Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me.


She feels him before she sees him. A heaviness spreads through the air around her, through her skin and bones, but it is not unpleasant. It reminds her of the moment that comes on the edge of sleep when action is unthinkable, but thought and sensation flow together, heightened and omniscient and united as they never are in daylight. It has always been that way with him, she thinks, and isn't sure whether to feel comfort that his presence is unchanged or to wish that he carried some brand that marked the horrible beliefs now lodged inside him.

It takes great effort, but she manages to speak. "I told you I don't want to see you."

She expects pleading and promises; she's almost glad when he speaks with a harshness he had abandoned while trying to win her back. "You're dating Potter."

She doesn't turn to face him. "Who I see has never been any of your business." And it certainly isn't now, she wants to add, but doesn't. She doesn't, because she's tired of indulging a jealousy she doesn't understand – what would he do with her if he had her to himself? It's been years since he has shown her anything but contempt. She imagines that possessiveness is now simply a hard-to-break habit.

She sometimes wonders if he had done this – done all of this – to prove that her mercy couldn't save him. To show that her compassion was more painful than any neglect he had withstood. But she never allows that thought to take hold of her, because it would mean acknowledging that he had cared enough for her to bother finding the ways to injure her that would shut her from him forever. She bears the damage he caused her easily, but the thought that love was sacrificed on both sides is intolerable. It is so much easier to think him cold and cruel.

His fingers graze her bare arm and she stops walking. They are standing under a tree, and the lacy shadows falling upon her skin are familiar to her. They used to sit here and talk, she recalls. She stills, wondering if their words are still here somewhere – echoes of laughter caught amongst the boughs. But it's difficult to believe that they ever brought each other happiness, and if those memories still exist, they surely do not belong to the two people who stand here now.

"Please," he says, "I'll do anything." His hand lingers on her arm, and the warm touch feels scalding in the cool breeze. She can't remember him ever reaching for her before, and perhaps it is that that finally convinces her to face him.

His hand falls away as she turns. "There's nothing you can do," she says, and for the first time, her voice softens and her eyes seek his gaze gently. "It's too late." She says the words automatically, thinking they are the kindest she has given to him since their falling-out – surely it is a comfort to him to be released from the burden of searching for that one act that will earn her forgiveness. But as she speaks, she hears a different truth – one that is only revealed to her as she gives it conscious voice. She forgave him long ago, when she saw his unhappiness on his chosen path – or rather, the path that he was pushed towards since his birth until he gave in and accepted what was easiest. But she's exhausted beyond measure from years of fighting to help someone who no longer knows or cares how to help himself, and she simply lacks the strength to do it any longer.

His fingers lock around her wrist, and the call is more powerful than any words. Her wrist twists in his hand to return the grasp. She thinks of the kisses she has traded with James – shy hints of lips amidst awkward, fluttering laughs. Somehow, the soft underside of his forearm beneath her palm is more intimate than any of these.

Her gaze clings to his face. It has been weeks since they've spoken, and although his features had not yet faded from her mind, she had forgotten the precise way in which they slipped and shaded from one expression to the next. He isn't attractive – at least, not handsome in the way that James is – but his face fascinates her in its familiarity. She knows that to most he appears utterly remore, but to her, he is like grass swaying beneath the wind as emotions ripple across his countenance. And suddenly, the full momentousness of their shared history crashes over her. She hopes that her life will never again become so tangled with another's, but the momentum of memory is undeniable, and her eyes fall shut.

His breath spreads across the surface of her face and she feels scarred – her cheeks flush in its wake – a trail of blood called forth by him. The air near her shifts, and she knows his lips are near her own, but all she can feel is the emptiness around her and the fever that stings just beneath her skin and the sudden stoniness of her body, and she sees death beneath her closed lids. She can no longer separate desire from fear. It doesn't matter though, because she's certain that whatever it is that is whispering to her of oblivion as she leans forward is unstoppable – especially if it is some force buried deep within herself.

But contact never comes. Fingers slip off her wrist, and she is still perfectly, painfully aware of herself as she opens her eyes to see him staring at the ground. She thinks fleetingly that if they had kissed, she would be utterly within his sway, and she wonders what it would be like to be little more than a dream born in his mind, floating through existence only when he summons it.

She shakes her head to clear it, reminding herself that she has earned the right to be selfish, just this once. She senses, now, that a moment and all of its successors have faded forever – she will never speak to him again, she thinks – not really. And surely it is for the best – she has won a life.

But as she walks away, she looks back over her shoulder. His downward gaze never wavers. And if this is selfishness, she wonders, why does it hurt?