Chapter inspired by Sarah McLachlan's beautiful song, "Full of Grace."
The days were always so dark in December. Even during the brightest time of day, the sky would still be bleak, sometimes specked with snowflakes, sometimes not.
He didn't mind the darkness.
A vague reflection of the moon was visible through the mosaic windows. He smiled, if only bitterly, as he watched the light play with the colored glass. Beautiful, sure, but this day didn't have room for beauty. Not for him, at least. This day would be filled with despicable things. He wasn't ready – not yet, not ever – but he didn't give himself the privilege of a choice.
The small church had an odd serenity to it. It was one of the places where he could truly escape. It was so far away from the world he knew that he couldn't help but embrace it with relief. Sometimes he thought that if he sat there long enough, concentrated on the psalms and prayers hard enough, then maybe he would feel cleansed. Maybe then he could start over.
Why couldn't he find peace in faith like so many other people had? Better yet, why couldn't he find peace in anything? Standing in the middle of the aisle, candles from the pews dancing across his blank face, he could only think of one thing that matched that description. And he was about to let it go.
The hand that was dug into his pocket clutched a wrinkled parchment with a strong, slightly trembling fist. A letter he had spent so much time writing. So many failed attempts, so much paper that had gone to waste and he'd ended up with something he still wasn't quite satisfied with. He wasn't good at this sort of thing. Explaining all the things that went through his head.
But she deserved that, if nothing else. He might've been oblivious, even careless at times, but he knew she would ask this of him. He also knew that whatever he was going to say wasn't going to be enough.
I could try and explain myself to you, but what would the use of that be? You see, I know you. Better than you may think. You would ask me for more than I can give you. And believe me, I know you deserve that, you deserve so much more, but I'm not cut out for it. You can't ask me to explain. I'll break if I try.
Steely gray eyes scanned the empty church one last time before he turned around and walked down the scarcely lit aisle with long, heavy steps. All good things must come to an end … wasn't that what they all said? He felt like it had just begun seconds ago instead of years. He hadn't realized…
A soft wind rushed by and cooled his flushed face as he stepped outside, immediately greeted with a world wrapped in a glittering layer of snow. He was cold, but then, not really – it didn't matter anyway. Almost in complete trance, he put on his leather gloves and hid them under his cape, exhaling a long breath that turned into cold clouds of air the instant it passed his lips.
Every movement in his body froze when he spotted her. Standing by a snow-covered log not too far from him, she looked at him with a silent tranquility that was so unlike her. Tiny snowflakes were stuck in her dark, wavy hair and it looked lighter, almost like a halo. But her eyes – they were expectant. Distant … almost cold. He didn't even have to question why that was.
She already knew.
Don't you know that you're the only thing in my life that's worth anything? When I'm with you, I'm never hungry or thirsty or in need of anything but you. I never imagined you could have this kind of effect on me. Never, in all the years we were competitors in school. Do you even understand the consequences of what we've gotten ourselves into? But I don't know what to do. I need you.
I wasn't brought up to needing anybody.
He hadn't even made it all the way to her before she spoke.
"Why here, Draco? Of all places … what do you have to tell me?"
He sighed lightly. It was an involuntary reflex. He wasn't ready for this yet. Other than that, there was nothing on his face or in his posture to indicate that he felt anything other than indifference. "I think you know already," he replied hoarsely.
She was trying to be strong. She really was. For all in the world, she wished that she could mirror that collected façade he seemed to carry around with him like a protection blanket. She'd even prepared herself for this moment, but she still had to close her eyes for just a second to hide the pain she knew would be there.
He never asked her to come to this church – his church – unless it was a dire emergency. Or he wanted to talk about the two of them. Wanted to tell her something that he knew would devastate her. She knew this would be the only place he would tell her that they couldn't be together anymore. It was either two options.
She hadn't heard of any dire emergencies for a while.
"I see," she nodded, swallowing her heartbreak in one take. She crossed her arms over her heaving chest, inspecting his expression carefully. "Do you have the decency to tell me why?"
His gray eyes had dulled in the few minutes he'd been with her. From what, she didn't know. "You knew this was gonna happen someday," he said quietly, averting her gaze with expertise. "We both knew."
Her regard never faltered. "I'm still waiting for the 'why' part."
He looked at her then, aggravation reflecting in his voice as he spoke. "What do you want me to say, Hermione? That I'm tired of keeping this a secret? That it'll never, not in a million years, last till the end? That we'll get virtually slaughtered by our friends and family if they ever found out? Please, tell me when to stop, 'cause I can keep going."
"That's not good enough," she sneered harshly, the sound breaking the dull tranquility that the snow landscape had wrapped them in. "Those are all excuses, Draco. They're everybody else's excuses and explanations. Not yours." Her expression suddenly changed – despair and confusion mixed with the anger. "You can't … after two years, you can't just say that and think it'll make everything okay … like it didn't mean anything…"
He was slowly, but surely dissolving. He just wanted her to leave and wanted to her to stay and God, if she kept looking at him like that he would break down right then and there. What was supposed to come out as a harsh argument turned into a pained whisper. "It meant something, okay? It was everything, Hermione, you bloody well know that. I just…"
You're going to want me to explain why I'm ending this between us, because you need answers to everything. It all has to add up in a perfect unity to create the best spell or the finest potion. That's okay though, because that's who you are and it's part of what I love the most about you.
But what if I told you that the only reason I have is that I'm scared?
Because I am. I'm petrified that I might not be able to do or say the right things that'll make you feel just as appreciated as you should be. I never really had to answer to anybody but myself before you came along. It took a bit of getting used to, but I got the hang of it eventually. It's not me though. It's not who I am.
He sighed again and turned away from her, took a few angry steps in the opposite direction. "Damnit, do you think this is easy for me?"
"I don't know," she deadpanned. "Then again, when do I know anything that's going on with you? Sometimes I could swear you were made out of pure stone."
He whirled around swiftly, staring at her in wonder. "Well, I'm sorry if my bloody heart breaking isn't good enough for you, but it's the best I can do."
Not even a second later, she was in front of him, shoving him as hard as she could, angry tears brimming in her eyes. "Does anything rattle you, Malfoy?!" she cried brokenly, shoving him hard again. "If I told you I hate you right now, would that even matter to you?"
He prevented a third push by grabbing both her wrists and holding her in place, barely noticing her fight against his hold. "You don't mean that," he said firmly, his voice etched with despair, silently wondering who he was trying to convince.
She stopped struggling long enough to meet his gaze, stopped long enough to see the pain that flickered in his eyes. She tried to breathe, just to exhale, but all that came out was a desperate sob. "I want to," she croaked as she fell into him, leaned her head against his strong chest. "God, I want to," she repeated in a whisper.
If I was different, or could change myself like I want to, I know I could love you much better than this.
"It's better this way," he reasoned quietly, resting his head on top of hers and closing his eyes in silent longing. "We're too different, Hermione."
"I don't care about that," she huffed in disgust. Lifting her head again, she caught his gaze before he had a chance to reply. "Is it because…" she began, choking on the words as her eyes watered up again. "Because you don't love me anymore?"
He gasped, so faintly that he wasn't even sure if he had actually exhaled or if he'd just stopped breathing all together. Still looking at her, silent for a while, trying to keep his emotions under control. How could she even ask that? Didn't she know how much…
His hand came to rest on her cheek, stroking it lightly, with more affection than she had felt from him in a long time. Her eyes fell closed – she didn't have a choice in the matter. Leaning into the touch with gratitude, she could only feel him hold her head tighter, pull her closer to him still.
"No," he finally said, his voice hoarse with emotion. "No, that's not why. That'll never…"
She opened her eyes again and all she could see was him. Those deep, gray eyes that always showed her much more than he thought he allowed her to. She offered him a trembling smile and slowly, not looking away even for a second, leaned closer. Those gray eyes were the last thing she saw before she closed her eyes.
Their lips had barely touched before he pulled away. "No." Taking a few steps back, he tried to stop his heart from beating so fast and his hands from shaking so hard. "No." He stopped short, couldn't take another step, and averted his eyes to the ground.
Why – why would she do that? Make him weak when he was fighting every last part of his body to stay strong. If he gave in like he wanted to, like he so desperately craved, he wouldn't be able to finish what he'd started.
He had to finish it.
She stumbled back, almost fell, as if she'd been stricken hard. Her lips were burning. He'd barely touched them, but they were already on fire. She stared at him in silence, tears now falling freely down her cheeks. She had felt it. She knew she had. The way he had almost succumbed to her right then. The faint brush of his lips against hers and his hands cupping her face a little tighter, if only for a second.
What was holding him back?
"You still haven't given me a reason," she whispered. She didn't trust her voice any longer, knew that if she tried to speak, she would break down and lose whatever shred of dignity she had left.
"Do you really want to know?" he asked, meeting her gaze again with a regained sense of control.
She nodded mutely.
Snowflakes were still falling steadily around them, muffling their cries, hiding their tears and protecting them from the world. Draco took a deep breath, his chest rising, and didn't let his gaze falter as he calmly said, "My father decided it was time for me to settle down. He found me a fiancé. A Pureblood."
I'll do whatever it takes to make you let me go. I'll lie if I have to. No matter what I do, I'll hurt you. You don't know how much that kills me to realize. I've hurt you enough as it is, haven't I? Sometimes it seems like it's the only thing I'm good for when it comes to you.
Hurting you is easy, because it's the only thing that can push you away when you get too close. I wish I could love you just as easily. I wish I could let you in. Even though you know me better than anybody, you know so much that it scares me to death sometimes – you still don't know everything about me. No one ever will.
He struggled not to lose his calm façade as he watched her crumble. Fought himself not to run over to her when tears started running down her cold cheeks again. Fought not to yell, "I'm sorry" as loud as he could.
His father probably would find a bride for him eventually. No, he wasn't lying to her. He wasn't.
He could've hit her, he could've told her that he never loved her, that he couldn't stand the sight of her – and it wouldn't have hurt nearly as much. A lone sob escaped her throat as she stared at him in complete disbelief. Cold and unreachable as always. She hated it. She hated that coldness. She hated that he wasn't hers anymore. She hated how much she loved him when he occasionally let her in. She hated that he had just gone back to his old, discriminating ways.
She hated that she was crying because of it.
Barely sensing anything anymore, she flung herself at him, knocking them both to the ground and pounding on his chest as hard as she could, angry cries mixing with desperate sobs.
"Go to hell, Malfoy!" she screamed, crying and hitting and not even sensing that he wasn't trying to stop her. "How could you do this to me? I loved you so much … I would've done anything! Why didn't you want to try? Why wouldn't you let me try…?"
Her fists were knocking the air out of his lungs, but he didn't care. Her tears were falling from her cheeks and dripping on his face and he considered them his own the second they trickled down his skin. He couldn't stand to cry, but he was. Her tears were his.
He took every punch for a while, not saying anything, just listening to her scream at him – cry for him. Breaking a little more with each word. Finally he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her harshly to him, holding her as her screams increased and she tried to hit him again, but his hold was too strong. His hand tangled in her dark hair and he pressed her head against his chest as she screamed and kicked, but he wouldn't let her go, he couldn't, and then she was crying and holding onto him for dear life. He ran his hands up and down her back, kissed her head and whispered sweet nothings to her as her tiny body shook with the force of her tears.
"I love you," he whispered over and over again, so many times that it started to sound like a comforting lullaby in her ears. "God, I'm sorry, Hermione. I'm so sorry. There's nothing I can do."
"No," she hiccupped, holding him even tighter. "That's not-"
"Yes it is," he interrupted. "It's out of my hands now. Please. Try to understand."
I don't think it'll be possible for me to love anyone as much I love you, Hermione Granger. You're my life. And you will be the death of me. With just one word, you can crush me. Just one look and I'll do whatever you ask of me. You opened my eyes, my love. And without you, they will close again.
In a few seconds, she was out of his arms, on her feet and staring down at him in disbelief. "Understand?" she repeated, spitting out the word like it was poison. "I'm not ever going to understand, Draco. How you could just throw this away because I'm not…" Her voice cracked and she looked up, her eyes watery, and took a deep breath. "I can't change who I am," she said a moment later. Looking down at him again, she added, "And apparently, neither can you."
With that, she turned around and walked away. Holding herself close, she was unable to stop her tears, but she didn't turn around. Hoping he would call for her, but knowing that he wouldn't. She was leaving a part of herself behind, but it didn't matter. That part of her would always be his.
He watched her silhouette grow more blurry as the snowfall grew thicker. Still sitting in the cold snow, but not even registering how much he was trembling from the cold. He could only watch her walk away. Hear one word echo in his head over and over again. A word he couldn't get past his lips.
His hand still clutching the forgotten letter in his pocket.
Always remain the unique person that you are and one day, I know you'll find that man who can give himself up completely for you.
I just wish it could've been me.