May 1, 2018
Author's Note: Written for the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, but only ever posted to Tumblr, in 2017. This works as a prequel to September First, but it wasn't intended to be one.

For those of you following The Dating Charade, I will be posting a new chapter before Friday!


Voldemort's lifeless body fell with a thud, the most ridiculously normal sound of the night reserved for the wizard responsible for the mass destruction around him.

While a cheer erupted through the Great Hall, Ginny stared at that body, chest heaving in disbelief. Fred had died tonight. So had Colin. Remus and Tonks's prone bodies rested side by side just behind her, and Voldemort was just there. Dead. He could no longer pay for what he'd done. There was no justice to be had.

She stared, chest heaving, her disbelief an ache buried in her heart. Voldemort. Dead. The wizard whose soul had once seduced her with friendship and possessed her eleven-year-old body was gone. Just like that. Just like… Fred and Colin and Remus and Tonks. Mortal. Human. Neither a god, nor a lord.

The audience that had witnessed the final duel between Harry and He Who Must Not Be Named swarmed the center of the hall, converging on their savior, but Ginny, confused by mortality, wasn't glad. She couldn't celebrate. People she loved were dead, and the man responsible for it had just been a man, a man like any other. So much so he had even died like one.

What had she been expecting? A flash of light? For his body to disintegrate into dust and float away on the wind? For a demon to loosen itself from the corpse and begin attacking anew?

She didn't know, but this wasn't it. This wasn't what she wanted.

While the Great Hall roared in celebration, Ginny slipped out of the door and wandered up the grand staircase, senseless of her direction except the most important one: up.

Up, up, up she climbed, fleeing the smoke and the dust and the shouts of triumph and the wails of grief. She glimpsed debris in the corridors she passed, lifeless stone, lifeless legs, lifeless eyes. Heart shuddering, she kept her gaze averted, lifting her eyes upward, and she continued to climb.

She didn't stop until she reached the Astronomy Tower, but this view was even worse because down below a battle still raged between defeated Death Eaters and victorious Aurors. A couple giants had remained while their brethren fled, satiating their thirst for destruction and their hatred of wizards more than supporting their allies. Centaurs continued to raise their bows and arrows in the castle's defense, and Grawp, limping but alive, ripped trees out of the ground and threw them at their foes.

More chaos, more slaughter, more ruin, laid bare before her in a tableau of nightmares, the sunrise painting the scene with slashes of light.

She turned around to escape the extended battle only to find a wand pointed in her face.

Eyes the color of smoke met hers. The hand holding the wand trembled.

"Do it," she said. She knew he could. His hands had always trembled when the Carrows forced him to cast Unforgivables on his classmates, but he'd always found something inside himself that allowed him to utter the spell. To mean it.

The wand lowered, but the trembling didn't cease.

"I had to see you," Malfoy said, his voice rough and hoarse. The hair he'd always kept immaculately in place now swept his forehead in disarray, framing his smoldering eyes. Eyes the same color as the castle's stone walls. The same color as the smoke emanating from the fires on the grounds.

Ginny shivered and hated herself for it. The tingle that raced down her spine sped up her heart, but she couldn't think about what they'd been to each other before he cast the first Unforgivable. She wouldn't let herself.

He wet his chapped lips. "I had to see you," he said again. "They're going to arrest my family, and I had to see you before I left."

Fright pierced her heart despite herself and her resolve. Contrary to her emotion, she said, "Should I care? You hurt me. You can't expect my forgiveness. I won't give it to you."

"I don't deserve it anyhow." He took a step closer and Ginny held her ground. She had to or he'd have her pinned against the parapet, and she wanted to avoid Dumbledore's journey to the ground if she could help it.

"Then why did you follow me? Why speak to me at all?"

He closed his eyes and for the fourth time, he said, "I just had to see you."

"Is that all you have to say to me?"

She yelled it because she'd never had the chance to before. When she had returned home for the Easter holidays, her parents had kept her there, and she hadn't had the opportunity to demand answers from him until this moment.

The words echoed off the stone, releasing into the dawn.

The sound of her own voice set her off, and she began to pace furiously, her hands clenching and unclenching as she itched to punch him in the ribs, ceaselessly until he understood the pain she'd felt at his hand. "You cursed me with the Cruciatus over and over again! You hurt me. Is that all you have to say?"

His eyes shuttered, no longer smoke, now metal. Now a barrier. One she thought she had surpassed months ago. She could pinpoint the exact moment he kicked her out of his life for good, keeping her on one side of his shield with all the other riffraff not worth his time. She knew the moment in which it happened because his hands stopped trembling then.

"That's all there is to say. And now I think I'll go. You clearly would rather be alone."

"Alone?" she said with a scoffing laugh. "You're blaming me? I didn't curse you with an illegal spell, did I? Am I supposed to welcome you back with open arms right before you're escorted to prison?"

Ginny sounded hysterical, she knew, and that pushed him away even more while the silenced minority inside of her begged her to listen to what he had to say. No. The time for listening was over. Too many weeks had passed with her wondering what she had done to enable him to cast an Unforgivable at her. She'd spent too much time debating whether or not the feelings he'd shared had been sincere. It was clear to her now that she had been nothing but a joke to him. Those Cruciatus Curses had pained her as much as they had because he had meant them. He truly hated her.

"Gin—ny!"

Ginny's mum's voice rang out across the grounds, and Ginny leaned over the parapet to catch a glimpse of her shoving through Aurors and restrained Death Eaters, debris and bodies, calling Ginny's name and searching the chaos with increasingly desperate shouts.

She remembered the first time Malfoy had said her name like that, his voice full of concern, desperation. It was in mid-November. She and Neville had started a riot during one of the weekly propaganda rallies led by the Carrows, which had resulted in her worst detention yet. Alecto had whipped her with a spell that had left her back streaming with blood, the pain of which had been so severe, Ginny had blacked out. But she remembered hearing Malfoy's voice calling her name as if she mattered to him. She remembered the strength of his arms under her knees and around her back as he carried her to the hospital wing.

Her heart seized at the memory and she spun around, some kind of plea on the tip of her tongue.

But Malfoy was gone. No flash of light. No dust floating away on the wind. Just gone.