I had a terrible case of the itchy post-its, so I had to put this up. The entire story is fairly short, comparatively. I'll be posting chapters of it every 3 days. My dear friend, bsmog, and beta, bookjunkie1975, pre-read for me. I'm eternally grateful to them for always giving me the little nudge of encouragement I need.
There's this place in me where your fingerprints still rest, your kisses still linger, and your whispers softly echo. It's the place where a part of you will forever be a part of me.
They say that when a person loses one of their senses, the others heighten in an attempt to make up for the lack. I think he must have been one of mine. I notice such insignificant things now that I never had before.
Songs that I'd never bothered to listen to have suddenly taken on far too much meaning for my own comfort. The slightest brush of a hand against mine is a painful reminder of the fact that it isn't his hand. Everything is so poignant, yet nothing possesses the joie de vivre it once had.
I can almost taste the sunrise, like vanilla and tangerines blended into one smooth, delicious, summertime kiss. I sit in the park across the street from home, watching the day begin. The sun peeks over the horizon in a futile attempt to catch a glimpse of the night sky that is now retreating in its presence, for no two things so entirely opposite could ever coexist in the same place at the same time.
I wonder how that escaped our notice for so long.
"Happy birthday, Draco." Hermione stretches up on her tiptoes and kisses my cheek sweetly before thrusting a shiny, ribboned package into my hands.
"Thank you," I say, trying to infuse my tone with as much life and sincerity as I can muster. It's hard seeing them, Harry's friends who, over the course of the years, have become our friends, but I can't turn them away. Not when they're all I have left.
Hermione casts a wary glance at her husband. Ron fumbles, quickly wiping away all traces of sympathy from his features as he pulls a bottle of wine from one of the over-stuffed bags he's holding.
Sympathy from a Weasley: the very last thing I want.
"Right, er…here you go, mate. Happy birthday." He hands me a bottle of incandescent red wine. Even if it wasn't glowing, I'd still recognise it to be from a prestigious Irish Elvin vineyard. The bottle practically hums with ancient magic. It must have set them back a fortune.
"Thank you," I manage, as I stare at the intricately etched pattern on the bottle.
"That one's for a special occasion," Hermione says as she takes the wine from my hands, replacing it with a more practical 2006 merlot. "Not that your birthday isn't special." She smiles half-heartedly as though she's aching to say more, but not allowing herself to.
It would be ridiculous, their level of discomfort in my presence lately, if I were on the outside of this situation looking in, but I'm not. I'm inside myself with no escape. Isolated like the abomination that I am. It's the first birthday I've spent without him in three years. The first birthday where I wasn't woken by the smell of sizzling sausage and freshly brewed coffee, greeted by his dazzling smile and warm embrace. I wonder when exactly I became this person; the kind of person who allows himself to love so deeply that the emotion takes on a life of its own, twisting and writhing its way through one's soul.
I shove my free hand into my pocket and stare down at the label on the bottle, unsure of where else to look. I know it's my eyes that make them most uncomfortable around me. Ron doesn't ever say much, but Hermione told me once, after a few too many firewhiskies at the pub, that they looked frighteningly lifeless. Clearly, compliments and gentle words were lost on her, or rather, exhausted from consoling me within the first few months of his absence.
"We brought dinner. I hope you're hungry." Hermione takes my sleeve and guides me into the kitchen. "Chinese food."
Ron sets the bags on the table as his wife tries her best to reach the wine glasses that are hanging just a bit too high without asking for help. I step up beside her and spare her the trouble, plastering a smile on my face as I arch an eyebrow at her. She smiles back, genuine this time, unlike when she first arrived this evening.
"Show off," she says, taking the glasses from my hands.
"It isn't my fault that Muggles don't consider height advantages when selecting breeding material."
"Breeding material?" Hermione snorts. "Most people don't consider that sort of thing at all when falling in love, Draco." Her smile falls as she realises she's said the dreaded "L" word.
I continue to smile down at her, hoping to hide my hurt. "Don't," I say. "I don't need to be coddled. It's been nearly a year, Hermione. I don't want you walking on eggshells around me."
Her eyes search mine as if trying to determine the level of truth to my request. She opens her mouth to speak, but no words come out. Weasley brushes by, collecting plates from the cabinet to set our places at the table. It's odd to me, their refusal to use magic for simple domestic tasks, but I imagine they have their reasons.
"It's okay, Hermione. Honestly. It's just this day."
She nods her head and offers a tight smile before finding her voice again. "He asked about you today...told me to wish you a happy birthday."
My stomach twists at her words, a thousand memories churning in my mind and all I can do is nod.
"He misses you." Her bottom lip trembles slightly as though she's on the verge of tears, and whether it's because she knows it's a sensitive subject to discuss with me on a day that my emotions are already frayed, or simply the fact that she wants us back together almost as much as I do, I can't quite tell.
"He knows where to find me. I'm not the one who left." I turn from her, busying myself with the task of opening the bottle of wine, not willing to let her see the pain that I know is gleaming in my eyes.
The evening draws on in a soft blend of casual conversation and easy laughter, cut off too soon when my mother firecalls to wish me happy birthday. They slip out behind me, leaving the shining package and glowing bottle of Elven wine sitting in the tidied kitchen. I close the floo connection, ward the doors, and head to bed without touching either. The wards are still the same as when he left. I refuse to change them.
The guest room I stay in at Grimmauld Place still doesn't feel right to me, but I never could bring myself to going back to our bed without him. I imagine it isn't just the guest room. Nothing feels right anymore.
For the first time since the night he left, I crack the door open as I go to pass, peeking inside. Perhaps a small part of me hopes to see him there, lying on the bed, wrapped in sheets and wearing nothing else but a smile as he waits for me to join him. Of course, that isn't the case.
The room is still exactly as it was the day he left, only now, everything is covered in dust, dulling the vibrant colours that once breathed life into this space. A candle still burns on the bedside table, a result of Harry's Everlast Charm. The flame isn't hot, so the wax never burns down, nor does the wick. He was so proud of himself for coming up with that one.
I point my wand at it, preparing to extinguish the flame when something deep inside me twists painfully. It's irrational, I know, but part of me wants to believe that it burns for a reason. A faint representation of my love for him, everlasting, even after all this time. Or maybe one day he'll need it to find his way back.
Not willing to step inside the room for fear of offsetting the careful balance of us with too much of my own solitary presence, I Accio the candle into my outstretched hand.
Clicking the door shut, I continue down the hall to my own bed thinking that it's probably time I have a house elf come and clean that room. It's sat as a shrine to our failed relationship long enough, and even if I'm not quite ready to move on, perhaps the house is.
The wallpaper in this particular guest room is covered in crickets perched upon small olive branches. I never understood how someone could find that an attractive theme in home decor, but the Black's had always been a strange sort. I chose this room for my own when Harry left because of the incessant chirping that served to fill the aching silence. They quiet as soon as I enter, disrupting their song of solitude with my nightly routine. When I've finished preparing for bed, I curl under the covers, watching the flickering light of the candle flame, lost in thoughts of warmer nights and happier birthdays. I try not to think of his arm draped over me, holding me close, or his hot breath on the back of my neck as he laughs at my half-hearted attempt to move away. The crickets begin to chirping again as soon as I stop moving about and disturbing them, their soft melody lulling me into a dreamless sleep.
I'm surprised to note that thirty doesn't really feel very different from twenty-nine. I'd hoped to have more accomplished by this time in my life, but considering the setback of last June, the importance of career advancements and social stature pale in comparison to what really matters.
I lie in bed, listening to the slowing sounds of the crickets chirping as the sun rises beyond the window pane, casting its amber light across the grey room. Harry's candle still burns beside me and I almost laugh at my absurd thoughts of the previous night. Of course it isn't meant to light his way home. He knows perfectly well how to get here if he wanted to.
Thank you for reading. I promise this isn't angst for the sake of angst. I try my best to give everything a purpose. Next chapter is a bit longer, and will be posted Thursday.
As always, reviews are greatly appreciated.