On the eve of war, it rains. (A Pre-HBP story; spoilers for "The Order of The Phoenix". PG-13 for implied slash.)
Her shoes were soaked through, and her socks sodden and squishing at heel and toe. But she wasn't about to mention it. Neville had apologized for enough in the last five minutes of their march.
"Gram is going to kill me," he moaned yet again. She tried to think up a bright side to look on, but it was difficult with the rain driving at her back.
"At least your samples are okay," she pointed out.
"I suppose. But your drawings are ruined." His shoulders bowed further, as though taking on the weight of that additional calamity.
"They're only sketches. I can still work from them. And anyway, if we hadn't gone out, we wouldn't have anything." She hoped she could at least get a comb through her hair before it dried. Otherwise she'd be hours fighting the damp snarls.
"I should have paid better attention," he said, and this last forlorn note was too much for her. She stopped walking, felt her pruned heels sink into the muddy path.
"Neville, look at me."
He broke stride a few paces past her, and turned, water sluicing down the soaked fabric of his shirt. "Why are you stopping? We should--"
"We aren't going to get any wetter than we already are, and I have to tell you something. I'm having a really nice time."
He finished the warding spell he'd been tinkering with, tying up the wand work in four precise, elegant moves. The ward's boundaries luminesced briefly in slim fiery lines; curving like quilled script from an unknown alphabet, before fading into the prosaic stone of her back steps.
There was no name in any language, for what was taking hold in her. Like she was the stone, cool and darkened with rainwater on her surface; humming with invisible magic underneath. But unlike her back steps, he'd branded her without even a look, placing his secret, intimate signature on her skin, down to her bones; through sheer proximity imprinting himself on her, the way a brilliant light imprints the retinas. Look away, and the glow remains.
He worked in his shirtsleeves with the cuffs rolled up; she blamed that sight for the arrow of greed that shot from the back of her head straight down to the tops of her legs. Watching him work led to wanting to possess him, and what did you call that feeling? Standing half in a deepening puddle, rain pelting her head, clothing saturated to a second-skin thinness, and the sight of his bare wrists and flexing forearm plucked harp-string vibrations from her insides. Even if she could find her voice right now, what could she possibly say?
"I've just learned something, Moody. You're outrageously sexy when you're wet and casting spells. Let's get naked in the rain." None too subtle, but neither was the eye she was giving him, if he only cared to notice.
Rain eroded the quiet, ticking off the passing seconds, and couldn't he see the river of time that was spilling into this wasted space between them? Augmenting the three days, fourteen hours, and twenty eight minutes since he'd last kissed her. Not even a proper kiss, but a fond, chaste imitation.
Perhaps falling asleep on his shoulder had been more of a tactical error than she'd realized at the time. There hadn't been any encore of their initial collision that night outside the pub; a scene she'd taken out and relived so many times since, in a state of dizzy dreaminess, that it was going threadbare.
The left sleeve of his sweatshirt was fraying at the cuff, tiny threads unraveling from their weave. Like everything he wore, the hand-me-down garment had thin places, patchy spots where things were starting to come apart. Like the parts of his socks, where the water seeped through his trainers and went straight to his skin, because there was nothing in the way. Because there were holes.
And it didn't take Arithmancy (or rocket science, as his uncle was fond of saying) to figure out that weather found the holes in things. That was what shelter was for. It was why people built houses, castles, and Burrows. For a place to go in, out of the rain or what have you. You could go under a tree in the park and sit, and the leaves kept out the worst of it. But there was still the trunk wet against his back, the ground was a soggy seat, and the leaves left holes where drips darted through.
A person could only stand so many holes. Only so much of nothing where there ought to be something. Ghosts instead of godfathers. Numbness in place of feeling. The long dry stretch of empty days alone in a silence so huge--
There he was, thinking again. His mind twisting and worrying at stupid things, the way his fingertips worried at the faded stringy thinness where his pants topped his knees. He let his hands drop, pressed his palms into the leaf litter and tree roots either side of him, closed his eyes, and breathed.
The rain smelled like clean. Not soap clean, or bleach clean. But something new to the world clean. This was the scent of something that had never needed polishing, and wouldn't ever rust or go ragged. He drew in breath after breath of wet-smelling air, until his head went light, and the useless cobwebbed thoughts broke apart and floated, across the balding ruts he'd paced into the floor of his mind these last weeks.
They were going in circles now, Bill was sure of it. Their map was so much wet pulp, it was raining sideways on them, hunger gnawed his insides, and he'd just seen the same intersection for the third time.
He didn't think it could get any worse, though the good coating of dingy puddle water he wore suggested otherwise. Kingsley was being a damned good sport about it, anyway. He was just as wet and muddy, probably as hungry and every bit as lost as Bill. And yet...
Did they teach that walk at the Auror Academy? Straight spine and even steps, shoulders balanced just so. And no matter how the rain hit him, Kingsley never hunched or ducked his head. He saw everything and said nothing, and Bill was struck by a sudden epiphany.
"I am a complete, utter ass," he declared.
Kingsley didn't break stride, but queried him with an eyebrow.
"You said we ought to bring an umbrella. I said it wouldn't rain. You offered to waterproof the map. I said it'd be fine. When you told me we'd passed the restaurant, I insisted on going forward anyway. I am very stupid, and sick of being wet, and would sell my soul for a single serving of Peking Duck. Please Kingsley, take mercy on me and lead on?"
Out of all the responses he could've expected (/It's about time....I told you so....Bill, you thickheaded git.../), the rich welling of deep laughter was not even on the roster. He was unsure what sort of ground he stood on, and checked Kingsley's eyes for a clue.
The look he got in return made him forget all about the rain.
Weasley eyes. Was there no countercurse for their endless procession through his life? They came green (Bill, Molly, twin hellions Fred and George), and blue (Charlie, Ronald, Percy); there was Arthur's hazel, and now this girl. Brown-eyed Ginny perched like a wet fledgling on the Headquarters stoop, giving him a stare that twisted his nerve endings.
One wondered what those eyes had seen; what precisely they were looking at now.
All the Weasleys plagued him in some fashion. In their numerous manifestations, pestiferous cheerful loyalty, or overwhelming predisposition toward interference and mischief. That was seven-eighths of them at one time or another, and then there was Ginny; a cool, strange, dangerous being, hiding in a child made all of knees and elbows and wet-plastered hair. He had felt more than once that she merited a certain amount of scrutiny. This was the first opportunity he'd had for it.
"Were you locked out?" he asked, not really caring. Wanting only to delay the point when he would have to go in. On his request, she'd recited the list of Number Twelve's current occupants; there was no one on it he particularly wished to see.
"No, Professor." And she looked through him, presumably at the rain falling behind his back. Had the Dark Lord posessed her because she was this way, or was she this way because she had been, for a time, posessed? It was something that puzzled him certain nights.
"A reasonable person," he said, "goes inside when it rains."
She looked right at him then, tucked a stray wet lock behind her ear, and flung the water off her hand.
"And I came out." Her eyes asking him what he made of that. The child was positively unnatural, and all the more dangerous for being interesting.
This was definitely a Weasley one didn't turn one's back on. For one thing, she hadn't asked why he was still out in this wretched weather. She looked very much as if she already knew.