The Coward

It had been two weeks now. Narcissa still sleep walked, even more so, but Ginny and Draco rested assured, knowing what was causing it. Everything made sense now to Ginny – the opening windows, Narcissa's love for sleeping tonics, even the mysterious affair of Narcissa stumbling into Ginny's room every once in a while. Ginny sat silently on the love seat in the fireplace room, staring expressionless at the space over Draco's left shoulder, thinking about all these things.

When he painted, he rarely liked to talk. It was his own little world that he entered, just his paintbrush and him and the easel, and nobody had any right to pass that invisible circle around him. She had nothing to do these long evenings, so she ended up observing him right back. She would watch his face, which wasn't entirely as handsome as it was regal, the type of face you'd expect from a prince. He was blonde, but it wasn't a dishwasher sort of blonde. It was extremely white-blonde, frail, like the tinsel on a Christmas tree. Its color reflected the flames in the fireplace, giving it a reddish glow this evening. She had to admit she liked his face, it wasn't all too angry when he was relaxed and painting.

" What are you working on now?" Ginny asked him.

He looked up at her, a flash of vivid eyes that locked on hers and held for a good few seconds before he replied: " Your collar."

She looked down out of the corner of her eye at the expanse of white lace. Suddenly she wished to smoothen the wrinkle in it, to tuck the loose string beneath it. She could almost feel his eyes burning into the skin of her neck.

" Did you finish my hair?"

" Didn't you look at it?"

" A bit, but you always set it up against the wall, so I didn't get much of a glimpse."

" Your hair's done." He twirled his brush through his fingers like a skilled cheerleader might twirl a baton, then he caught himself and continued to streak paint across the canvas. " It's still not as real-looking as yours really is."

Ginny shrugged. " I don't think it has to look just like me. That's where the charm of painting lies."

He stood and turned the painting so it was facing her. Ginny took in a sharp breath as the full beauty of the painting was revealed to her. Draco had painted her as if she were some gorgeous goddess of fire, her hair real spun flames and gold, twirling and spilling like lava, lusciously bright and thick. Her eyes were large and hauntingly realistic, with every freckle and speck of light reflected in them. Her skin was awash with alabaster and tinted yellow glow, as if she were indeed sitting before a fireplace. The Ginny in the painting gazed beckoningly at the viewer, as if she had thousands of stories to tell.

" Do you like it?" He asked.

" It's gorgeous!"

" It's not done yet. The crushed velvet doesn't look real." Draco mused, his brush adding another tiny stroke of red through Ginny's hair. He stood and sat down on the couch beside her, looking at the painting from far away too. She watched his face, as he raised his eyebrows, his eyes growing into narrow slits as he pondered the painting over in his mind. She could see his eyes, and they didn't look gray in the firelight. They took on a lucid blue color, as if all the ash and all the clouds had been swept away and he was looking at something with a naked eye, like a baby first observing an object. Nothing clouded his mind; he looked like a sphinx, eternally knowing.

" You made me beautiful." Ginny whispered gently.

Draco didn't know how to reply. His eyes moved to his knees, she couldn't see them through his eyelashes when he was looking down. " I painted what I saw." He said, finally.

" I didn't mean it in a bad way."

" I didn't take it in a bad way." He glanced up at her. There was something about his eyes, something stripped about them. " I think your hair's really beautiful."

She nodded. " Isn't it the same as Ron's, or Fred's, or…?"

" No." He exclaimed sharply, cutting her off. His ears darkened slightly. " You're… your hair is different. It's not the same thing. You're different."

Ginny sighed. " I'm not that different from them. You got to know me, maybe that's why you accept me. If you got to know the rest of my family…"

" There's more about you." Draco said. " It's so easy to paint you, because there's atmosphere and feeling and mood projected by everything that makes you up."

" What do you mean?"

" The tilt of the nose – it's optimistic." He grinned. " Your freckles, they're your goofy side."

" Oh, gee, thanks." She kidded.

" Your hair's like a corona." Draco glanced at the easel forlornly. " It's like a fire coming out of you. You changed a lot about our house. It's like I'm ready to fix things."

" Well, I'm glad…"

" In fact, I realize that I'm fixing things instead of ruining things." Draco admitted. " Like selling the house. It's been in our family so long, but there's just no way…" He shook his head.

Ginny patted his hand, unsure.

" I think my mom needs help too. But most of all, I guess I need help." Draco took in a wavering breath. " With my job, and all. And I guess I sort of caught on to the whole alcohol bit you had running."

" I guess you can have an occasional glass." Ginny tried to cheer him up, for suddenly Draco's thoughts about fixing his broken self made him descend into a dark, depressed mood.

He smiled. " It's easier talking to you than I first thought it would be. When you told me you were who you were, I just…" Draco shrugged. " I thought you'd be completely annoying. A total ignoramus."

" Maybe I'm just a little annoying." Ginny murmured.

" I guess you've seen your share of insanity here, right?" Draco asked.

" I don't think I'd trade the time I had here for time at home." Ginny told him. " It feels really good to be able to see things changing."

" It feels really bad inside me though." Draco huddled his head in his hands. " It's like I'm selling my family out, you know. Like I'm basically pawning everything we've stood for all this time just to get out of a small little rut."

" It's not a small little rut, trust me. And I think you're doing the best thing for your family. Maybe people will talk for a little but…"

" … but they'll forget it in the end." Draco finished. " I hope so, anyway."

" I won't let anyone know you're staying at my house."

" I hope so."

" That's a nice word to hear from you. Hope."

Their eyes met again. He seemed so close and yet so far, an invisible veil cascading over him again, like an impenetrable wall through which neither true feelings nor thoughts could escape. " I really do think you're beautiful." He told her, softly. " Ever since I saw you sleeping way back, I wanted to paint you."

She blushed. " I'm really flattered. I really am." She was speaking softer and softer, as if she were growing unbelievably shy before his very eyes. Draco had to lean in closer to hear her. "I guess you're pretty good looking too."

" In that Malfoy way." He added.

Ginny laughed. " You could try smiling more."

" Smiling? What's that?" His eyes, his face, suddenly Ginny couldn't see anything besides him, everything suddenly and instantly catching her attention about him. She saw the misplaced strand of hair that had fallen from his orderly and controlled hairdo; the gentle, nearly nonexistent breeze in the air that his batting eyelashes stirred.

Before she knew it, her lips had met his, and at first it felt strange, as if someone was trying to put two odd puzzle pieces together. Afterwards it all fell into place, the kiss very light and airy and in a nanosecond Draco had pulled back. Ginny realized she couldn't remember who'd started the kiss, all she could remember was the odd magnetic force that suddenly pulled her towards him, and him to her.

He let out a soft breath that she felt against her chin, then suddenly reality crashed through him, like an icicle through the heart. " Oh, no…" Draco whispered, a stricken expression crossing his face. " What have I done?" He looked so regretful that if someone were to walk in at that very moment, you'd think he had just killed someone.

He stood to his feet, dazed. Ginny took his hand, trying to hold him back. Draco turned and ran a hand through his hair. " I'm sorry." He said, finally. " I don't know… what….I don't really… I really don't have any feelings for you, I'm sorry. I don't know what's gotten into me."

Ginny nodded finally. " I understand." She could also feel the painful icicle, edging its way into her heart. She felt like a whore now, like a simple outlet for a man's emotions, and then at the end of the day she'd lie down in her bed alone. Worse than alone, really – lonely. She pulled her knees up to her chest, her face burning. " I completely and utterly understand, and I feel really sorry for you."

She rushed out of the room, her heart rocking inside her angrily. Maybe he did care for her, maybe he was lying about his feelings. He was a coward though. After a kiss, to tell a girl something like that! Whether it was true or not, it was cowardice, or worse, he was inconsiderate and insensitive. I don't care at all, though. I really don't have any feelings for you, either, Draco, so there.

Then why did she feel as if a rainbow had shattered into a thousand pieces in her stomach, and all the jagged edges were fluttering, trying to escape?


That night Ginny heard a low cry from Lucius's room. She jumped out of her bed and ran into his room. He was tossing and turning under the covers, his eyes closed. He was having some sort of dreadful nightmare, perhaps. Ginny ran towards the bed and took out the small bottle of medicine that was in the drawer.

Her hand shook in the dark as she filled a spoon with it. She used her fingers to slowly pry apart the dry lips of the man. He moaned and his breath rattled in his throat. Ginny tipped the spoon into Lucius's mouth and the murky brown liquid slid past the ghost's thrashing tongue and down his esophagus.

" Good night, sir." She whispered to him, and readied to leave, when she felt cold fingers wrap around her wrist. " Oh!" She gasped, and spun around on her heels.

Draco was standing behind her. " Come with me… trust me." He whispered to her.

Ginny wanted to yank her hand out of his and then slap him well. He had no right to just come up on her like that, not after what had happened. Yet, her stomach and her heart and her brain were all telling her something else and her body just followed its instincts, ignored the wash of turmoil going through her, and followed Draco.

" I guess it's time to show you something." Draco was saying.

Ginny couldn't quite understand where he was taking her until she saw the stone gargoyle. Draco tapped his wand on the gargoyle and he made it disappear completely, saying: "No use leaving it here, since we're scheduled to move out tomorrow."

Ginny followed him up to the North Wing, where he entered the Forbidden Room. She crept inside as well. Inside, it was much darker than even the cryptic hallways of the mansion. Her eyes finally found the moonlit patch of light on the floor. There was a window through which it was cast – the single window, and it was barred like a jail cell.

The room was filled with bookshelves, at least as far as she could tell. Then when her eyes adjusted, she gasped. There were torture devices hanging on the walls, weapons, jars and jars of forbidden ingredients to use for spells. The bookshelves were stuffed with books about the Dark Arts. Poisons crowded the shelves as well.

She looked at Draco's face. He seemed to be remembering.

Then, at the edge of the room, framed in glass, were two Death Eater uniforms. Ginny shrank back and stood in the light, shivering. " My God…" She whispered.

Draco turned to look at her, standing out in the shadows. His nose and face was illuminated though. " I had my lessons here, from my father. Every summer, I'd be taught here. We'd often have Death Eater meetings in here, too."

Ginny nodded.

" Are you scared?" He asked her.

She nodded again.

" Don't be." Draco told her. " It's dead now. The Dark Arts are a dead practice."

" It's still terrible." Ginny couldn't bring herself to even glance at the large Dark Mark on the Death Eater robes.

" I learned how to do really terrible things in here." Draco told her. " You know, sometimes the Death Eaters would capture Muggles and torture them to death. We did that in here, sometimes. I had to do that, for initiation. Be able to initiate torture, I mean."

Ginny was breathing heavily. " You… you did that?"

Suddenly there was something devil-like to him, suddenly the tilt of his eyebrows mocked the tilt of the devil's horns, and his grim frown turned into a malicious sneer.

" I had to." Draco told her. " I didn't even feel it was wrong. I didn't… I didn't think about it as giving someone pain. I thought about it as making myself stronger."

" That's disgusting." Ginny choked out, backing up further towards the wall, the moon lighting her up. " That's… that's just sick."

Draco walked towards her, his eyes shimmering with tears. " I've been thinking about it a lot. Believe me, I regret some of this stuff now. It's not like I was proud of everything we did."

" Do you still think of it as some sort of power-gaining?" Ginny demanded.

" No."

" Tell me the truth." She said hotly, tears burning in her eyes.

" I promise." He took her hands. His fingers were ice cold. " I do regret it. Okay, I did believe in it before you came here, but I swear, I've been thinking a lot of things over. The way my father died, Voldemort in general…"

" Draco…"

" I'm a coward." He whispered. She could see in the shadows of his face a single string of light as a glowing pale blue tear drop slid down his cheek. " I was scared to defend Voldemort, but I kind of understand now. I was scared of him, I was scared of my mission."

Draco slowly unbuttoned his shirt and slid the arm of his shirt down, revealing his shoulder. The Dark Mark was scarred into him. " I was a Death Eater. I was there when Sirius died, I saw it all."

" Tell me about it." Ginny said, finally. She reached out and traced her hand over the scar on his shoulder. His skin was warm, surprisingly, unlike his hands, which were like pieces of ice. "I want to hear about it."

" Are you sure?" Draco asked. " I'm still haunted by it."

" The more I know about you, the… the more I can understand."

" I'm sorry, though. About… before." Draco whispered. " I am a coward."

" A coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one." Ginny mouthed the phrase, and then shook her head. " Your mother's been coming into here."

" She'd come here and still practice Dark Arts spells. Well, she didn't have her wand, so she couldn't do anything, but she'd go about prancing in here. In the morning I'd find the spell books open and the ingredients all mixed out." Draco told her. Suddenly, he smiled. " Telling you this makes me feel good, though, to see you scared of me. I'm terrible, aren't I?"

" No." Ginny lied.

" A terrible coward." He hissed to himself. " I know it and I'll change it. You'll see."

Ginny sighed. " I hope."

He took her hands. " I hope so too."

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