My resolve slips at the look in her eyes. Momentarily, I am reduced to a young, innocent child. A child incapable of the atrocity that prickles my fingers, forcing my wand into position, pointing at her like a compass points north. But as a child ages, so do I. Swiftly, like wildfire.
“What are you doing?” Her voice trembles.
I grip my wand tightly. Fingers – cold, like knives – clench around the stick of wood. Her death, balled in my fist.
“I have to do this,” I respond, jaw clenching.
Rising to my feet, my cloak tumbles from its messy circle about my folded legs. It falls, billowing out like a dark cloud, coming to rest at my feet, motionless, still. Lifeless. As she soon will be.
“You don’t have to do anything,” she assures me.
She appears cool, collected, while my insides burn and burn, leaving scars, invisible and angry.
“Yes.” I nod my head. Long, sweat-drenched locks sway across my vision. Hastily, I push them away as I breathe, “My life has been written for me. I know what I must do.”
“But you can’t possibly believe in Fate,” she protests, sounding perplexed.
“Fate.” The word feels strange against my tongue. “The idea that we are meant to fulfill a specific destiny, written precisely for us, by some higher being… it’s –” I falter.
“I can’t explain it,” I admit hesitantly.
Her hand rests on my knee. She looks nervous, on the brink, dangerously close to the raw brutality of truth. My insides churn at the thought; the truth she seeks is my darkest secret.
“What are you afraid of?”
I can feel the heat of her breath on my face as I claim my seat at her side. Turning away from her cold-reddened cheeks, I press the heels of my hands into my eyes, cutting out her image. Burning lights are born from the pressure.
Sweat pools in my temples, a witness to my trepidation.
“I’m just… afraid” is all I allow myself to admit.
Her frown at my malcontent speaks of her ignorance; she trusts me, thinks I am different than the others, that I am not a killer. But she is wrong.
“You look ill,” she says.
Looking into her eyes, the horror of my mission presents itself; one of its many tendrils reaches toward me, gently, affectionately. I grasp at it blindly, but it slips smoothly through my fingers, whirling upwards, resting against my eardrum. Create the illusion, it whispers. Delude her. Reassure her of your friendship, of this kindling trust. Act your part; draw your wand.
“Hermione…” I whisper shakily, calling to her as though she cannot see me.
Hearing my quivering exhale, her worried eyes roam my face. Unbridled curiosity pours from her stiff, eager posture. Her eyes, as she looks up, are bright and speak of her innocence, her ignorance. Only I know that tonight, beside the faceless, uncaring trees at the cusp of the Forbidden Forest, she must die.
A/N: Now that you've read it forwards, try reading it backwards. No, really, go on. :) Yes, this fic (like it's title) can be read either way.
Any questions, please ask away. I respond to all my reviews. Thanks to Ilia for issuing the “Every Word Counts” challenge. If it weren’t for the short length requirement, I never would have attempted a fic quite like this.