By Firelight

Loved and Lost

Days passed, and although Ron stubbornly stood his ground, he seemed to be the only one left who remained entirely cold towards the Malfoys. Even Professor McGonagall had begun treating the two with measured respect. In fact, realizing he was once again alone in his battle made his encounters with the Malfoys all the more heated and, unsettlingly, all the more frequent. At times, Draco was compelled to wonder whether the impossible redhead was actually seeking him out, just to have someone to shout at.

"He doesn't usually act this way…" Ginny said apologetically, sitting at the foot of his bed while Draco paced furiously from one end of his room to the other and back. She had been saying that sort of thing every time Ron had him steaming, in the hope of calming him down, or perhaps to prevent retaliation.

"Of course not," snarled Draco, his reply drenched in sarcasm. At once, he stopped pacing and turned back to face Ginny. "Why do you keep defending him?" he asked, exasperated. "It doesn't matter what he was like before I came looking for help. What matters is that he's been an insufferable git ever since!" Seeing her shocked expression, he sighed, making a mental note not to yell at her for her brother's actions. She was, after all, the only one in the house who seemed to have the time and patience for him, besides his own mother. "Sorry…" he mumbled taking a seat near Ginny.

Ginny, too, softened her gaze, never taking it off Draco. "I'm defending him," she told him in a serious tone, "because he's my brother. I know him a little better than you do."

Keeping his temper in check as much as he could, Draco looked back up at her, his eyes intense and pleading. "Then please, talk some sense into him. He won't listen to me, and I've tried a thousand times…"

Ginny sighed. "We've all tried talking to him."

Draco turned slightly to scowl at the wall. "Perfect. So now what?"

"I guess we just have to steer clear of him till he comes back to his senses."

"I'm trying, Ginny… I've been doing all I can to stay out of his way."

Having nothing left to say just then, Ginny watched Draco sadly until he finally looked back. When he did, she knew exactly what to say. "I'm sorry, Draco."

"It's not your fault," he told her, letting his gaze fall again. "You're not the one I'm angry at. It's not right to bring you into this like I've been doing." Then, giving her a melancholic smile, he added, "I'll learn my lesson one of these days; you'll see."

"Draco…" Ginny began in a near-whisper, "don't apologize for getting something off your chest. You didn't offend me, so why be sorry?"

Draco didn't answer right away. "Merlin," he said instead, "I'll never understand the way you think. You honestly don't think it's selfish for me to involve you in this, when it should have nothing to do with you? I know what I must have sounded like a minute ago… You don't need to be talked to like that."

Ginny could only stare at him for a long time, marveling in the difference between the Draco she was seeing and the Malfoy she'd thought she'd known in school. "Why did you do it?" she asked, barely hearing her own voice over her thoughts.

"I was angry… I wasn't thinking. I'm s—"

"That's not what I mean… Why did you always hide yourself away? Why didn't you ever let anyone see what you were going through? You could have left it behind long ago!"

Draco frowned. "Because I was being watched, Ginny, all the time. Father would never have let me out of his sight completely. Even at Hogwarts, I was lucky to get a moment to myself. That's why my diary always meant so much to me. It's not just the things I wrote. It's knowing that no one else would see them. Besides, it's not like anyone would have believed a word of it if I had told them. The only reason you believe me now is because Harry trusted me first."

"Then why couldn't you have told him?"

"I tried," was all he said, his mind halfway in the present, halfway in the past. He had offered Harry his friendship on the Hogwarts Express nearly seven years ago, but he had been turned away. He remembered how deeply young Harry's look of loathing had cut him, and all because he'd poked a bit of fun at Ron. Thinking back, he almost wanted to laugh at the irony. Merlin, how the tables had turned!

"Trust me, Ginny, nothing I could have done would have made him think better of me any sooner. No one would have lifted a finger to help."

"I would have," Ginny argued.

Draco shook his head slowly. "I don't think so. You hated me for your family's sake. I'm not stupid."

"I never said you were! And I—"

"You hated me, Ginny, just like every other student at Hogwarts. It was always, 'No one but a Malfoy likes a Malfoy.' I learned that one early."

"They said that to your face?" Ginny asked, shocked.

"What difference does it make?" snapped Draco, glaring through her.

Ginny shifted uncomfortably, knowing she had just made a major mistake. "W-well, it couldn't have hurt you so badly if… if you didn't know they were saying anything…"

"It hurts a lot more when you find out they've been saying it behind your back all along!"

Ginny's eyes went wide. "What did they say?" she whispered, feeling a sudden chill.

After a few seconds with no answer, Draco closed his eyes and turned away. "Just leave me alone." His voice had become cold, making the idea of leaving sound rather wise, but she hesitated, not wanting to leave him hurt.


"I told you to leave!"

She immediately stood and hurried out, leaving the door open in her haste.

I can't believe you almost told her, Draco reprimanded himself in thought, shivering as he, too, felt the chill.

The Slytherin common room: the cool colors of green and silver were visible all around, save for the soft, warm glow of the fire. It was late, for midnight had come and gone without a sound, but Draco couldn't sleep. How could he rest at all with his arm searing as if it were on fire? He wasn't allowed to rest, it appeared, until his task for the Dark Lord was complete. But he knew now more than ever that he couldn't complete it. He wasn't equipped to kill, not for any reason, not even to save his and his mother's lives.

It was tearing him apart, and he knew that he, of all people, could not hope for a miracle. He had never received a miracle, and he certainly hadn't earned one. All things in life had a price, and he could tell he was already paying dearly. His whole body ached in want of sleep, and as he sat there, he still found himself wishing against all odds for an answer, some way out of this mess, so that he wouldn't have to kill just to live.

Just as he was about to get up and head back to his dormitory, figuring he'd give sleep another try, a pair of jubilant voices reached him from the staircase, laughing and quite oblivious to the time of night. Draco couldn't see whose they were from where he sat, and right then, he was too distracted to care. As the two emerged into view, Draco got up slowly and winced, feeling the sting in his arm intensify.

The mysterious couple entering the common room stopped laughing at the sound of Draco's groan, and at last, he could make out their faces. Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini stood arm-in-arm, staring back at him blankly, until finally, Pansy pulled Blaise into a passionate kiss.

Draco saw red at the sight, and immediately whipped his wand out, ready to blast the betrayers into oblivion… Pansy broke away and grabbed Blaise by the arm as he was about to wield his own, and before Draco could decide on a fitting curse, they had both disappeared from view.

Still seething, he lowered his wand and let them go. What did it matter who Pansy was with? She had never really known him, never cared to ask. And what would he have told her if she had? He would never have trusted anyone with the truth, but it didn't matter now.

As he stood there, staring after them, his wand still in his hand, he knew he had not lost anything. Pansy had never seen him as anything more than a childhood toy, some inanimate and unfeeling object to be tossed around and manipulated, just a passing phase to be outgrown. No, he had not lost anything. She had never been his to lose.

It didn't take Draco much longer than a minute to realize what he'd done. He stared at his hands, hating himself for driving away the one person he could really talk to. He had just scolded himself for taking his anger at Ron out on Ginny when he started accusing her of hatred. He couldn't make any sense of it. And now, he guessed, she was most likely furious with him. You brought this on yourself, his mind snarled, and he allowed loneliness to envelop him. After all she's done to try to help you, you practically slam the door in her face! Friendship isn't a right, it's a responsibility…

As the voice inside him raged on, he slid down from the bed, leaned his head back against the side of the mattress. I'm losing it, he thought. Taking a deep breath, he looked up, only to find Harry glaring at him from the doorway. Draco flinched, but stood at once.

"You know why I'm here, Malfoy," said Harry sternly.

Draco grimaced, getting more worried by the second. "Yeah, I do."

"Then why don't you tell me why I saw Ginny in tears just now?"

Draco's eyes went wide. "She was crying?" he asked in horror.

Harry's frown deepened. "She never cries! What did you do to her?"

"I… I–I just…"

"You what? Tell me!"

"I was… We were talking, and…" Draco could barely speak. How could he possibly explain why he'd snapped at her, and how much he hated himself for letting it happen? Even he didn't fully understand why he'd done it. He was breathing quickly; he knew it was Ginny who needed the answers, but he had to give Harry some explanation. "I lost control. I'm sorry… I never meant to hurt her."

Harry took a few small steps toward Draco, his expression unmistakably threatening. "I'm warning you, Malfoy, if you laid a hand on her—"

"No!" Draco gasped. "Never!"

"Then what happened?"

"I just shouted at her! I have no idea why it upset her like that, but I swear, I would never strike her, Harry!"

Harry shook his head incredulously. "I'm not so sure I believe that. She's been through a lot worse than a shouting match in her lifetime, and I've never once seen her in tears."

"I need to talk to her…" Draco told him, and he tried to head for the main staircase, but Harry blocked his path.

"You need to talk to me," Harry demanded.

But Draco knew he had no time to waste, and dodged his way around Harry, who followed close behind, glowering at his back. Draco had just started walking quickly down the corridor when the faint sound of sniffling reached his ears. He turned to face Ginny's bedroom and braced himself as he neared the half-open door. Timidly, he knocked.

Ginny looked up from her desk. "Draco?" she asked, her voice unexpectedly soft. She quickly tried to wipe away any trace of tears, but Draco could still see them in her eyes.

This is your only friend, Draco told himself silently. Kneeling down beside her, he let guilt take over. "I'm so sorry, Ginny… I don't know what I was thinking… But I'd never want you crying because of me."

"I wasn't," she said. "I'm not angry at you." She took a deep breath, preparing to explain when, suddenly, Draco gently took her hand in his, his eyes warm and steadily focused on hers. She stared at him for the longest time, completely speechless. She was so immersed in the moment that anything she'd wanted to say simply evaporated.

Harry stared on, unseen by either of them, wondering wordlessly whether or not to intervene. What would have looked like a perfect little scene to any other observer felt like a painful knot in Harry's stomach. His heart wanted to deny it, but there it was, before him. Ginny was falling for Draco Malfoy, gazing back at him as if she thought he was the most fascinating person on the planet. Harry had so hoped that his breakup with Ginny would be temporary, that it would not be the end of their feelings for one another…

After a few more seconds, he turned sorrowfully toward his own bedroom, deciding that it was better this way. He knew he wouldn't have had much time left to stay and be the romantic boyfriend Ginny deserved. His seventeenth birthday was less than a week away, and he still had a world of work to do.

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