different, except that once this one was over, that would be it. She would have to take whatever came, or didn’t, as the answer she was seeking and go on from there. The thought made her heart sink just a little because she knew what she wanted was most likely not going to happen. The silver lining was her new assignment. She was being sent abroad for a year or so to help another ministry change some of their policies and move in a more progressive direction, similar to the advances she’d helped her own Ministry make over the last three years. If tonight had the disappointing end she was preparing herself for, then at least she’d be off on a new adventure first thing tomorrow, and she could put her heartache behind her.
The thought of letting go of the tall, pale blonde who had become as familiar to her as her own reflection caused an unmistakable ache in her chest. She loved him more than she was willing to admit, because admitting just how head-over-heels she was would only make saying goodbye that much harder. She knew he wasn’t one of those sentimental blokes who showered their witches with rose petals and declarations of love, and she was perfectly fine with that. Truth be told, she didn’t much care for all the sappy nonsense people seemed to think demonstrated “real” love, but she would still really like some concrete indication that her feelings were acknowledged or even returned in some small way.
Sighing, she shook herself out of her reverie and focused on the task at hand: packing up her desk. She’d just set her box on her chair and placed the first two picture frames in it when he came striding around the corner looking slightly winded, but rather smug. He plunked her usual cup of Earl Grey tea on her desk and waved a small paper bag a few inches from her nose, causing her to go cross eyed as she tried to focus on it. Giggling, she grabbed it out of his hand and opened it to find a still-warm blueberry scone from her favorite cafe. Grinning widely, she broke off a corner and popped it into her mouth, and then offered the bag to him to do the same. Once their morning snack was finished, she attacked the cleaning-out of her desk with vigor, keeping up a steady stream of mindless chatter so as not to let her thoughts stray once again to the inevitable end that was approaching at an alarming rate.
She snuck a few glances at him as she worked and noticed that he was a little stiffer and less talkative than normal. She was also pretty sure he was clenching his jaw, which was a sure sign he was either angry or stressed and she almost asked him if everything was alright but was diverted by the arrival of an owl from Harry, inviting her to lunch. She extended the invitation to her surly coworker, but he waved her off with an excuse that he had work to get caught up on since he had “spent his whole morning helping some incapable harpy pack up her desk.” He’d shot her his typical, roguish wink, accompanied by the smirk he seemed to reserve only for her. It was friendlier and softer than the one others usually experienced, and it made her heart stutter a little every time it flashed across his features.
The rest of her day flew by in a blur of well-wishes, final meetings, and the tying-up of loose ends. She spent far less time at her desk than normal, which she decided was probably a good thing, since her firm resolve to not give in to a complete come-apart was quickly disappearing. By late afternoon, she could no longer avoid her corner of the office and made her way there with the repetitive mantra of “you can do this” matching every step. As she rounded the corner she saw him and was hit, once again, with a massive wave of longing and disappointment. A small part of her, the part farthest from her trademark confident-and -no-nonsense self, wanted to grab his perfect face and kiss the daylights out of him, but she had never been one for hysterical displays and she wasn’t about to give in to them now. Instead, she settled for asking if he’d had a productive day, and pointed out that they would need to head to the atrium soon.
As they exited the lift, she was taken aback by the sheer number of people in attendance. She knew her department members would all be there, but it seemed as if half of the rest of the Ministry was there as well, along with others who weren’t employed there at all. She was deeply touched by the efforts made to send her off well, and tried valiantly to have meaningful conversations with everyone who approached her, but that was quickly given up as the parade of well-wishers seemed endless. Through it all, her favorite wizard remained by her side, refilling her drink, bringing her snacks, and making dry, witty comments in between exchanges. She supposed, to the outside world, they probably looked like a couple, standing there together, him paying solicitous attention to her. That thought brought about such a pang of loss over what would never be, that her eyes welled up and she had to turn away to catch her breath.
Finally, the festivities wound down enough that she could politely take her leave. She made her rounds to a handful of specific people; her boss, the Minister, her closest friends who would always be there till the end, and at last returned to the spot she’d been standing in for most of the night. He was still there, right where she’d left him, chatting with Harry and now holding her box of knick-knacks from her desk. After receiving one final, rib-crushing hug from her best friend, she allowed herself to be steered in the direction of the fireplaces, hugging her box to her like a talisman she was trying to garner some strength from. They stopped a few steps away from the hearth and she set it down.
Taking a deep breath and willing the tears to hold off for just a few more minutes, she threw caution to the wind and did something she’d wanted to do for longer than she cared to think. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek to his chest, listening to the thrumming of his heart and breathing in his familiar scent.
Oh, she would miss him.
She felt his arms come around her and almost gave way to the sob climbing up her throat. He rested his chin on her head and she couldn’t help but notice how perfectly they fit together. She closed her eyes and allowed herself just a brief moment to memorize the feel of him before she pulled back and looked up at him. His eyes were dark and somber, and they seemed to be studying her intently. She cupped his jaw with her hand and ran her thumb along his smooth cheek. There was so much she wanted to say, yet she knew it would only make things harder on her heart, so she settled for kissing him softly on the cheek and whispering “goodbye,” before she turned away to gather her things. She refused to look back, knowing if she did, she might never make it home, and as she put one foot in the fire, the tears began to fall. She choked out her destination and caught a fleeting glimpse of him still standing in the exact same spot, watching her spin away in a whirl of green flames.
Stepping out of her own grate, into her comfortable living room, she finally gave in to the mounting despair she had held at bay all evening. She dropped her box of office clutter and sank into the nearest chair as sobs overcame her petite frame. That was it. She got her answer. He had stood by her side all night, acting as if everything was completely fine and normal, as if it had been any other day. He had told her last week that he would miss her, but he was joking around while he said it, so it wasn’t even a serious confession. She knew he was proud of her for the promotion, and he’d always been so supportive and encouraging of all her endeavors, but she’d hoped he’d at least have been a little sad to see her go. But he’d said nothing of the sort. No great declaration of love was uttered, which, let’s be honest, she would have been over the moon about. Apparently she’d been misreading his actions all along and he really didn’t see her as anything more than a friend.
She wanted to scream.
Instead, she settled for taking a long, hot shower where she let her tears run down the drain along with her vanilla-scented shampoo, and a steaming mug of tea once her crying jag was over. She crashed on the couch and turned on the telly, and within minutes was sound asleep, her cheeks still glistening with the tracks of several stray tears.
She woke much earlier and much stiffer than she usually would have, owing to the fact that the couch was not nearly as comfortable as her bed, and the latest program to come on had rather loud theme music. She stretched and let her gaze wander about her flat for a few minutes. She’d decided to let the place for the time she’d be away, instead of bothering to move out altogether. A girl from the department next to hers had been asking around for leads on available spots, and the timing was perfect. It made things much easier, and she’d be able to return home and pick right back up once her job was done. That thought was both comforting and unsettling, since she wasn’t sure what she would do about one particular wizard when the time came. Perhaps he would have moved on by then, and even if not, the chances of them working in the exact same cubicles after more than a year were slim to none, anyway. She wasn’t going to be fussed about it. It was ages away. She hadn’t even left yet, for Merlin’s sake, and she was worrying about coming back.
No time to waste, she decided, as she got up and readied herself for the day. Her portkey out wasn’t until later that afternoon, but she still had a few things to pack, and last-minute errands to run. She had just finished twisting her hair up into a bun, and was placing the kettle on the stove for tea when there was a knock on her door. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was barely after seven.
Who on Earth?
She opened the door and there he stood, his platinum hair slightly windblown, his eyes bright and a nervous smile twitching at his mouth. She had no idea what to make of this unexpected appearance and refused to let her mind follow the path her heart was already barreling down. She welcomed him into the flat and decided she would simply let him do the talking. He was the one to show up on her doorstep, after all. After a few seconds of awkward silence, he spoke.
“I…I brought these for you.” He set the cup and bag from the café on the counter, and held the flowers out to her. They were beautiful. A small bouquet of perfect, little, pink roses, held together with a gold ribbon. He told her they were charmed to bloom forever and her heart started racing as the possible implications for his actions began stampeding through her mind. She needed to know why he was here, and she asked him as much.
“I, uh, just wanted to tell you,” he cleared his throat and held her gaze. “I really, really don’t want you to leave.” Her breath caught in her throat and there was a prickling behind her eyes. He took the flowers from her, placed them on the counter, and took both of her hands in his own. “I know I said I’ll miss you, and I’ll hate whoever moves into your cubicle, and I will, most assuredly. But it’s more than that.” He cleared his throat again and dropped his gaze to their hands. “I think…no, I know, that I…that I love you.” He heaved a deep sigh and looked back at her. “I couldn’t let you leave without telling you.”
She felt like she could have been knocked over by a feather, and yet his words grounded her all the same. She wanted to jump up and down, squealing like a little girl. She wanted to gloat that she'd been right all along about the suspicions she'd had for months. She wanted to hex his bits off for not coming to his senses sooner, but she did none of those things. Instead, she simply smiled and said, “I know.”
The shock that immediately showed on his face was almost comical. She had rarely seen him speechless and, were it not such a momentous occasion, she might have laughed outright, but she knew how much it had taken for him to say all of that. She did allow herself a small chuckle and decided to help him out.
“I’ve known for a while, I think.” His brows cocked in question, and she wondered how dense he really was when it came to matters such as this. “Oh, come on, Malfoy,” she giggled. “You’ve brought a cup of tea to my desk every morning for the last two and half years. You’ve given me my favorite flowers for my last three birthdays; I don’t even think Harry knows I love orchids. You never let me walk out alone at night after work or drinks. You spent the whole day here with me after Crookshanks died, and I know you missed a Quidditch match for that. You got me tickets to the ballet for Christmas, after hearing me mention one time, ages ago, that I’d been wanting to go. You’re always checking in on me, encouraging me, looking out for me.” She searched his face for understanding. “I’ve paid attention, you know?”
She could see the wheels turning in his brain and knew he was piecing things together. She watched as understanding dawned, giving way to hope, but then just as quickly a flash of uncertainty and almost fear clouded his features.
“You knew? But you never…” he trailed off, seemingly unable or unwilling to finish his thought.
“I just knew you needed to realize it in your own time.” She gave a small smirk, her eyes twinkling slightly. “You can be rather obtuse sometimes.”
He huffed with obvious frustration. She knew how he worked, knew he needed concrete answers and irrefutable facts. He didn’t like guess work or dealing with assumptions, but she wasn’t going to spell this out for him. She needed him to realize that this had been there; that she had been there; all this time.
“How do you think I feel about all of this?” She asked kindly, and watched as his expression grew wary, as if he was uncertain how to approach this new territory. “Think about it for a minute.” She prodded him, and waited while he worked through his thoughts, studying his handsome features and allowing herself to finally hope that this was going where she thought it was - where she had wanted it to go for two and a half years. After a few minutes, he seemed to have reached a conclusion and a brilliant smile lit up his face. Just as quickly, though, a scowl wiped it away and she was confused by the drastic change.
“But, you’re leaving.” He stated the fact with undisguised bitterness, which caused her to snort with laughter, relieved that there was nothing to be worried about.
“Yes, I do still have a job to get to.” She loosened her hands from his grip and slid them up his arms, peering into his eyes, hoping he saw the depths of her feelings for him in her own. “But it’s only for a year, eighteen months, tops. I’ll be home for holidays and breaks, and I can have visitors, yeah?” She smirked. “It’s not like I’m moving to another planet.” He didn’t look quite mollified yet, so she stepped closer and whispered. “In case you’re still not sure how I’m feeling…”
She kissed him.
She usually wasn’t one to make the first move, but she wanted there to be no mistake about her part in any of this, so she pressed her lips to his, which were incredibly soft, and held her breath as she waited to see what he would do. When he tilted his head and kissed her back with equal fervor, she felt as if her heart would burst. She had wanted this, waited for this, for so long and now that it was actually happening, it was better than anything she could have possibly imagined. They kissed for several long minutes, or maybe it was hours, she couldn’t tell and she didn’t care. When they finally came up for air, they were both rather disheveled, gasping for breath, and smiling like loons, and it was perfect.
He asked her to breakfast, which she immediately accepted and said it would be their first date, causing him to flash her favorite smirk as he pulled her into his embrace. He offered to see her off later that day, which made her heart swell with happiness, and she made sure to write down her address so he could owl. As they set off down the sidewalk, fingers intertwined and eyes sneaking sideways glances at each other, causing much blushing and grinning, she felt as if the world was brand new. She might be leaving that day, but part of her was staying here, and part of him was coming with her, and in that moment, it was more than enough.