He painted her, silently and solemnly, for another consecutive evening. It was a Friday, so Ginny would be able to go see her family the next day. She thought about that and also about what she would have to tell Harry. So far she didn't make much progress at all, Draco would probably not take the help that was offered to him. If she could only nudge closer and become his friend! Yet, by becoming close to him, she was endangering her job position, because Narcissa most certainly didn't like her.
It aggravated her that Draco referred to her as a servant, especially when she had worked twice as hard as she could to make herself seem like a friend, or maybe like one of the family.
" Oh, come on, you're frowning." Draco said, softly.
" I'm sorry." Ginny tucked her lips back into place and loosened her eyebrows.
" Is something wrong? Lavender's news maybe?" Draco asked. He looked genuinely curious, but he had probably waited in anxiety those few days so that, if he would ask, it would seem as if he hadn't originally cared and that it was a passing thought in his mind.
" No. Nothing's wrong at all." Ginny's bright smile resurfaced.
" Good then." He continued painting, eyes half-closed in thought. He turned to check the old clock on the mantle of the fireplace, which he had dragged out of his room so that he'd be able to check the time accordingly. It was already nine twenty-four in the evening, and he wanted to get some sleep because he had been meaning to give the roof a glance-over in the morning, before Narcissa woke up.
Ginny suddenly realized that she could open up and tell Draco some of her problems as well, and her thoughts and insights, and maybe even small details of her life. That way, he'd unwillingly be drawn closer to her. How could anyone reject a friendship with someone they'd know that much about? " Lavender is going out with Ron."
" Good luck to him." Draco replied and twirled his brush in the crimson paint.
" Lavender's working for Trelawney now, she really liked that class in school." Ginny continued again, hoping for a bigger answer.
" It would be awful to work for Trelawney. Every day, she'd tell you that tomorrow at noon you'll fall and break your leg, or that next week your dog will get stabbed with an ice pick." His eyes glanced over from the easel.
Ginny chuckled. " Lavender's getting better at predicting things, too, but she mostly deals with love spells and the like."
" That's all garbage." There was harshness in his tone. " Love? What's love, then, if you can buy it in a cheap bottle and spray it on yourself?"
She nodded in agreement. " I think that it's not true love, either, if you get it from a potion. You need to earn it."
Draco took out a smaller brush, one much less fierce-looking; he then loaded it with a crisp pale yellow to accent the natural highlighted areas in Ginny's hair. He seemed to have separated himself from the conversation once more. He was so skillful with it already – he could do a simple action and at the same time suggest he wanted out of a conversation. That evasiveness made Ginny continue.
" Don't you ever want to go out and meet a nice girl?" Ginny asked. " It's not fair to yourself if you limit yourself to this castle and the Ministry. You never go anywhere."
" Tomorrow I'm going shopping." Draco said.
" No, but you never take a stroll in the park, or…"
" The park? People walk their dogs all the time there, you wouldn't believe the mess those dogs leave behind."
" That was just an example. You can go to a café."
" Look, I can live without a woman hanging off my arm." Draco told her.
" Women are not just for—"
" Fine then. They cook, clean, and care for children."
" That's sexist!" Ginny exclaimed.
" Your mother did all those things, right? So did my mother. They're the same. All mothers are the same." Draco replied. He paused and took in what he just said. Immediately it was weighed against the various judges in his mind, finally he added: " Our mothers aren't really them same…"
Ginny was silent. Draco kept his mouth shut for a good five minutes as well, painting her in a reverent quiet that was heavy with anticipation – who'll speak next? What will they say? What sort of questions would they ask?
" I think you have a lot to offer." Ginny said, finally.
" No woman would put up with me."
" I think you're an awful pessimist." She grumbled, plucking at a string in the couch beneath her.
" I guess life teaches you things." Draco replied. He was still readily coming up with witty replies to all her statements and questions, but it was getting harder. What he really felt like doing, in all honesty, was reaching out and gently tugging on a curl and then letting it go, watching it go twang.
He finished her eyes, but noticed he couldn't quite picture the melting warmth that seemed to be there. Instead he made them a bit lighter, adding honey-colored tones and tiny dandelion specks. He had already finished the hair, but his brush kept returning to it, tracing over the perfect curls again, wanting to be able to watch her hair again. He didn't like staring into her eyes, that's why he got the eyes over with so quickly.
" Your hair's your nicest quality." Draco said, thoughtfully, beginning on her ears, which just barely peeked out from the curtains of red hair.
" Thank you." She raised a finger to her hair and twirled delectably, as if she had noticed it for the first time.
Suddenly, he reached out and grasped the curl, not daring to resist the temptations any longer. He looked at it, slowly spreading the hairs apart so they stood out individually on the frail pink pads of his fingers. Strong red streaks, powerful dark ones, the occasional dash of gold. He looked up at her again and saw her face was crimson.
" Can I…?" He asked, a bit too late.
He stood up and sat down beside her, slowly weaving his fingers through her hair, not touching the hair by her face or by her neck, but rather grasping it where it fell loosely on the back of the love seat.
Ginny reached behind her head and then split her hair into two, as if she were going to make two ponytails. She gathered the half closer to Draco's in a bunch and then presented it to him. " Hand's-on experiment, I suppose?" She asked.
He began to braid her hair, shadows were moving across his face, deepening him into a pit of remembering. " When I was little, I'd braid my mother's hair." He said, finally, staring at the finished braid before him. He looked sorry to see it end so quickly. " Then she fell off the stairs, the doctor had her cut her hair short so he could stitch her neck."
" Oh! That's awful! I'm sorry!" Ginny whispered. Suddenly, she added: " I used to comb my mother's hair, too."
They looked into each other's eyes again. There was something Draco wasn't telling her. " Is something wrong?" She asked.
He nodded, finally. " I suppose you'd yank it out of me anyway. My - - my mother, she was with child when she fell, and she lost it. It was a stillbirth… it was already the sixth month." Draco looked sorrowful. " I was seven."
" I'm very sorry." Ginny could only say, suddenly feeling ashamed of her plentiful siblings.
" She couldn't get with child for a long time, and afterwards they tried, but they couldn't." Draco told her. " I suppose that's why they spoiled me so much." His eyes were so sad, the glazed shell of nonchalance stripped off. " I… I have to go." He stood, her braid falling to her side again.
" Good night." Ginny called after him. He turned and replied:
" You too."
They had retreated, Voldemort and Lucius working closely together, their movements liquid and coordinated. Draco could see them across the room now, all of them hiding in an old abandoned shop in Hogsmeade, the ruins of it, where wand-to-wand combat and powerful spells had eroded the walls and destroyed entire buildings. In this abandoned old place, filled with dirt, the air heavy with gray dust, they talked.
Their voices were soft and low. Draco sat with the other Death Eaters, his hood pulled up tight, his eyes flashing in the dark shadows of the room. He didn't like to admit his fright. Voldemort could sense it though, Voldemort could sense his fear and his cowardice, right through his robe. This made his heart ache – his hero, his savior, in a time where he needed Draco most – Draco was scared.
A winner to the battles was hard to predict, since both sides suffered losses and gains. The Death Eaters were so well equipped with the Dark Arts that one death eater could match with five ordinary wizards. Yet, the Death Eaters had once walked down the streets in a giant eerie parade, now it was more of a huddled, thinning crowd. People were in a frenzied panic though. Hospital staff was overworked, there was a calling for nurses.
Draco sensed it first. It was a feeling similar to the hairs rising on his spine, or his leg falling asleep – someone was coming. " My Lord…" He began.
Voldemort turned, his red glowing eyes directed at Draco. " I sense him. Potter." His voice was a snake-like hiss. The voice alone was enough to make Draco feel as if invisible hands were choking him with a fury.
" Cast some spells to keep them out. Meanwhile we'll work on an attack." Lucius, the brave leader, was naturally someone the others looked up to. Draco felt a warm respect to him.
Harry Potter and his group were working on counter curses. It could have been seconds, minutes, or hours. The time crawled so slowly that it was hard to tell. The heartbeat in Draco's ears thundered quickest of all, like an avalanche of boulders, and he hated it. The others could sense it now from him too, he could bet. He was still young though, a young Death Eater was still mentally weaker than the others.
Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Lupin, and Dumbledore burst in. They were all on one team, led my Harry. While the Death Eaters chose to be in one big group together, following Voldemort blindly, the opposing side had chosen to split into small, efficient sections. Draco felt his fists clench as Harry Potter emerged through the door as well, slightly out of breath.
The Death Eaters surged forwards. Afterwards, it was a crazy battle of spell after spell. Voldemort was the most powerful. He turned on Lupin first, sensing Lupin's extraordinary powers in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Voldemort's spindly, thin fingers extended his wand and that raspy breath filled the room. Lupin fell to the floor, shaking horribly, his eyes wild. He was weak already though, his leg was wounded.
Draco smiled. Victory.
" Stop!" Sirius Black, the fallen criminal-returned-as-hero, lunged at Voldemort with his wand aimed. Everything froze – it was a brave attack, to throw oneself straight at Voldemort.
Lucius pulled back and the Death Eaters did as well. Hermione grasped Ron while Dumbledore's brow knitted, submerged in deep thought as to whether help Sirius or to aim for the safety of the larger group. Finally, Dumbledore stood as backup, his wand raised as well.
Sirius made some attempts at spells, but Voldemort was too quick, too efficient. One had to have a mind of a killer to be so smooth-operating. Draco felt an explosive delight fill him as his Lord shouted another spell. Sirius fell to the floor. It was Avada Kedavra, everyone knew.
Nobody moved. Then, Harry screamed: "No!"
Hermione had tears rolling down her face. The Death Eaters had circled the group of attackers, Draco lingering in the back. Lucius was up in front, Voldemort led front-and-center. Harry knelt down beside Sirius's body and then looked up with a murderous fury in his eyes.
Draco still hated himself for reacting as slow as he did. Before a blink or a breath could be taken, Harry's robes were billowing around him and a strange glow was surrounding him. The Death Eaters shrunk back, afraid.
Lucius remained in position, turning and staring at the crowd angrily. " Cowards! Attack! It's a trick!" He spat.
Voldemort was stunned, everything in the room froze literally this time. Draco's legs felt like deadweights, he couldn't move. The white aura snaked around their legs, like two-ton chains made of feathery clouds. Hermione hissed something under her breath, Ron was saying things too. They were channeling their powers to fuel Harry's. Even Dumbledore was doing it. They were all working together, a charming organized group.
Harry was now in such an overbearing anger that the aura around him surged and spiked like a convulsing tornado, the power tightening around them. Draco wanted to scream, but they couldn't scream. What was this power? What was this – Love? What sort of ridiculous trick!
Draco glanced at his father again. Lucius and Voldemort were both standing within arm's reach from Harry. Hermione broke away from the group and began casting spells on the Death Eaters, one by one tying them up in chains, all packaged and ready for Azkaban.
Harry and Voldemort had been in combat before, but Voldemort had won, leaving Harry wounded. There was a retreat by the Death Eaters afterwards though. Now Harry was fighting with a strange and alien power. His force was fueled by his emotions.
Voldemort was casting his own aura now. It was a snake-like black cloud, and it was slowly working its way through the white glow that Harry had made. Draco could feel the chains on his feet waver from heavy to light. They were all jerking around, making a step and then suddenly being pulled back again. The constant shifts in power in the room were causing a terrible pulsating pain inside Draco's head. He could see that the others had it too, and even the enemy.
Draco trembled, shrunk back, letting the white force pull him back a few more steps. He could feel Voldemort's voice buzzing in his ear, Coward. Attack.
Draco raised his wand slowly, he aimed and then shouted a counter-curse, something simple – Stupefy. A black hole was punctured in Harry's aura just over Harry's head.
Lucius shouted: " Potter will fall today!"
Lucius then charged forwards, using the momentary lapse in the white chains around him to attack Harry Potter. Draco ran forwards too, but out of an instinct to grab his father and yank him backwards. There was something wrong in the air. Harry was just standing there, his eyes blank, his body glowing. He looked as if he were fading away.
Then, Harry turned his head, his eyes taking on a murderous red glow to them, and his eyes were directed at Lucius, not Voldemort. There was a loud sound, the sound of slicing, as if a giant knife had split through the room. The whiteness grew overbearing. It filled the entire room, and all Draco could see was a sharp light, as if he were looking directly at the sun.
Then, the white died away. He felt all his power had been drained. Draco fell to his knees, his body made of lead. Draco looked down and saw his father lying there beside him. Lucius's eyes had rolled back into his head. There were rivulets of blood escaping his eyes and nostrils, and a frothy crimson liquid flowed from his mouth.
Voldemort was nowhere to be seen. The other Death Eaters were lying on the floor as well, spent of their powers. And there was Harry, staring at what he had just done. Harry wavered on his knees and collapsed, falling backwards into Hermione and Ron's arms.
Everything was in slow motion again. Draco put his hands down in his father's hair and slowly lowered his head to Lucius's forehead. He could hear the faint whisper of his breath against his own hairline. His tears fell into the blood and diluted it, as he choked out: " Dad…?"
Draco woke up, his fingers shooting to his lips, the echo of his scream still in the room: "DAD!"
He jumped from his bed and yanked on his robe and raced downstairs. He went into the kitchen and began to prepare a cup of coffee for himself. His hands shook desperately as he pressed the mouth of the cup to his lips, sighed, and lowered it sown. His head ached again, and he sat down and held it, taking in slow breaths.
Then, he stood again and yanked open the so-familiar cabinet just by the doorway, pillaging through it, hoping to find a trace of alcohol. He found nothing and immediately remembered his silly bet with Ginny. Suddenly he wished he could have just swallowed his pride for one moment.
" Mr. Malfoy?"
He looked up. Ginny was standing in the doorway.
He shook his head and looked down. " I'm looking for sugar. For… for the coffee."
Ginny looked scared. " You're trembling. Are you sure you're okay?"
He nodded and quickly turned away from her, avoiding her eyes. He feared having her read him like a book, taking a look in his eyes and seeing what he had seen. He was in a cold sweat.
" Well, I – I'm going to go visit my family today." Ginny said, slowly, as if she were talking to someone completely irrational.
" Goodbye." Draco told her, his eyes meeting hers as she was leaving. She could see it – that pain that was reawakened inside. She put her hand on his arm, trying to comfort him, but he jerked his arm away.
" Leave." He whispered.
Ginny didn't dare disobey his command.