Author's Note: Written on a whim in a single day, so I know this story is a hot mess. Maybe you will like it better than I do. :) Reviews appreciated!
"I told you you didn't have to come," Ginny said as she pushed Molly's hands away. Her mother continued to straighten Ginny's T-shirt and tuck her hair behind her ears. The fussing was insufferable and claustrophobic, and felt, suddenly, more childish than it ever had before.
"The last time we sent you away you came back…."
She cut herself off, but Ginny knew exactly what she had meant to say. Damaged. Ginny came back damaged.
"Did you forget my first year at Hogwarts, or was being possessed by a fragment of Voldemort's soul not traumatic enough for you?"
"Ginny!" her father said. Just Ginny, as if she was the one being unreasonable.
One look at her mother's face filled her with regret. The tears that had been pooling in Molly Weasley's eyes all morning, tears Ginny had studiously ignored, had finally fallen, leaving tracks on cheeks that were beginning to wrinkle with age. Ginny was being a brat and she knew it, so she hugged her mother tightly and said, "I'll be fine. Please don't spend your time worrying about me."
"I-it's impossible not to, y-you know," Molly blubbered, her tears soaking Ginny's shoulder.
But Ginny didn't have the patience for comfort right now. She'd spent most of Spring and all of Summer reassuring her family that everything would be all right, that Harry would save the day, that Fred was in a better place, that Hogwarts was safe now. Who had been there to comfort her when she'd woken up from nightmares? When she'd flinched at Harry's touch? When she'd been afraid at the thought of boarding the Hogwarts Express and returning to the place where she was tortured and her friends and brother had died? No one had been there for her, not even Harry, so her patience for tears had run out long ago.
The sound of the train whistle echoed across the platform, signaling the Hogwarts Express's imminent departure.
"Okay, Mum, I've got to go," Ginny said, disentangling herself from Molly's arms. She kissed her parents on their cheeks and then climbed aboard the train, settling herself in the compartment she, Luna, and Neville had claimed before saying goodbye to their families.
Her friends joined her a moment later, but Ginny was staring out the window at her weepy mother and her bravely stoic father. It shouldn't have hurt that Ron and Harry hadn't come to see her off. She knew they were busy with Auror training. And it shouldn't have felt like a betrayal when Hermione had chosen to neglect her final year at Hogwarts in favor of starting a career in Magical Law. These things shouldn't have hurt, and yet they did.
As the train began to move, she waved at her parents a final time and then turned to face her companions, sighing in relief even as her heart raced.
She was going back to Hogwarts.
It had been a long summer for Draco Malfoy.
The Dark Lord had not been defeated for more than two hours before Aurors began their arrests. Most of the surviving Death Eaters had fled, but the Malfoys had stayed put in the Great Hall where they'd witnessed their master's fall at the wand of The Chosen One—a momentous, legendary event that the idea of fleeing the scene had not occurred to them.
So when all three of them were arrested publicly and loudly at the edge of the Great Hall, that had been annoying. When the Aurors had used excessive force on their compliant captives, that had been unnecessary.
But Draco couldn't deny their treatment had been warranted, even if the memory of the aggression used towards his family still incited a simmering anger in him all these months later. If the war had ended with Potter's defeat instead of the Dark Lord's, the war criminals captured in the aftermath could have expected much worse treatment than what the Malfoys received.
The memory still left a bitter taste in his mouth, though.
After their arrest, they'd endured hours of interrogation, weeks separated as they'd sat in prison, and days of trials. On August 28th, Narcissa and Draco had walked out of Azkaban after reparations in the form of heavy fines had been paid. Lucius had stayed behind to serve his ten year sentence.
Draco and his mother had been released just in time for Draco to return to Hogwarts, which was the last place Draco wanted to go. Narcissa had insisted, however, so here he was, aboard the Hogwarts Express and searching for an unoccupied compartment.
He prowled the corridor, keeping his gaze low when other students passed him, only glancing up to look through the windows into the compartments. Most of the compartments were full, which wasn't much of a surprise considering all the seventh year students who would be returning to Hogwarts as eighth years on top of the influx of firsties attending for the first time.
Finally, he found a compartment that looked empty at first glance and threw open the door, only to have a wand pointed at his face. Ginny Weasley glared up at him, her hand trembling but such resolve in her eyes he had no doubt her aim would be true if provoked, especially in such tight quarters.
At this point, a wand in his face was the least of Draco's concerns, so he ignored it and sat down across from Weasley, next to the door.
"Are you serious right now?" Weasley said, clearly outraged at his audacity to sit with her.
"Everywhere else is full."
"I don't care. You can go sit with the cargo. Maybe the trolley lady will take pity on you. You are not sitting here."
He sighed, but could he blame her? After what he'd done to her last term? If gods were real, they were probably laughing at him right now, amused at the situation he found himself in. He'd scoured the train twice, and the only available seats were in Ginny Weasley's compartment. Hilarious.
"I'm not kidding, Malfoy. Luna and Neville will be back soon. Haven't you got your own friends to annoy?"
"No," he said, his eyes focused outside the compartment, into the corridor where students intermingled and talked.
He'd realized over the summer that he really didn't have any friends. He'd never even understood the value of friendship because he'd always used people to make himself feel superior. The group of people with whom he'd surrounded himself had fractured in the wake of their families' trials and reformed as a different group, one that excluded Draco. There was no one left for him at Hogwarts.
The compartment door opened to admit Lovegood and Longbottom, both of whom froze at the sight before them: Draco in their compartment and Ginny aiming her wand at his head.
Lovegood recovered first and said, "Oh, are we sitting with Malfoy now?" as she sat down next to Draco.
"No! I'm trying to get him out of here," Weasley said quickly.
Longbottom sank into the seat next to her, cautious of the hot wand trembling in the air. "It looks like the rest of the compartments are full."
That made Ginny lower her wand and swing an incredulous look between her friends. "Don't you remember what he did to us last year? Luna, his family kept you prisoner in their dungeons. What kind of family home has dungeons?"
Draco couldn't help but roll his eyes at that.
"That wasn't his fault. When he was home, he came down and talked to me sometimes. That was nice. Mr. Ollivander didn't speak very much, so the company was appreciated."
A stab of anxiety pierced Draco's heart. Would Lovegood spill all his secrets to her friends? He remembered his disastrous sixth year at Hogwarts, when Potter had walked in on Draco in the girls' toilet, crying as Moaning Myrtle consoled him. Potter witnessing his distress had filled Draco with such shame and anger, he'd retaliated violently and had nearly died as a result. This wasn't nearly the same situation, but if Lovegood said too much, Draco wasn't sure how he would react. His instinct was always to run, first and foremost, and then, if he couldn't run, to protect himself, no matter how dirty he had to fight to do so.
Weasley directed a suspicious glare at Draco. "Talked to you about what?"
But Draco didn't want to hear what Lovegood said; he couldn't stand to listen to her regale her friends with tales of how pathetic Draco had been, how he had used Lovegood as a confidante, how he had cried and apologized and wished for some way to take back what had happened to both of them, to the entire world, in the wake of the war.
He didn't know why he had confided in her. He had no bloody idea why. Maybe he hadn't seen her as a real person, locked up as she'd been like a caged animal, like an exotic pet taken out of its enclosure to perform party tricks for influential guests. Maybe he'd forgotten who she was. Maybe he'd thought she would die there and take his secrets with her to the grave.
But she'd survived, she'd regained her freedom, and here she was, privy to more humiliating information about Draco than anyone besides Moaning Myrtle had ever had the privilege to hear.
"Fine, I'll leave your bloody compartment," Draco snarled, standing and storming into the corridor before anyone knew what was happening. He didn't know where he would go, but he had to get away from all these people, so he headed toward the back of the carriage, forcing himself through small factions of students like a swimmer trying to cut through waves to keep from drowning.
Ginny never thought Draco Malfoy would show his face at Hogwarts again, and she hated that the mere sight of him had shaken her enough to quite literally shake her. Even after he had left their compartment, her hands continued to tremble, as if her body was still suffering from the aftershocks of the Cruciatus Curse he had casted at her so many months ago.
She had believed Harry when he'd said Malfoy wasn't capable of hurting someone, that even with his life on the line, his attempts to murder Albus Dumbledore had been half-hearted. Draco Malfoy was all talk, with no bravado to back up his words.
But at Hogwarts, the Carrows had goaded Malfoy into casting Unforgivables at Neville and Ginny while they lay bound with ropes on the floor of Amycus Carrow's office. "Even you can strike an unmoving target, Malfoy," Amycus had said while his sister laughed. Ginny had seen the sick dread in Malfoy's face when he'd stepped in front of them; she'd noticed the quiver in his hand.
And yet he'd cast the spell and Ginny had felt such excruciating pain, like someone peeling the skin off her body, setting fire to her bones, stabbing her with a sharp spear internally as well as externally. How could it hurt so much if he hadn't meant it?
"You're angry," Luna said.
"Yes, I'm angry! I don't understand your reaction at all! Malfoy tortured us; he tried to capture Harry. He does not belong in this compartment!"
"I think a lot of us did things we're not proud of," Luna said, and Ginny was about to argue when she realized Luna must have been thinking of her father. Xenophilius Lovegood, the coward, had sold Harry, Ron, and Hermione out to the Death Eaters in exchange for Luna's safety.
"You can't compare your father to Malfoy."
"They were desperate. Cornered. The people they loved were in danger."
Frustrated with Luna's side of the argument, Ginny turned to Neville. "What about you? Do you also think I shouldn't have kicked him out?"
"I don't know, Ginny, I honestly don't." He sighed as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. For a while there, it had been. After Luna had been abducted from the Hogwarts Express at Christmas and Ginny had been pulled out of Hogwarts by her parents at Easter, Neville had led their rebellion against Snape and the Carrows by himself. When it had become too dangerous for him, he'd orchestrated the rebellion and rescue missions from inside the Room of Requirement.
"It's not a difficult question."
He rubbed his face. "I'm just tired of fighting. It's over. Why do we have to keep doing it?"
She grasped her arms, hugging herself tight as she remembered the pain of the Cruciatus. This wasn't what she'd expected of Neville, but maybe she should have. Neville had shown his mettle when it had mattered most, but he wasn't Harry, who had been fighting nearly since birth, at least since Professor Dumbledore had left him on his aunt and uncle's doorstep. Harry had rarely had a moment when he wasn't struggling, so she was used to his eagerness to jump into any fray, to follow any lead if it would prevent danger. Not everyone was Harry Potter, though.
"Am I overreacting?" Ginny asked, Neville's exhaustion sinking into her now.
"No," they both replied.
Neville shook his head. "It would just be nice if we could start fresh."
"Is that possible?"
Luna smiled. "I think so."
The silence stretched as Ginny mulled the idea over. Could she start fresh at Hogwarts? Forget her possession in her first year. Forget her rebellion and the torture she'd endured as punishment for it. Forget the death of her friends and her brother. Forget how the people closest to her had let her down.
No, she could never forget those things. They had changed her, shaped her, and now she had to face them. Face them so she could set them aside and move on. But never forget them.
"What did Malfoy talk to you about?" Her voice was gentler this time, less accusatory and suspicious, but Luna shook her head.
"That's not for me to say. But maybe Malfoy will tell you if you ask him." She tilted her head to the side in thought. "He's much more sensitive than you would think."
If only Luna knew.
After this little talk, they discussed their summers while steering clear of any mention of the war and any negative consequences thereof. This seemed to work until they all dissolved into silence, realizing that there wasn't much they could say about their summers without also speaking of the war.
Not speaking about it didn't mean Ginny wasn't thinking about it, and as they got closer to Hogwarts, she had to come to terms with the fact that the war was about to slap her in the face. It would be impossible to ignore when she walked through the corridor where Fred had died, when she ate all her meals in the same room in which Harry had defeated Voldemort, when she walked across the grounds and remembered where and how and exactly when she had stumbled upon Colin Creevey's body. The inevitability of the remembrance made Ginny stand and leave the compartment with the excuse that she just needed to stretch her legs.
She stretched her legs up and down the corridor twice but she still couldn't rid herself of her anxiety. Suddenly, she couldn't catch her breath no matter how deeply she drew air. She rushed to the end of the carriage, trying to get away from students who were starting to don their school robes, trying to get away from anyone who might witness her panic attack, but the back of the carriage was no better than the middle because Draco Malfoy was there.
Her heart hammered in her chest as he remembered her wand sitting on the seat in her compartment, and she couldn't breathe she couldn't breathe she couldn't breathe.
And then: arms around her, clutching her to a warm chest like a life vest keeping her afloat, a safety harness tethering her to a solid structure. The arms could only belong to one person, and that should have exacerbated the attack. Instead, it soothed her, and she hated that Draco still had the ability to soothe her.
When she gained control of her breath once more, she said against his shoulder, "You cast a Cruciatus Curse on me."
His hold on her tightened with tension and then eased. "I did."
"You hurt me."
"I did that, too."
She withdrew from him, taking a step backwards out of his embrace though it took another moment for him to drop his hands. On his face, he wore an expression of sick dread that Ginny had seen only once before.
"Well, fuck you." She turned her back to him and set her eyes on the snippets of the rocking landscape that she saw through a window in the carriage's exit door. Back here, with the sun nearly set, the countryside seemed to swish by faster than it had inside the compartment. The sight of the blurry, blue-green hills made Ginny dizzy.
"I didn't want to hurt you," he said in a tone of voice she remembered all too well. The tone he'd used when they'd argued about the war, a tone that suggested Ginny was being unreasonable.
Her heart pounded in her chest, aching for his arms to slide around her once more. Somehow, the two of them had felt so simple when a war had been raging around them, when their relationship—or whatever it was they'd been doing—had had a time limit.
But Draco had cast an Unforgivable Curse on her, and a few days later she'd gone home for Easter, not to return to Hogwarts until the war came to a head with the Battle of Hogwarts. Whatever their relationship was, it had ended before they thought it would. Everything they'd left unsaid remained between them, unspoken but present in the air.
She turned around. "It felt like you did. It felt like you meant it."
Draco shoved his hand through his hair, a gesture of frustration he clearly hadn't outgrown. Strange how behavior that had been familiar less than a year ago now felt foreign, like a habit from a different lifetime. There was Before The Battle and there was After The Battle. Sometimes it still felt like she'd fought in the Battle of Hogwarts mere days ago, but Before The Battle still seemed decades removed from the present.
"It… it wasn't because of you. I didn't—I tried to fake it before. They could tell—Alecto and Amycus, my aunt, the Dark Lord—they all knew when I wasn't trying hard enough to make it hurt, and they punished me when I didn't give them the results they expected. You have no idea, Ginny, how much I didn't mean it. But I had to make it convincing, so I pretended it wasn't you. I pretended you were someone else, and I channeled everything I had into that person."
Ginny wanted to take another step away from this man with whom she had argued and talked, fought and healed, raged and consoled, but she stayed her ground. There had been moments like this Before The Battle, when he had said something so incongruous to Ginny's values it made her question why she spent time with him. Loneliness forced her to continue seeing him despite her reservations.
"It concerns me that you could so easily cast an Unforgivable on someone else."
"That's what I'm trying to say! It wasn't easy by any means. None of what I did was easy, but I had to do it."
"No, you only thought you had to do it. You had options. No one took over your body and forced you to do the things you did."
"Unlike you, you mean?"
Her whole body tensed and she did step back, closer to the corridor, physically threatening to leave him once and for all.
"Yes, unlike me."
The train whistle blew, a signal that the journey was ending. Ginny took another step back, and Draco lifted his arm as if to stop her.
She remembered what Neville had said in the compartment about being tired of fighting, and Ginny felt that exhaustion now. The weight of Hogwarts and her memories from the past year could have crushed her—they would crush her if she wasn't careful. She didn't know if Draco would be a useful distraction from the wounds she was about to reopen or if he would only slice her open further. She didn't know if he deserved a fresh start or if she wanted a fresh start with him.
So that's what she said. "I don't know, Draco. I don't know where we go from here."
He took a step forward and grabbed her hand. "I do. We go to Hogwarts."
"And then," he squeezed her hand and pulled her close, and Ginny shivered at his warmth, at the safety she felt in his arms even though Draco Malfoy was the complete opposite of safe, "and then we figure it out together."