All day staring at the ceiling
Making friends with shadows on my wall
All night hearing voices telling me
That I should get some sleep
Because tomorrow might be good for something
Feeling like I'm headed for a breakdown
And I don't know why
But I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell
I know right now you can't tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you'll see
A different side of me
I'm not crazy, I'm just a little impaired
I know right now you don't care
But soon enough you're gonna think of me
And how I used to be...me
-Unwell by Matchbox 20
The stench of blood filled the air. Her blood. She could smell it there was so much. And the pain. The pain hurt so bad it made it hard to think. But he didn’t care about how much pain she was in. All he cared about was his own sick, twisted pleasure as he forced himself inside of her again and again. The stone was cold and hard beneath her; her head was pounding from being slammed against it. She wanted to collapse to it, to curl up and die there in that alley on that cold, unforgiving stone ground, but they wouldn’t let her. They had her down on her hands and knees, sharing her body, one of them, the leader, behind her where she couldn’t see him, but she could feel him, it was impossible not to, while the other was in front of her, in her mouth. He slapped her whenever she gagged, then yanked her around by her hair.
And he whispered things in her ear, their leader. Always whispering in her ear. “This is your fault, you know? If you weren’t so damn pretty, if you weren’t always running around practically naked, we wouldn’t have to do this, now would we? Would we?! Answer me!” She nodded. She couldn’t speak. Even if the other one didn’t have his…she couldn’t even think the word…in her mouth she couldn’t speak, her voice was too hoarse from screaming. “If you weren’t such a damn whore we wouldn’t have done this to you! It’s your fault! Damn it! Stop crying!”
Ginny sat up suddenly in bed, gasping for breath. It took her a moment to calm her beating heart and realize it was just another nightmare, that they weren’t there, they weren’t hurting her again. Still, she searched the shadows for them, and once she was content that no men were in her room, glanced over at Hermione. The girl murmured in her sleep and turned over in her cot, but did not wake. Ginny was thankful for that. At least this time she hadn’t woken up screaming.
The redhead lay back down in the bed, curling into a ball, but sleep would not come back to her. Not that this was new. Ever since the incident she hadn’t been sleeping peacefully. Even with a dreamless sleeping draught she still had nightmares, and soon she stopped bothering to take it. It was too expensive for her mother to afford anyway. She stared at the sheet beneath her and hummed so she wouldn’t cry, but she knew the tears wouldn’t come anyway. After crying for so long, eventually your eyes dried up and you couldn’t cry anymore. That was what had happened to her.
The moon shone into the room, bathing it in a blue glow. An owl hooted outside and crickets chirped from the heat. Ginny shivered, despite the fact that the temperature was so hot she had thrown her sheet off in her sleep and sweat made her clothes stick to her body. The breeze blew into her window, rustling her curtains and making her jump. She lay there for hours, thinking. Thinking about anything but what they had done to her.
She thought about what had happened after Harry came to visit her that day. When she got back home Ginny ran to her room and wouldn’t come out for days. She took her scissors and cut her hair, not bothering to use a mirror. Ginny had covered all the mirrors up in her room anyway, not wanting to look at herself. She chopped and hacked at it until her once long, curly hair barely reached her shoulders and was uneven and jagged. When her mother saw it she started crying. Hermione offered to fix it with a potion, but Ginny wouldn’t let her. She knew it made her ugly. She wanted to be ugly. Maybe if she were ugly…maybe it wouldn’t have happened. They wouldn’t have hurt her. It wouldn’t have been her fault.
Ginny remembered the man that had come by the house a few days ago. He came with one of the aurors that had questioned Ginny about her attackers after she got back from the hospital. He had a man with him, an old man with grey hair, wrinkles, and torn, soiled clothing. He smelled foul, like he hadn’t had a shower in a long time. The officer introduced the beggar to her parents and her as the man that had saved her life. He nodded solemnly to her, asking how she was. The words left her before she could stop them, and they were so bitter they left a bad taste in her mouth. But once they were said, they couldn’t be undone. “You should have left me to die. I wish you had left me to die!”
She ran up the stairs then, but stopped just out of sight, listening to them. There was an awkward silence left in her wake. Then the old man spoke up. “Well, I should probably be leaving then. I wouldn’t want to outstay my welcome…or stink up your nice house.”
So he had noticed the way everyone backed away from him or tried to cover their noses. Her mother protested and apologized, but the man just left. Ginny escaped back into her room. Nobody came to scold her for her rudeness.
It had gotten lighter in her room; the sun was rising. Today was September 1st and they were returning to Hogwarts on the Express. Last night she had packed what little clothes and books she needed with her for the year. Most of her clothes, dresses, skirts, tank tops, short jean shorts, were still in her closet. They had all been untouched for months. Ginny only wore her old hand-me-downs now, given to her by her brothers. Big shirts and long pants and baggy sweaters and cloaks that hung off of her loosely and were too long, sweeping the ground. Her parents thought she wore them because she was sensitive about her scars and wanted to hide them, and in a sense that was true, but it was mostly to hide her body altogether. Perhaps if nobody saw her curves, her exposed skin, her long, curly hair, then what had happened to her wouldn’t happen again. She wished she could turn back time so that it would have never happened at all.
Ginny pushed these thoughts away and stood quietly, dressing in her dark, baggy clothing and brushing through her hair. She avoided her reflection as she brushed her teeth in the bathroom, then crept silently downstairs with her luggage, leaving it by the front door. Her parents wanted to take a Muggle car, it had become a sort of tradition for them. She dreaded leaving the house again. In the months since her attack, she had left the house to go out in public only once. Her parents didn’t want to take her back to Diagon Alley, after what had happened, but they had to get her a new wand. They flood straight to Ollivander’s to look at the wands while her brothers bought her books so she wouldn’t have to go outside. Ginny knew they didn’t have the money for a brand new wand, but her parents didn’t want to take her anywhere near Knockturn Alley, nor did they want to search for hours for a wand in a used wand shop.
Her parents gave Ollivander the measurement, core, and wood of her old wand while she stared around the shop, trying to look anywhere but out the window. Just the nearness of the crime scene was making her heart beat quickly in her chest and her palms sweat. She wanted to run screaming from the room, but going outside meant being closer to the place where it had happened. She felt trapped and sick to her stomach in the tiny, stuffy, dusty wand shop. Mr. Ollivander brought her out a wand similar to her old one, cedar wood with a unicorn hair core. She took it from him with a quiet “thank you” and was halfway to the fireplace before Mr. Ollivander stopped her with a request to try it out. Ginny wanted nothing more than to escape as quickly as possible, but she humored the older man while her parents counted out the money they had to pay for it (she had chipped in her pay from her brother’s joke shop—after all, she had no more use for it). She took the wand out of the box and gave it a swish.
It felt awkward and clumsy in her hand and almost set something on fire in the process. Mr. Ollivander just clucked his tongue and took the wand away from her, heading down one of his many aisles of boxes, searching for something new. “It’s just as I expected. When people undergo great changes in their lives and personalities, so must the wands that they wield. It should be an extension of your hand, not just a piece of splintery wood, Miss Weasley.” He came back with another box. “Try this one.”
Ginny took it out, turning the long wooden stick over in her hand. It was simply carved, plain, like her, and made of a dark red wood that was almost black in color. It had a smooth handle that fit her hand perfectly as well as feeling heavy enough that she knew it was there and light enough that it did not weigh down her hand. She gave it a swish and stared at the pretty red sparks that jutted out the end, which were brighter than they had ever been with her old hand-me-down wand.
Mr. Ollivander smiled. “Just as I thought. Cherry wood with a dragon heartstring core.” He smiled at her and told her parents the price. Four Galleons, sixteen Sickles, and three Knuts. Her parents stared at him in shock, clearly not believing that to be the actual price, and when they tried to protest he merely smiled and shook his head. Despite them trying to argue to give them the real price, usually double or even triple that, he would not go any higher. Finally they put their pride away and paid him, heading towards the fireplace. This time, Ginny stayed behind. “Mr. Ollivander…what’s really in this wand? It’s more than just a dragon heartstring.”
He smiled at her. “I always knew you to be a bright girl, Miss Weasley.” He stared off into space, as if trying to remember something. “How about if I tell you the story of that wand.” He didn’t look at her as he spoke. “I was in the forest many years ago looking for some new wood to make a wand out of. While searching through the forest for the perfect tree, I heard the sound of a woman crying. I followed the sobbing noise until I found her. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, even with tears streaming down her face, and when she saw me she seemed quite startled, though the tears didn’t stop flowing, she was so distressed. Like any young man I approached her and tried to help the maiden out, not realizing her true nature. When I asked her what was wrong she told me Muggles had swept through her forest cutting down trees with their machines, destroying it. She seemed especially distraught that they had killed the fallen tree she lay beside, crying over. I realized then that she was a wood nymph and that this forest was her home, and that it had been cruelly destroyed. I took pity on her and told her of a larger, grander wood where she would find more trees and more creatures like herself. I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about.”
Ginny realized he was waiting for an answer. Quietly she murmured “The Forbidden Forest.”
He nodded and went back to his story, his gaze again unfocused. “She was so grateful for this new home that she gave me a branch from the tree she had mourned over to make a wand out of. It was her tears that carved the intricate etches in it. I did not want to ruin the wand by putting a core in it, so she deftly strung a piece of her hair through it. I think the sadness over the death of her friend, and her elation over finding a new home after the destruction of her old one, are intertwined in this wand. It’s a bittersweet tale that I would rather you not repeat. After all, then all of my customers would want such a unique wand as yours.” He winked at her.
Ginny stared down at the wand in her hand in a new light. She noticed her parents standing by the fireplace waiting impatiently while pretending to browse the shop. She lowered her voice so only he could hear. “But why me?”
He smiled. “It suits you, Miss Weasley. The wood nymph that created this wand was both sad over her loss and bitter at the men that had destroyed her woods. But she was also on the brink of a new life, a better life. Her wand could only be passed on to a woman in an equal situation, or else it would be a disgrace to her gift. This wand is meant to be yours. After all, it’s as I always say, the wand chooses the wizard, Miss Weasley.” With that he sent her away.
Sitting downstairs listening to the rushed traffic of her friends and family packing for the trip, Ginny pulled the wand out and turned it around in her hands. It felt right. Whole. As if it were made just for her. She only wished she could meet the wood nymph that had created it and thank her.
The traffic moved downstairs. Her brother, Harry, and Hermione rushed to finish packing. Her mother tried again desperately to feed her, but as usual she ate only a few bites before feeling sick to her stomach. Her father asked her if she was finished packing and when she pointed at her luggage by the door without a word he gave up on trying to carry on a conversation with her. In just a few hours they were riding to the train station, passing through the wall, and saying goodbye to their parents.
Ginny tried to ignore the witches and wizards around her as she boarded the train. Even though she kept her eyes downcast and her body folded as small as possible, she was acutely aware of the nearness of the other thousands of students. They had all read about her in the newspaper, but each of them treated her differently. Some gossiped and whispered about her behind her back or even right in front of her, others stared boldly in open curiosity, while some forced themselves not to stare in that way that made it obvious they knew you were right beside them. All of them avoided touching her like she was diseased, which she wasn’t, the doctors had made sure of that. In the end her brother angrily pushed the four of them through the crowd and to an empty compartment. Ron gave her the window seat, her favorite, and she leaned her head against it, staring out as Platform 9 ¾ gave way to the city of London and eventually open countryside.
Ginny noticed an odd silence in the room where before there had been the buzz of chatter. She turned her eyes to the compartment without bothering to lift her head to find Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville and Luna, whom she hadn’t noticed enter their compartment, staring at her, or rather, above her head. She opened her mouth to question them but Ron merely squeaked out, “Sp-sp-spider…Ginny, don’t move…there’s a really big spider over your head.”
The girl glanced up to find a giant, hairy, pincered arachnid the size of her fist above her head, looking down at her. Ginny stared up at its hissing mouth, wondering if it would bite her. She realized she wasn’t afraid of it or its rather pissed-off state. It couldn’t hurt her any worse than she had already been, after all, and perhaps its bite would send her off into a fever-induced sleep that she would never wake from. She didn’t hear Harry move, didn’t even know he was behind her, until she saw the shoe slamming towards the wall, connecting with the spider’s body.
Ginny screamed in unison with Ron, who jumped back. The dead spider, its eight legs curled up into its body, fell to the ground on its back. Where it had been there was a blood stain smeared on the wall. Ginny jumped up, pushing Harry away from her. “What did you do that for?!”
He looked surprised. So did everyone in the room. “Ginny, that thing could have killed you. It could have bitten you while you slept.”
She glared at him. “That didn’t mean you had to kill it, Harry!” The way it lay on the floor, so broken, so helpless, made her feel sick to her stomach. She pushed past him and out of the compartment, looking left and right for a place to hide. By now there wouldn’t be any compartments left empty. Ginny turned towards the tail of the train and started running blindly until she reached the end, pushing out the back door.
She fell against the railing of the caboose, wheezing for breath. The door creaked behind her in the breeze as she stared at the tracks rushing below. Ginny had never come to the end of the train, so she had never realized it had a small platform open to the sky and air with a set of stair steps leading down, the bottom step almost brushing the ground below. Ginny wondered if she jumped from the back of the train whether the fall would kill her or just be incredibly painful and leave her out here in the middle of nowhere with a set of broken bones and no one to find her. She was still contemplating this when she heard the door creak closed behind her, making her whip around in alarm, wand raised.
Draco was snoozing on the caboose of the train when he was woken by something heavy slamming against his head. He groaned and opened his eyes to find himself staring at the backside of the door and wondering who had opened it forcefully enough that it whipped around and hit him. He pushed it away from him, rubbing at his sore forehead, knowing there would probably be a bruise there, and found himself staring at a bundle of black cloth in the form of a person. He grabbed the rail, using it to hoist himself up, and opened his mouth to yell at the student when he caught sight of a flash of red hair. Draco stared, mouth still open, at what he realized was the backside of a girl being engulfed by layers and layers of clothing, despite the fact that it was September and still hot enough that he had taken off his shirt while he sat out here. He leaned against the door until it closed and latched into place behind him, the sound startling her.
The girl turned, wand raised at his chest level, eyes wide with fear and anger. She glared at him, glancing at his bare chest and then back up at his face. Her wand shook in her hand and she pressed herself against the railing as far away from him as possible. “Wh-what are you doing out here?!”
He crossed his arms over his bare chest, suddenly feeling naked. Compared to her, he practically was. “I was out here first. I should be asking why you’re waking me up slamming a door into my face.”
She looked surprised and her ears turned pink. “Oh…” Draco found himself staring in the long silence that stretched between them. Her hair was a mess, short and choppy in some places and longer in others. It could almost be one of those popular Muggle styles if it didn’t look like she had whacked at it herself with hedge cutters. It was limp and tired and fell into her eyes like she was hiding behind it. Through strands of her red mane he could see her eyes outlined in familiar shadows caused by a lack of sleep and an overabundance of suffering.
Her cheeks were thin, all of her was thin, and he could see her cheekbones and collarbone protruding unhealthily through the skin, looking like they might pierce through it at any moment. Draco observed a long thin scar trace down from her neck and disappear into her shirt where he knew there were more of them. Even in her baggy clothes he could see the slight outline of her body, stick thin, and her breasts, which, even with what seemed to be self-starvation, were noticeable. She was pale, especially against all those dark clothes, like she hadn’t been outside all summer.
And yet, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes on. Ginny Weasley. The girl who everyone read about in Rita Skeeter’s article. The girl whose pictures, one from when she was younger and one from after she was raped, he kept in his luggage, though he didn’t know why. The girl he had spent all summer thinking about, the one he found himself strangely drawn to, even though she was a complete stranger to him. Here she was, just an arm’s length away, her wand pointed at his heart.
The train suddenly lurched. Draco grabbed the rail to steady himself but Ginny was not so quick. She fell backwards, eyes wide in terror, over the short railing. One of her feet caught, stopping her fall, and her back hit the three stair steps that led to the ground. Her head stopped just above the ground, though her hair brushed the tracks below. Draco ran to her side, wrapping an arm around her waist and grabbing her arm, yanking her up. They fell backwards, Ginny on top of him, onto the platform.
He wasn’t sure how, but her face ended up just a few centimeters from his own. He stared into her dark brown haunted eyes, feeling as if he were drowning in their depths. He lifted a hand to stroke her hair out of her face without thinking, the movement making her lurch away from him. She stood, backing away, and he hoisted himself up from the ground as well. They circled as if in a fight, until she had maneuvered herself next to the door. Without a word, no thank you, no angry yell, no asking if he was okay, she wheeled around and grabbed at the handle, yanking hard.
Draco’s heart dropped. Then he realized she wasn’t going, but still standing there, pulling on the handle. She rattled it, once, twice, three times, but the door would not budge. Even after she had comprehended this Ginny did not turn, did not acknowledge him, did not comment. She just stood there staring at the handle as if doing so would magically make it unlock.
Draco finally ventured to speak, though he wasn’t sure if he trusted his voice. He was thankful it came out smooth and steady. “It seems we’re locked out here.”
“You knew it would do this,” she accused, making it his fault that she couldn’t escape from him back into the train. Actually, he hadn’t known, but he didn’t have a chance to tell her that. She was already moving away from the door and back to the railing. This time she sat down with her back against it, her legs up against her chest, her arms curled around them, and her chin resting on her knees. She watched him with angry eyes, studying his every move, ready to jump away if he came too close. Draco decided it would be best not to touch her, so he moved to the other side of the ledge, sitting down as well.
He didn’t bother to mention that they could Alahamora the door open. Draco wanted her to stay there with him. The boy sat with one leg stretched out and his other one bent, his arm draped over the knee. He wanted to speak to her, but suddenly his throat felt dry, his mind blank. He couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally Draco murmured “Are you okay?”
Ginny didn’t look him in the eyes. She stared over his shoulder as she whispered, “Why do people ask that? They never want to know the answer. Not really.”
He was surprised by the bitterness in her voice and by the honesty of her answer. Draco tilted his head to the side, suddenly feeling sad for this girl. “Maybe I really want to know. The real answer.”
Her eyes flickered over to him and away again. Her face became angry. “I don’t want your pity,” she spat.
Again she had shocked him with the venom that left her mouth. For looking so broken, so sad and pathetic, she had a biting tongue when she chose to speak. Draco narrowed his eyes, her anger rubbing off on him. “Don’t flatter yourself Weasley, I wasn’t giving it. I’ve got better things to do than spend my time concerning myself with your welfare. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t hurt from the fall.”
It was her turn to be taken aback. She stared into his eyes for just a few seconds before dropping hers down to her feet. “I’m fine.”
“Good. I wouldn’t want to have to explain to the nurse and your boyfriend Potter what I was doing alone with you.” He couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice when he said Harry Potter’s name. It was more than just the feud between him and the Boy Who Lived, it was the sudden realization that the object of his obsession was already taken, and by someone he couldn’t possibly have competed with if he wanted to.
Ginny spoke to her shoes “Harry’s not my boyfriend.”
Draco tried to force down the sudden joy he found lifting in his heavy heart. He fought back the triumphant grin on his face. “Why not?”
She glared down at her scuffed, old shoes that had once been white but were now stained brown from dirt and mud and being passed down from her brothers. “That’s none of your business.”
He knew he was pushing it, he was lucky to get her to say this much, but he retaliated, “It’s a simple question, Weasley.”
This time she set her glare full on him. “No, it’s not, and even if it were, I wouldn’t tell you, Malfoy. I’m only out here because the bloody door is locked but that doesn’t mean I’m going to make idle chatter with you for the next three hours, so get the thought out of your head. You’re not my friend, you’re not my professor, and you’re not my mother, and I don’t have to answer to you.”
He found pity fill his heart. He wanted to ask her what had happened to change her from that bubbly little girl he had seen flirting with Harry Potter at the end of last year to this angry, broken woman. He wanted her to cry on his shoulder and spill her heart out to him. He wanted to, he suddenly realized, fix her, and not even for her own good, but for his own selfish reasons. He knew he had other motives, despite how he tried to convince himself he cared only about her self being. Draco was lonely. When he had set his eyes on her, alone on the platform with no one to intervene, no one to stop him from talking to her, he was filled with joy, despite how haunted she looked. It was sick and horrible of him, but he was almost happy to see her like this, as broken and alone as himself. If she was like him then maybe…maybe she would understand. Maybe she would be his friend. Maybe she would fix him.
But, Draco realized, Ginny Weasley was even more broken than himself. She couldn’t heal him, she couldn’t help him, not like this. That was when he decided it, sitting there on the back of the train, staring at the girl across from him, the girl who hated his guts and wanted nothing to do with him. First, before she could fix him, before she could be his friend and possibly more, he would have to heal her.