He opened his eyes. The sun was blood red when it eventually decided to surrender its territory for the reign of the moon. But not without dragging with it the beauty of the day, as if in spiteful revenge. As it disappeared behind the horizon, it snatched away the sweet melody of the joyous birds, the warmth of the dancing breeze, the crisp beauty of the winter-blue sky. It stole it possessively in its grasp, forcing them down to suffer in its bitter interlude.
Yet when the moon claimed the sky, it seemed not to care for the treasures the sun had selfishly stolen. Instead, it boasted its charismatic grace, the way it set a silver sheen across the aggrieved clouds and the way it glowed a pure orb white. It summoned the stars modestly to sky to share the beauty of the dark, to glitter their way in peaceful networks that dotted the blackness like sprinkled sugar.
The castle rested deep and silent in slumber, and Draco Malfoy twitched uneasily in his bed. The coldness of the school surprised him and he shivered involuntary. The duvet felt thick and itchy around him, like an extra layer of skin, and cold sweat drenched his forehead. The nightmare had been different this time; his father had been more cruel. He breathed unsteadily and listened to the loud protruding snores coming from Crabbe in the next-door bed.
Draco’s throat was parched. He couldn’t understand why; before bed he had bolted down a goblet of spring water, feeling the cold liquid trickle pleasantly down his throat. He had felt it swim at the bottom of his stomach as he climbed into bed, but now his mouth was so arid it felt as if he hadn’t drank in days.
He kicked back the covers irritably and sat up, his breath forming white clouds of vapour in the air. Shuddering, he stood shakily and fumbled around in the darkness, searching for his dressing gown. He tripped twice, once over his shoes, and a second time over Blaise’s pet cat, Sly, who yowled and hissed aggressively.
“Well get out the way then,” he snarled wearily as the cat arched its back and slumped away haughtily.
“Draco, are you ok?” Blaise asked suddenly, sitting up and squinting at him through the darkness.
“Oh, yeah, just fine – apart from the fact you’re bloody cat just clawed half my foot off! Go back to sleep!”
He hated all this sneaking around. He desired to have his relationship with Hermione out in the open. It’s your own stupid fault, he scolded himself wrathfully as he walked over to the window and sat on the ledge with his cheek pressed against the cold of the glass. You walked into this mess.
His problems seemed to be devouring him slowly from inside, until he thought he could take no more. He’d received a letter from Emstilla today, one of those soppy, wet sort that talk of love and marriage and the children they would share in the future. He rubbed the grains of sleep from his bleary eyes and tried not to think about it. What was the point in gazing over his problems when he was in an absolutely hopeless position and could do nothing to put them right?
Guilty, the resolve pushed to the front of his mind unwillingly. He forced himself to look upon it, then felt shame fluster him. He could put an end to all his troubles by simply telling Hermione he was no longer interested. That way, his father would continue to approve of him, to consider him an appropriate heir for the Malfoy dowry. He could take Harry Potter to Lord Voldemort without the painful tug of his conscience – all he had to do was deliver him and accept the gratitude of the Dark Lord. He didn’t even have to stay and watch him die.
Yet, despite all his longing to do so, he knew he did not hold the power and strength to kill someone innocent, to drive Hermione away after the love and passion they discovered each of them held.
Two weeks. Draco swallowed. Fourteen days seemed like a largely small amount of time to decide the fate of himself and another, to decide which path to take and see how vastly it would shatter his life. He heaved out a sigh and pulled on his robes over his pyjamas, then slipped into a pair of unpolished shoes and left the dormitory.
He hadn’t spoken to Hermione today. He hoped he hadn’t hurt her feelings. He seemed to be doing that a lot recently.
* * *
Hermione slept uneasily. She sat up with reluctance, pushing away the feign of sleep to rub at her eyes and yawn widely. Moonlight filtered in through the window in a gentle cascade. She stood up, her bare feet numb as they crossed the carpet, and slipped on her fluffy slippers.
Outside the dormitory, it was dark, and she pulled out her wand to light her way down the stairs. She knew why she couldn’t sleep. She was worried. Worried that Draco Malfoy was falling out of love for her. She hadn’t spoken to him since before Christmas, and during his stay at his family manor, he had warned her not to attempt writing to him, for if his father opened the letter first, the trouble they’d be in would be unimaginable. Beyond all boundaries, or so he’d told her.
Now she just wondered if that was a lie to cover the fact that he no longer wanted her.
He certainly hadn’t gone about proving her otherwise. In fact, he hadn’t even looked at her since his return. She had the queerest, coldest feeling that he was avoiding her.
Glancing at Ron and Harry’s expressions was worse that torture, and it almost brought her to the brim of tears, if she had allowed herself to break her pride and resolve. I told you so, they would say, and – he’s no good for you. But he is good for me, thought Hermione desperately as she picked her way across the common room and out into the corridor. After everything I’ve gone through, all I’ve done, the purity I’ve lost . . . please don’t tell me this was all for nothing, it was just some cruel Slytherin joke.
She didn’t know where she was going. Down to the lake was likely, the watch the sheen of the stars reflect within it. But it would be cold out there, and she was dressed in no more than her nightclothes and slippers. She felt utterly ridiculous. She pulled the rose-pink dressing gown more firmly around her, shuddering from the cold, wishing she could sleep with ease and reassurance that she still owned Draco Malfoy’s heart.
A hand reached out to grab her and she screamed in fright, only to have a hand pressed firmly over her mouth to silence the noise.
“Ssh,” Draco glared down at her almost angrily. “Do you want Filch to hear us?”
“Draco!” She exclaimed breathlessly when he released her. Eyes wide, she stared up at him with disbelief. “Well . . . this is a coincidence.”
“I was hoping to meet you,” he confessed. “I just decided to go on a walk to clear my head and dared to hope you’d do the same.”
She snuggled into him, but pulled back when anger pushed aside the love. “You’ve been avoiding me,” she accused. “Why? Don’t you . . . don’t you like me anymore?”
“I never liked you,” he snarled. At the hurt and shock in her face, his face broke into a broad grin. “I loved you.”
They stood in silence for a while, unsure of what to say. It seemed like years since last she had touched him. She brushed her lips softly against his, the tenderness of that kiss fragile and seemingly stolen in the darkness of the night. It just didn’t seem right; it seemed different. Something had changed, but she couldn’t seem to puzzle out what. The same thoughts seemed to trace Draco’s mind also, for she saw the bewilderment in his expression, but neither of them could bring themselves to uttering it.
“I don’t want to lose you,” Hermione informed him needlessly, but her voice was desperate, as if he couldn’t understand.
“You won’t,” he replied, looking away. Doubt creased his brow but he tried to hide it by kissing her again. She wanted more than just a kiss . . . why was he acting so cold, so distant? What could possibly brought this separation on? Perhaps, she wondered, he had told his father, and the pair of them had come to a decision that this wasn’t wise, only foolish. A pretence, not a reality.
Her heart burned and ached suddenly for a longing that he would tell her again he loved her, but prove it not with words but with actions, like that time in the Transfiguration classroom. It seemed like so long ago. She tried to imply what she wanted, but at her insistence he merely shook his head.
“Not now, Herm, I’m tired – I’m not in the mood. Can’t we just be together? Just stand?”
She didn’t answer for her disappointment, but he seemed not to notice.
When Hermione returned to bed that night, she was more worried than she had been before she’d encountered him. The fear in her heart fluttered at first and then stabbed like a knife edge, a blade probing at her soul tauntingly.
You’ve lost him, she scolded herself. He’s gone. He’s no longer yours.
She couldn’t help the hot tears that traced her cheeks.
Write a Review Lovers . . . to the bitter end: The Fading of Love