They miss each other on the way, the proverbial two ships passing in the night, and kiss the false images they hold.
i: The darkness twists in the alcove, spastic and frightening, before shoving out --
There is a man, and he is just a man.
ii: Rowena is a woman who knows many things. She knows the incantation to make a person impervious to fire (it was the first one she learned - there were too many mistakes and too many dead, and her mother was ashes in the wind) and the recipe for wassail and the seven laws of conjuration. She knows what makes people tick - what crushes them into wax replicas of themselves and what makes them go mad and what makes them grin fiercely with dark joy (like Salazar, sometimes - and that one time with Godric that shattered her blinders). She knows what it takes to cast the Killing Curse - knows how it feels, power and hatred singing through blood and wood (and that is her secret). She knows a lot of secrets, secrets that would destroy loves and lives and worlds.
She doesn't know Harry. It frustrates her, but he is a grinning figure swathed in mystery - she remembers nearly tripping over his unconscious form in the corridor the night he appeared out of nowhere. She knows his green eyes intimately, could paint them and tell someone what each shade means in regard to his moods, but she doesn't know Harry. She doesn't know his family or what caused his scars or what created the cynical quirk that is ever-present on his lips when he isn't grinning foolishly as he often does. She doesn't know why speaking with Salazar always leaves him laughing or why he never quite looks Godric in the eye.
iii: She does know the line of his shoulders and the reflexive twitch of his wand hand when in the darkness. She knows he can be trusted with her students. She knows she doesn't know what she truly wants to know: how his lips would feel on her breasts and the personal way he would trail his hands down her spine - whether or not he would grasp her hips and if he would lose control, hammer into her and give her that exquisite lace of pain to go with the white haze of pleasure. She wants to know if his green eyes would darken and if her nails clawing his back would make him snarl.
iv: Her wand hand always twitches in the darkness as well. She lets herself grasp her wand and quietly incants until the room is drowned in light.
She wants to know, so she leaves her rooms with a whisper of robes and glinting eyes.
Her rooms are incandescent in her wake.
v: He knows it isn't love. Love is a word that is flung about too often by far, a flowery label slapped onto everything until it has lost all meaning, and Harry swore to himself some vague time ago - months/years/seconds, or maybe in the future - to make that word rare and special, something worth giving. So he never labels it as such, and Rowena never brings it up, either. She knows too much (but not things that really matter) and he knows nothing and would be unable to recognize the emotion even if it is there.
He likes to think that he would know, though - just know, and isn't that such a Gryffindor notion? Such a Gryffindor notion for such an inwardly ruthless man. It makes him smile quietly - differently, one that no one (here, in this strangely new castle) would recognize.
vi: Here is the moment when all things twist: it is twilight (the time when the bad things cross over) and the school is unusually quiet. The two lovers pass each other in the hall and lock eyes, and it is not one of those moments when two people realize that they love each other madly. It is one of those moments when two people realize that they have been caught in a net and they are too tired to fight their way out.
It is a moment that makes Harry blink in recognition, and he cuts Rowena off with a nearly imperceptible sigh as he walks past her with strangely exhausted, sure steps. He is used to losing in things that matter.
Rowena stands still for a long time after, wondering when exactly life outmaneuvered her clever gaze. It is a game against an invisible opponent, and she has lost for the first time in her life.
There are no exits here.
vii: Harry is used to self-deceit. It is how he lives his life now - how he manages to drag himself from sleep every morning. It is the only way he can tape together his beaten psyche, and it is the blessed tool of his quasi-peace. He sews together lies with his own hands and willfully doesn't notice the large, messy stitches when he holds them up to his mind's eye. It is a game, and Harry is used to winning in all the things that don't matter.
But he can still recognize the deceit - he knows lies by flavor. So when he tells Rowena one hazy, lazy afternoon, "I don't love you," he tastes the truth on his tongue. He twirls his wand in the sun-lit room, and the quirk of his lips makes Rowena feel nothing when she looks up from her books, quizzical at the broken silence.
She smiles a little. "I know. Neither do I love you."
Rowena searches for truth by nature and necessity, coping with the ashes in the wind (not her mother - not) and her own helplessness when it matters. She searches for truth and so recognizes her lie.
Love. Don't say it. She won't say it.
viii: His smiles are frequent and blinding. He can pull them out of no where in a split-second and hold them for indeterminable lengths of time, through threats and chatter and lectures, without even a twitch. Rowena is painting his portrait with practiced skill - hers is an eye for immediate knowledge of angle and depth, shadow and proportion - when her scrutinizing gaze focuses on his smile.
She blinks and continues the delicate brushstrokes. "You have the perfect smile," she says.
"I cannot believe you have managed it for so long. Does it not hurt?"
No, there is no hidden message there. There never is. Rowena is a woman who knows people, but she does not know Harry. Harry is not people, and Rowena has never had even a glimpse of him since that split-second in the corridor when his grin fell away and he seemed so exhausted. She recognized that as truth, but she is unable to comprehend that such a large part of what makes Harry himself could be false. She seeks truth by nature and doesn't understand this important idea: not all are of her mindset. It is what makes them fail to be a them.
If she would ask him, he could tell her that sometimes lies are all people have - that sometimes they are cherished and custom-made for every occasion, like Madame Malkin's robes (but that isn't now, and she would have no idea what he is talking about).
But she doesn't, so all he says is, "No, it doesn't hurt."
They fall into comfortable silence, and dust motes dance in the sunlight.
ix: They utterly fail to understand each other on any real level - they miss each other on the way, the proverbial two ships passing in the night, and kiss the false images they hold.
x: When they marry, Harry takes Rowena's name instead of the other way around. The Founders have never known his family name - they believe him to be a nameless orphan, actually, and it is half-true but far enough from it to be called a lie. Harry has so many names. (Boy-Who-Lived. Savior. Child of Prophecy. Victor. Lord Potter. Brat. Boy. Freak.) He asks for her hand because it has been so long and Godric has threatened Harry quietly and secretly - that the man's voice was actually quiet was what made it effective - to make an honest woman out of Lady Ravenclaw before Godric had to defend her honor in a sword duel. ("It would be a shame," Godric said, clapping Harry's shoulder, "to kill such a dear friend.") She deserves validation, really. Harry had simply hoped for more.
No one questions the large grin on Harry's face when Salazar weaves the ribbon around their joined hands and ties it with a flourish and a small grin of his own.
But Rowena notes it and her quick, so-clever mind wonders softly, in a whisper, why it isn't that small, soft smile she caught a glimpse of three months ago when Salazar and Godric were arguing about Helga's betrothed. That smile had seemed so much more real...
The thought fades away effortlessly as she looks into his eyes and squeezes their entwined hands, and this is the moment in which she learns to lie to herself: she tells herself, He is happy with me.
And this is the moment in which Harry breaks his promise (i won't say it if i don't mean it) from so long ago: "I love you, Rowena."
He ignores the messy, gaping stitches with the ease of long practice and smiles brightly at his wife.
A/N: A request from Ezra'eil/Zlaker1001. Hope it's up to your standards, Ezra. And I tried to find you, but the Search feature on FFNet didn't come up with you and the email you sent me disappeared from my account - it is in neither trash nor inbox. I also searched all of my reviews (for forty-odd stories!) and the list of people who have Favorited and/or Alerted my stories, and you're not on there. In which case I throw in the towel and hope you check on this because I've wasted over an hour already. (Do you have any idea how many people have in some way contacted me? Argh!) Everyone, if you wish to read the story I write you, put me on freakin' Author Alert. If you don't want to be alerted for my stories set in fandoms you don't know, I swear you can take me off it once I post your story. I promise it won't hurt my feelings. Otherwise, be happy with the knowledge that a story you requested is Somewhere Out There.
Oh. Yeah. People who haven't read my work before: I take requests.
Feedback is lovely, but don't strain yourselves. (grins)