By Firelight

Not Alone Anymore

Draco sat up to look at his mother, and a moment later, he breathed a sigh of relief. "Mother," he greeted her with a grateful smile.

"Do you want to tell me about it, chéri?" Narcissa offered, a look of mild concern written across her pale features.

Draco shook his head. "No, I'd rather just forget it. Thanks, though."

Narcissa donned a sad smile in return, the kind of smile that she had worn several times throughout his life, intended to cheer him up even when she was secretly crying inside. Draco hoped it was only his reluctance to describe his nightmare that had saddened her, for that could easily be reversed. All he had to do was think of a different dream to tell her about. He couldn't bring himself to tell her about the real one…

Still, lying to her when she was only trying to help just seemed worse. "I'm just glad you're alright," he said finally.

Narcissa reached over to touch his hair. "I'm fine," she replied. Then she placed her hands on his shoulders and added, "Now go back to sleep, darling." With that, she went back to her own bed.

Draco nodded, but didn't feel like giving sleep another try just yet, tired as he was. He wondered silently whether dreams could be placed in a Pensieve. Eventually, with the understanding that he still needed to borrow Ginny's wand to use the Pensieve at all, he decided it would be a waste of their time to find out. She wanted to see real memories, not imaginary ones.

He sighed as he thought of her. The radiant hair, the warm gaze, the way she reached out to him that held his heart captive… It was a different kind of magic that drew him to her. It wasn't only knowing that she cared about him, although that was most of it. But she had this comfortable presence about her that he wanted to be around. It was like a glowing aura surrounding her that could not be seen, only felt.

Slowly, he fell asleep again, the image of Ginny still in the front of his mind.

The next day, Ron went to find his sister, hoping to find her far away from Malfoy. He wasn't in the mood for another argument with the prat. It was too early in the morning for a fight, and he knew if they saw one another, he would be unlikely to stop after just one punch this time around.

Everyone thought Ron had changed. They told him every day how he had never "acted like this" before, and it was beginning to feel like torture. He wanted to scream at the lot of them. He wasn't the one who was acting strange!

Since the day Malfoy and his mum had come to the Burrow, it was as if Ron was trapped in a nightmare. With all five of his brothers away, he was the only one left to defend what he could. Even his parents were caught up in the stories Malfoy wove for them. And as for Ginny, well… she was smitten with him, wasn't she? She had changed more than anyone… and it tore Ron apart.

But he knew he wasn't the only one suffering from the Malfoys' presence. Harry was grieving, as he had done too many times already. How could he heal from the broken relationship with his ex-girlfriend and her Harry-replacement flirting, and for all he knew, snogging just a few rooms away? It wasn't that hard to hear them talking from further down the corridor.

Of course, Hermione, being the thoughtful person she was, had also believed whatever Malfoy had told her. That was what hurt Ron the most. Even though he would never be the first to admit it, he cared a great deal for her. He had spent many nights – not to mention, countless History of Magic lessons – fantasizing over what she would say and do if she knew how he felt, but the risk of rejection outside of those daydreams had always been too high… Yet, now she believed what the rest of the Order believed, that the Malfoys meant no harm, and that he, Ron, was going crazy.

While he stormed down the corridor toward Ginny's bedroom, he wondered what on Earth was keeping him from doing just that. The answer came to him gradually: the same ancient magic that had kept Harry alive all this time was keeping Ron sane and focused. His love for his parents, his brothers and sister, and his closest friends, would not let him give up the fight.

He slowed his pace, relaxing a little. No matter who thought otherwise, his mission was not to get rid of two hated foes, but to regain his family's trust and ensure their safety. This wasn't about the Malfoys, and it never would be! This was about what they had tried so hard to take from him over the past few months. He had nearly died at Hogwarts, but because of Harry's quick thinking, he'd survived the incident. It was time he returned the favor.

He arrived at Ginny's bedroom door and found it ajar, so he opened it the rest of the way. Disappointment crept up on him; she wasn't there. She's probably with him… Ron guessed bitterly, thinking of how she and Malfoy had become more or less inseparable in recent days. With a scowl, he went downstairs to continue his search for his youngest sibling.

He found her in the dining room, sitting down to breakfast. Fortunately, Malfoy was absent from the scene. Ron took a seat next to Ginny and said hopefully, "Morning, Gin." To his chagrin, she didn't answer.

"Good morning, Ron," was Molly's greeting. Ron feigned a smile. Then, she set breakfast plates in front of him and Ginny, but he, for one, wasn't feeling particularly hungry just then.

"I'm pretty sure I already know why you came looking for me, Ron," Ginny said, still not looking at him, "but it's not going to work. I'm not going to stop talking to Draco, no matter what you say."

Ron glared at her. "He's turning you into someone I don't even know!" he blurted. "You're my sister, don't you remember? We're supposed to trust each other." He was pleading with her now.

Ginny let out an exasperated sigh and finally looked back at him. "I don't see any trust coming from you. Why don't you take your own advice, if you're so wise?"

"Ginny!"

"I love him, Ron, and no one, not even you, is going to change that. And he loves me, so leave him alone!" Ginny shouted. With that, she went back to her breakfast, but not before moving her plate – and her chair – a few inches further from Ron, leaving him steaming.

He stood quickly, wondering what on Earth would get her to listen to reason. She didn't look up to see his darkened glare before he stomped out of the room, which angered him even more.

On the way back toward the staircase, he was tempted to go scream at Malfoy, but he still wasn't in the mood to even look at him. It was no surprise that knowing his wand was still safe in his pocket comforted him somewhat. Alone or not, he still had a great advantage over the slimy git, should a duel prove necessary in the future.

Once she had finished eating, Ginny grabbed some extra toast, wrapped it in a napkin, and took off toward Draco's bedroom. She was beginning to worry since he hadn't shown up for breakfast. As much as Ron aggravated them both, Ginny knew he was all the more likely to go after Draco after the hard time Ginny had just given him.

Draco's door was closed when she got there, so she knocked quietly, hoping he was already awake. A moment later, the slightly muffled sound of footsteps told her he was. When he opened the door, she saw his smile and smiled herself, handing him the toast before stepping inside.

"Good morning, Ginny," he greeted her, leaving the door mostly open.

"Good morning, Draco. You can close it if you want," she added, motioning toward the door.

Draco's smile faltered at the expression she wore, but he closed the door the rest of the way as she'd asked. Turning back to her, he said, "Is something wrong?"

Ginny shook her head without hesitation, forcing a smile, but Draco studied her face, his eyes serious and compassionate, as if to say, "I love you too much to pretend I believe that." Finally, she let her gaze fall to the old grey carpet on which she stood. "It's Ron. He just won't give up," she said with her voice barely above a whisper.

Draco sighed and shook his head slowly. "I know. He's putting himself in a worse position than he's ever been in. For the first time, no one's listening to him. I almost feel sorry for the idiot."

"I don't," Ginny declared. "He's turning into a hypocrite, and if no one believes a word he says, he's got no one to blame but himself." She grimaced. "I'm not sure what's gotten into him, Draco, but it's driving me insane. I get so furious when he's even in the same room as me! What's happening to us?"

Draco gestured for her to sit on the end of the bed, and sat down next to her when she had, putting his arm around her shoulders. While he thought over what to say, he felt her head rest lightly on his shoulder. With a melancholy smile, he said the only thing he could think of. "I don't know about him… but I'm not going to let anything happen to you." He kissed her hair. "That's a promise."

Ginny wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer. "If only I'd known you like this all through school! I never would have let them send you back home. The Burrow would have been your home!"

Draco frowned uncomfortably. There they were again, facing the subject of his father. "I had to go back, Ginny."

Ginny looked up. "Why?" she asked. "I can't imagine you wanted to…"

"I didn't want to," he told her. "I had to. I couldn't have just left. I realized that the first time… the first time I tried."

"Then you did try…"

"…but I didn't get very far. And worse than being caught was realizing what I would have left behind."

"The Cruciatus Curse?" Ginny suggested, looking startled at the thought that he would have missed anything from that place.

Draco had to swallow back a chuckle at her guess. "No," he told her. "My mother."

Ginny went silent. Her gaze fell to her lap, but soon after, Draco lifted her chin so that they were making eye contact again.

"It's okay, Ginny," he whispered. "It's fine now."

She tried to smile at him, but he could see right through her gesture to the tears hidden in her heart. How many times had he played the confident, hopeful schoolboy whom he knew would give his mother hope? It was touching that Ginny would do the same thing for him, and this wasn't even the first time. Slowly, he reached out with his free hand and ran his fingers tenderly through her hair. She leaned into his touch, and he smiled.

"Draco," Ginny sighed, "it's not okay. I don't get how what you went through for years can be called okay."

"That's not the okay part," Draco said, still smiling.

Ginny took his hands in hers. She couldn't bear to make eye contact with him, but she wouldn't pretend she had nothing to say now. "Are you saying that having been forced into hiding makes it okay?"

"When I was 'forced into hiding,' I found the best friend I'd ever dreamed of, let alone had."

"But Ron—" Ginny tried.

"…is a prat," finished Draco, grinning again. "It's a start, Ginny. Besides, there's this part of me that's actually starting to believe I deserve to be trusted…"

"You do!"

Draco shook his head, no longer smiling. "You're saying that blindly, Ginny. I'm not innocent."

"When will you stop saying that?" Ginny asked in exasperation. She stood up suddenly and turned to face him, looking hurt.

Draco stared at her, but answered quickly. "But it's true. I'm not."

"So what if you're not a saint?" she exclaimed. Then, even more unexpectedly, she sighed resignedly and sat back down. "Neither am I…"

At these words, Draco curled his fingers into fists by his sides. "Who told you that rubbish? Ron?"

Ginny shook her head slowly. "Nobody told me. I don't have to be told. We've both done things we don't like to think about."

"No, Ginny! You're perfect!"

"No, I'm not! I'm no better than anyone else."

"What have you ever done to be ashamed of?"

Ginny fell silent again, but this time, Draco waited for her to answer him. "When I first started at Hogwarts, the first friend I made there was the one person I regret meeting the most."

Draco remembered that year, the year Harry rescued Ginny from the Chamber of Secrets. He had heard shortly afterward that Ginny had been the one opening the Chamber, but no one suspected she had done it of her own free will. Who had forced her, or how, was any Slytherin's guess, however, and Draco was no better at guessing the culprit than any of his housemates. "Who was it?"

"Tom Riddle," she murmured, looking like she never wanted to have to say that name again. Draco watched her with a sympathetic expression on his face. After a few seconds of silence, Ginny looked up at him, astonished. "You don't recognize that name, do you?"

Draco stared back, startled by the question. "Er, I don't think so…" he replied, suddenly feeling incredibly stupid.

"He was the boy who grew up to become You-Know-Who."

Draco's eyes went wide. "Do you mean to say that he's the one who forced you t-to—"

"…to endanger the lives of the entire student body? Yes. To unleash the deadliest of creatures and set it on my friends? Yes. But forced or not, I still have to live with it," she sighed. Then, looking at him with troubled eyes, she asked, "Do you still think you're the only one with a lifetime sentence of guilt? Do you think you're the only one who cries in your sleep?"

Draco was overwhelmed. For a minute or two, all he could do was stare at the floor in front of him, wide-eyed. Ginny was going through something painful of her own, and all the while, the subject of their conversations had been his past. "I'm so sorry…" He almost didn't hear himself say it, but it was true.

Ginny's expression softened at his tone. "Draco," she sighed, "I'm not trying to make you sorry. I'm trying to make a point. I'm no better of a person than you, or anyone. And it… hurts me… when you attribute what you were forced to do with being a bad person. We both know that if it were up to you, none of those things would have happened."

Draco nodded. "You're perfect to me, Ginny," he told her, his voice wavering slightly. "You saw this tiny light in the dark… You saw that in me when everyone else chose to blind themselves… That's all I'll ever see."

Ginny smiled and looked down shyly. "Then you can't blame me for seeing you the same way."

Draco took her in his arms before he could think twice, and she hugged him back. He felt as though a heavy burden had slid off his shoulders. He hated the thought that she was suffering any of the same hurt he had been, but it was comforting to know he wasn't the only one who understood what it felt like, being under that kind of strain.

"We're not alone anymore," he told her.

"I know," she replied, a glowing smile making her features even more radiant than they already were.


Later that day, Ginny was walking down the main corridor on the second floor when she heard Hermione talking a few doors away. It sounded as if she were trying to keep her voice down, but was unsuccessful.

"…asked them about Hufflepuff's cup, but no one had any idea where it could be."

"It could still be at Hogwarts, couldn't it?" Ron asked, just as Ginny reached the closed door. "I mean, it's the first place I'd look for anything that used to belong to the founders."

Ginny took a step closer, intrigued by the muffled conversation. What could they be planning this time? Ginny wondered to herself.

Suddenly, one of them shushed the other two sharply, and there was silence for a few seconds until the door swung open, revealing Harry standing in the doorway, and Hermione and Ron sitting in front of an assortment of darkly-bound books and parchment.

Ginny froze. "Hi, Harry…" was all she could manage.

Harry looked halfway between relief and wariness. "Ginny? What are you doing here?"

Though she found the question a bit strange, she tried to look as nonchalant as possible. "I was just walking. What were you doing?" she asked back casually.

Harry hesitated, but came into the corridor, shutting the door behind him. "Come on," he said. "I want to talk to you."

With a backward glance at the closed door, Ginny nodded and walked with him further down the corridor. "What did you want to talk about?" she asked, although she was sure she already knew.

Harry sighed, but kept walking for a moment longer before he stopped and turned to her, a solemn look on his face. "I've been thinking a lot about what you told me. You might be upset with me for trying to change your mind, but the truth is, Ginny, you're a lot to lose. I really do care deeply about you…"

Ginny felt conquered by remorse. She had tried not to hurt him when she had spoken with him the day before, but apparently, he'd been hurt even so. Her mind raced for some way to apologize, but Harry continued before Ginny could think of anything sufficient.

"…but I want you to be happy, and if that means letting you go… I'll do that."

Ginny's eyes went wide as she listened. "Harry…" she said, "I don't know what to say." She looked down, thinking hard over what to tell him to let him know she still cared about him, too, but before she could continue, her eyes fell on a thin, silver chain looping from his pocket. Harry noticed the curious expression Ginny now wore and quickly stuffed the visible part of the chain all the way into his pocket. When Ginny looked back up at him, he gave her a nervous look that pleaded for her not to say anything about what she'd seen.

As much as Ginny longed to know why Harry was suddenly hiding all this from her, she was sure the answer had something to do with her choosing to be with Draco. Whatever these secrets were, he obviously had to trust her more than he did now to let her in on the mystery. She nodded her understanding, trying to snap herself out of that train of thought. "I understand," she sighed, still feeling left out, despite knowing his reasons. "Thank you, Harry." She nodded again before turning to head back towards her room.

"Ginny, wait!" Harry called. Ginny stopped and turned back to face him. She watched as he seemed to debate over what to say next. "Listen," he began, "there are a lot of things you don't know about… one of them being why I can't go back to Hogwarts in September." Ginny stared at him, wondering if he was about to tell her a different, real reason for his planning to leave.

"I know why, Harry," she said suddenly, realizing as she did so that it was true. He had to be planning some kind of attack against Lord Voldemort. It had been that way for as long as she'd known him. Of course he wasn't going to head back to the safety of Hogwarts at a time like this, in the middle of a war; that just wasn't like him! He had only stayed at Grimmauld Place for this long because he was still underage.

"You do?" asked Harry.

Ginny took a deep breath and nodded. "I know it has to do with the war… and I know that you're the only one who can vanquish You-Know-Who. But I want to know that you won't go out there without a foolproof plan for defeating him. I still care about you, too, Harry, and no one's going to change that. I just need to know you're going to be okay."

Harry watched her speak, and when she had said all she had wanted to say, she saw a sadness in his eyes that frightened her. She felt no shame in admitting to herself that she was scared for him. The look on his face told her everything: that no plan was foolproof, and that no one, not even the Chosen One, was safe. No one knew their fate in this war, and he was no exception. Amidst all the discoveries she had made about Draco, Ginny had forgotten that Harry's past hadn't been much easier, nor did his future look any brighter from where they stood. She had forgotten…

"Ginny," he said softly, "I would be lying if I told you I could ever be safe while this war is going on. Even here, I'm not completely safe. No one is. But I'm not the only one I have to take care of. I'm just one person, and every day I spend here, a dozen more innocent lives could be lost. Of course I don't want to be next, but I promised Dumbledore I'd fight this fight through to the end. If I put myself first, the war won't end until Voldemort wins, and everything is destroyed. I'm not going to let that happen. I won't stand by and watch the world disintegrate." He took her hands carefully in his, and told her, "I'm sorry, Ginny. I can't tell you what you want to hear."

The lump in Ginny's throat grew thicker as she listened, but she forbade herself to show any sign of tears. Harry shouldn't have to go it alone, she thought to herself. But then, she thought of Ron and Hermione, who had also announced that they wouldn't be returning to Hogwarts for the upcoming term. She knew they would be going with him wherever he was headed, and thus he wouldn't be alone, but it still felt horrible to let him go while she was under the protection of the many concealment charms placed on Grimmauld Place.

"I want to go with you," she told him, looking him in the eye.

"No," was his determined reply. "You'll stay here…" (he grimaced slightly) "…with Draco. You're underage, Ginny."

"I don't care! I want to help you."

Harry frowned and shook his head. "There's no way I'm taking you with me. Listen to me. Sirius is gone forever, and now, so is Dumbledore. I told you at school why I don't want Voldemort to see you close to me. I don't want anything like that to happen to you."

Ginny sighed and began her reply calmly. "I'm not a child anymore. In two weeks, I'll be sixteen and… Oh, Harry, there's got to be something I can do!"

"I know you want to help us, but with the Ministry in the Death Eaters' hands, and with you still underage, having you along would only make it more dangerous. Maybe they can't trace us while we're here, but nothing's going to stop them from finding us out there if you cast even one simple spell."

Feeling more disappointed by the minute, Ginny stared at Harry for a few more seconds, as though hoping he would reconsider, and when he didn't, she turned on her heels and left without uttering another word.

Without even thinking about it, she walked back in the direction from which she had come, her destination the only one imaginable. She felt horrible, as though her life would never be the same again, and she knew of only one person who would understand, and who would allow her to cry in his presence without asking a myriad of uncomfortable questions.

"Draco…" she called softly just as she arrived at his bedroom door, her voice breaking. "Please be in there…" She knocked, but there was only silence behind that closed door. "Draco?"

Just then, she felt a gentle hand rest on her shoulder, and she felt a spark of happiness warm her heart, but it was extinguished as soon as she turned around.

It was her father. "Ginny, what's wrong?" Arthur asked.

"Nothing, Dad," she lied, quickly changing her expression to something more optimistic than she felt. She even managed a small smile, but he could still see the tears in her eyes.

"I heard you just now," he told her kindly. "That didn't sound like 'nothing' to me, dear." He gave her shoulder a light squeeze. "You can always tell me what's bothering you. You've always been able to."

Ginny swallowed back her tears and shook her head, the gesture barely visible. "Have you seen Draco?" she asked after a short pause. "I need to… ask him something." It wasn't that she didn't trust her dad; he was right, she had always been able to talk to him over just about anything. Even still, she had a hard time believing that he would be able to relate to her on this particular subject.

Arthur sighed sadly, but answered her: "I saw him in the dining room a few minutes ago. Perhaps he's still there now."

Ginny nodded. "Thanks, Dad." With that, she set off towards the dining room. As she'd hoped, Draco was still sitting at the table, a length of parchment and a half of a sandwich in front of him, and his quill in his hand.

When he looked up and saw her in the doorway, he immediately noticed her expression and stood in surprise. "Ginny? Are you okay?"

She took a few steps into the room. "Draco… you know what it feels like to be left out of things…" As she spoke, she walked closer to him, and let the first tear fall. "You know what it's like to feel helpless… powerless…" All the while, Draco's gaze was steady and full of compassion, giving Ginny the strength to continue nearer, until the two of them were right in front of each other.

Finally, Draco took her hands and stared down at them. Taking a deep breath inward, he answered her in a whisper. "I hoped you'd never know those things." Then, he looked her in the eyes again. "What happened?"

Ginny sighed shakily, and a couple more tears slid down her freckled cheeks. "I just want to help… I told Harry I wanted to help him fight when the time comes, but he wouldn't listen! I can't just do nothing!"

Draco slowly guided her to a chair and sat down with her. "I never thought he was much of a listener, to be honest," he thought aloud. "But on the other hand, I wouldn't want you putting yourself in the line of fire that way, either. I mean, yes, you've fought those people before, but do you really want to go and do that again?"

"I want to do my part," Ginny said plainly.

Draco sighed heavily. "I understand, and if there were any other way, I'd be fine with it. I'd gladly join you! But you and me, we don't belong out on the battlefield. I don't want to see you hurt, or… or worse…"

"I can fend for myself, Draco. That's what I tried to tell Harry."

"No, Ginny. You're underestimating the very concept of the Dark Arts. You haven't seen what the Dark L— what You-Know-Who does to people he wants to destroy! He doesn't just take lives; what he does before he kills is a lot worse. Dodging curses and Stunning or Petrifying your attackers will only get you so far."

Ginny's eyes went wide. "You know what to do, though, don't you?" she asked excitedly. "Both of us could—"

Draco suddenly let go of Ginny's hands and looked at her incredulously. "Now wait a minute. Are you trying to say that I should go fight with Harry? Ginny, that's… I don't even have a wand!" he exclaimed, becoming frantic at the idea.

The reminder of Draco's destroyed wand seemed to bring Ginny back to reality. Her gaze fell to her lap while Draco tried to calm himself. The mere thought of facing his father again, of feeling the wrath he had fought so hard to escape from, made him shake terribly.

"Please, don't get carried away…" he begged her.

Ginny glanced up at him and did a double-take. He wasn't looking at her, or even at anything in particular, and the last time she'd seen him trembling like this was when he had told her parents that his father had been cursing him. But this time, she knew, it was no one's fault but hers. "Draco… I'm sorry… I-I didn't realize…"

Hearing these words, Draco once again felt indignation rising steadily in his throat. He could keep any hint of it off of his face, but he couldn't – and almost didn't want to – keep it out of his voice as he asked, "Why not?"

Ginny blinked, caught off-guard by the quiet anger in his tone. "Wh-what do you mean?" she mumbled anxiously.

He stared at her for a moment before responding. "Why didn't you realize that asking me to go back there would be a bad idea? Did you forget why I'm here in the first place?"

"I'm sorry!" she repeated.

At first, Draco wanted to say more in anger, but he hesitated, thinking it over. After another silent moment, his expression grew melancholy, his eyes averted. "So am I." His mind spun furiously in a search for the words he needed, and he spoke them earnestly as they came to him. "It's just… there's just so much of it…" he stammered.

"So much of what?"

"That," he said, biting his lip. "What I just did." Ginny resumed her sympathetic gaze, having already wiped away her tears. "You're the last one I want to take it out on! But sometimes, I just…"

Ginny gave him a small, comforting smile and took his hand. "I'm fine, Draco. It's okay."

Draco gave her hand a gentle squeeze and tried to smile back, but it felt more like wincing. Guilt at the way he had been acting off-and-on toward her still had its claws deep in his heart. He could only hope he would learn in time.

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