He sees her walking across the grounds and runs to catch up to her. For the first few weeks following their arguments, he followed her everywhere with his pleas, but she had eventually chipped away at his hopes just enough to convince him to leave their meetings to chance – because surely coincidence or fate or whatever she believes in is something she cannot deny.
He doesn't believe she will forgive him this time – he never really expected her to. But the truth, shameful as it is, is that suffering her scorn, for all the agony it causes, carries with it an unintended pleasure that her indifference does not. Her lips shape his name as no one else's ever have, even when it drops from them with heavy anger. The thought that one day his name might slip from her thoughts is unbearable.
"I told you I don't want to see you." The words startle him, not because of what they say but because of when and how she says them. Her voice flows monotonously from one word to the next, controlled and perfect in its dismissal. But what, he wonders, prompted her to speak after minutes of silence, if not the spread of some emotion to excruciating dimensions? The thought that she feels something encourages him.
"You're dating Potter." In the past, he had made the same accusation out of genuine jealousy. The same resentment still festers in him, but he speaks the words now because he knows the anger they will provoke. He thinks that if he can just bind himself to her fury, he might survive.
"Who I see has never been any of your business," she retorts, and he knows that it was always true, but that it's truer now, after everything he has done. He will never tell her why he has chosen what he has. He cannot admit that he knew from the beginning, knew at every irreversible step, that she was suffering because of him. He could argue that he had been caught like a leaf in a wind, blown helplessly forward by something infinitely more powerful, and it would be true. The trouble is, he thinks, that that momentum burns somewhere inside him. Because however much her tears burned him, each one was a victory. Each one was proof that he had harmed her before she could do the same to him, and each one buttressed the twin structures that let him live – an odd, passionate pride, and the most profound self-hatred.
The frail satisfaction her bitterness brought to him dissipates when he sees that she has stopped under the tree he has always thought of as theirs, despite the fact that their initials are nowhere to be found amongst the carved hearts that litter its trunk. He once took pleasure in the thought that their names could never be cheapened by association with those others, and pretended that that was why their names were missing from this monument. Standing here now, though, he wishes that their friendship – because it wasn't love they shared, he knows – had changed the contours of the world as these had. But the hours they had spent sitting beneath these branches had left no mark. If emotions left footprints, he wonders, could they slip away from us as softly?
It is the crushing presence of what has vanished that reveals a cruel simplicity to him; if he doesn't speak, she will leave, and if she leaves, he will be lost. "Please," he whispers, "I'll do anything." His hand falls on her arm. He wonders if this reminder can hold her.
She turns to face him, and it isn't right, he thinks, that she only grants him the warmth of her features and the caress of her voice to shatter him by saying, so kindly "There's nothing you can do. It's too late." He knows, as he looks at her, that her tender tone is utterly sincere, and that is even worse.
He reaches out blindly, thinking of nothing but delaying her for just one moment longer. He clutches at the wrist his hand brushes, and her pulse shudders beneath his fingers.
He is at her mercy, and it is too much to be believed when her own hand finds his arm and her eyes lift to meet his own. She searches his face longingly, and he wants to look away and beg her not to gaze at him like that – as if his plain features deserved a space within her memory. As if he mattered. Her lips part as if in realization, and a tear stutters down her cheek. The breeze fans out her hair behind her. Her eyes are ringed with red by now – she doesn't cry gracefully – but it doesn't matter. She has never seemed lovelier than now, with her face open before his.
Their faces are nearly touching when her eyes fall shut. He breathes in and out and tells himself to kiss her as she trembles. But he can't. Whether through trust or through surrender, she has somehow stripped him of his victimhood and placed herself within his power, and he hates her for it. He lets her go, and thinks bitterly that this is a true act of self-sacrifice – one that she will never recognize as such. It is all that he can offer her, because he wants to believe her his salvation, but knows that he would be her destruction first.
She opens her eyes and shakes her head, and he wonders if that is all it takes for her to rid herself of him for good. He looks up only once as she walks away, but her steps are even and assured, and he averts his gaze.
And years later when he thinks about her death, he doesn't imagine murder and blood - he remembers her red hair swing behind her with finality as she turned to leave him.