The fic is very slightly Draco/Ginny- so slightly that I hesitate to call it that. It's definitely D/G interaction, though. The story is the result of 3 AM inspiration; writing it in the dark kitchen by the light of the street lights outside may account for a bit of a somber tone. Draco may be a bit OOC, but I think he's believable.

Rating: G

Disclaimer: Pretty well nothing you see here is mine.

Commiseration

I stumble into the tower, my eyes heavy with the threat of tears. I spare a thought to ponder the irony of which room my feet have taken me to- once, a late-night trip to the Astronomy Tower would have been a major accomplishment. Not now. Tonight the tower is empty; no one wants to be in this place but me.

As the door clicks shut, the tears I have been suppressing all evening finally get the better of me. I begin to cry, softly at first, but my sobs grow in intensity until I crash onto the floor, watering the cold stone with my hot tears. I know the window seats are padded and more comfortable than my present position, but I also know those windows look down on the front lawn, and I don't want to look at that blackened chaos. I don't need to look at it, anyway- it's all I see when I close my eyes, that twisted evidence of battle.

It was my first real battle, the first time I killed, the first time I saw death. The shock and horror of it all have been imprinted so firmly on my eyes that I think it may be quite some time before I can banish from my mind those vivid images- of battle, and of death. And that of his face.

The thought brings a fresh onslaught of tears, and I cling to the stones in the floor with my fingertips as though I'm afraid of falling. Neville. I can see, in my mind, the exact expression on his face as he fell, the very look that haunted his eyes before they closed forever. He shouldn't have died. He was one of the best people I've ever known, and he never got a chance to prove it to the world. He died completely alone, with no one but me to mourn his passing. It shouldn't have happened this way.

Of course, none of this should have happened. Hogwarts was supposed to be safe, protected from the Death Eaters. I was supposed to pass my sixth year in peace, away from the war, where my only problems were keeping my brother out of trouble. Harry Potter was supposed to be able to finish his schooling and live out the rest of his childhood, before he had to become an Auror and join the fight against Voldemort.

Everything that was not supposed to happen, however, happened. A student helped coordinate an attack on Hogwarts- not Malfoy, surprisingly, but Crabbe. A large group of Death Eaters attacked in the early afternoon, and all of the professors and older students combined were barely enough to drive them off, especially since many of the Slytherins turned and fought for the dark side. There were many casualties on both sides, and in one afternoon, our whole world changed. Everything that was supposed to be disappeared in the blink of an eye. Now Hogwarts will be closed and the students sent home. Now the school will be turned into a training facility for Aurors, and Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and my brother Ron will be their first recruits. Now I will return to 12 Grimmauld Place and become a junior member of the Order of the Phoenix- I proved myself that much today. And now Neville is dead.

My tears have created quite a puddle by this time, but I don't move, simply lay in my own tears and think of him. I was never romantically interested in him- no, it's not that at all. It's just that . . . I have a sneaking suspicion that despite his talk about people he knew from home, I was his only friend.

My tears subside a little, but I don't move from my spot. As I lie trembling on the hard ground, I hear a deliberate rustle of cloth and realize the tower is not deserted like I thought. I look up and see the moon glinting off silver and black, and I sit up quickly, embarrassed and wary to be here alone with Draco Malfoy.

I don't know whether to fear him, although I don't seem to remember him fighting with the Death Eaters. It's actually well-known that he hasn't joined Voldemort yet, and that his father is disowning him for it. Come to think of it, I don't know who he was fighting for, although I remember seeing him on the battlefield once. If he really was a Death Eater, he would have left the school after the battle, right? Still, he's a Malfoy, and I can't help but be wary. He's leaning against the wall in his school uniform, his robes tossed aside. The moonlight from the window is shining across the front of his clothes, although his face is still in shadow. His sleeves are rolled up, and I can see the smooth, unblemished skin of his left forearm- no Dark Mark.

"Weasley," he says, but there is no malice behind it. "Malfoy," I reply, trying to keep my voice steady. I force myself to stand, brushing my hair out of my face, and seat myself on a bench along a dark wall. I keep waiting for Draco to make some snide remark about me looking like a mess and acting childish, but he doesn't. As I think about it, I realize he's been quieter this year. Something about him has changed, though I don't know what or how much.

He suddenly speaks. "I never thought it would get this far," he says, and somehow I know immediately what he's talking about. I don't know why he's telling me this, but I listen closely. "I always thought my father's talk about Voldemort was idle threats, to intimidate people. I saw it as a part of the game I played, to bully people. I liked the respect, and the power." I know somehow that he's apologizing, in a way, for years of torment. "I liked being rich, and having what others did not. And I really did hate Potter." At this I grin, shakily after so much crying. He gestures to the windows. "But to get it at this cost . . ."

He walks to the bench I'm on, and as he does he passes through the light from the window. I almost gasp. His eyes are too bright, and his face is streaked with tear stains. It's the first time I've ever seen him display any real emotion besides anger, and he looks very vulnerable. His face is still its pale color, though, and I can see that even while crying he never completely lets himself go. In that brief instant, as he's seating himself on the opposite end of the bench, I come to understand him in a way I've understood few people before. Instead of seeing a rich, arrogant dark wizard in training, I see a boy who hides behind a mask and a name, a boy who's learned from experience to keep people at arm's length. I see a boy who had to grow up before any of us, before even famous Harry Potter, if he was to survive in his father's cruel world.

Armed with this new understanding, I find myself, for the first time, completely comfortable in the Slytherin's presence. Draco looks around the tower a few minutes, gripping the edge of the bench. Apparently he feels the need to explain himself- probably trying to save face in front of a Weasley. "Goyle," he says suddenly, pulling a piece of broken wand out of his pocket to show me. Goyle, I remember, was felled by the hand of Alastor Moody, who rushed to Hogwarts soon after the battle began. Draco looks at the broken wand a moment before speaking in what is the most human tone I've ever heard him use. "He joined the Death Eaters to please his father," he tells me, then shakes his head. "After he died, all his dad said was-" here he gives a hollow laugh- "'Disappointing, that he was so weak.'" His grip on the broken wand tightens. "I know he was a big stupid jerk, but he was my friend."

He looks at me, willing me to understand, and I nod. A few moments of silence pass, and then I speak up, wanting my own soul-easing confession. "Neville," I say, and Draco looks at me with one disdainful eyebrow raised, a hint of the arrogant boy who once strutted through these halls. I press on. "He had nobody. His grandmother is dead, and his parents have been aware of very little for a long time." I wipe away a tear. "I think I'm the only person who cares that he's gone."

As Draco looks at his hands meditatively, I marvel that I'm pouring out my heart to Draco Malfoy, of all people. Isn't this the boy who taunted my family, hurt my friends and tormented by days? It isn't, though, I realize. That was the face he wore. That was the role he played because it pleased his father and served his childhood selfishness. The real Draco Malfoy looks more like this, brooding and thoughtful and even sensitive.

Perhaps it is this new understanding that makes me bold enough to speak again. "Sometimes," I say tentatively, and he looks over at me, "sometimes I'm afraid that I'll be like that- that no one will care when I die. I've always been in other people's shadows, especially the wonder trio's." Draco smirks a little at this. I do my best to smirk back. "No one knows me for anything, unless it's the Chamber of Secrets. I'm afraid that when I die, people will recognize my name but not be able to remember anything about me."

Draco is silent for a long time after this. Just when I've decided he's not going to reply, he speaks softly. "I have nothing worthwhile in my life. I've done nothing; I have no one. My father won't speak to me until I join the Death Eaters, and everyone I know has either joined Voldemort, or they hate me. Someday I'm going to look over my life and realize there was nothing in it."

I stare at Draco, floored by this revelation. The only thing I can think of is an urge to fill that emptiness. Before I can think, I'm sliding across the bench toward him. I place a hand on his shoulder, and he tenses a little. "I don't hate you," I tell him. "You listened to me bare my soul tonight, and I'll always appreciate this. That's something worthwhile." His shoulders relax, and he looks at me a long time.

Then he smiles, still guardedly, but it's a big step for him. "And you listened to me tonight," he says. "I'll always remember that." He puts a hand over the one I still have on his shoulder. "I'll remember you for that- not your brother, but you." It's a strange but nice feeling- two people from very different backgrounds but uncannily able to understand each other, comforting each other in our grief. I guess it turns out we're a lot more alike than we think.

My watch suddenly beeps, and I look down to see it's two o'clock. He sees it as well, and without words we simultaneously stand. As we walk to the door, I steal a glance at my one-time companion of the night. Tomorrow, things will be different. Tomorrow I will be shipped off for the front lines of the war, and he will disappear for parts unknown. Who knows when the next time I'll see him is? And who knows under what circumstances? He could be an ally, the next time our paths cross. He could be my most hated enemy.

But no matter how we meet next, I'll always remember this night, when the heartless Slytherin cried for his lost friend. The night when a Malfoy let down his walls and let a Weasley in. The night when I realized that he and I aren't so different after all.

In the hallway it comes time to part ways. We look at each other a long moment, then I lick my lips and speak softly. "Goodbye, Draco." Goodbye, not good night. He looks at me with inscrutable eyes a moment, then pulls me briefly to him with one arm and brushes his lips against my forehead. "Goodbye, Ginny," he says, then releases me. We share one last look, and I smile a bit, tiredly after so much crying. He looks steadfastly at me and his eyes soften a little. Then he walks away, disappearing into the shadows of the hallway. I watch him go, then turn and make my way back to my room.

fin

Sorry to anyone who was expecting some Draco/Ginny action! We had some nice INTERaction, though, right? Anyway, please use the nice little link below and tell me what you think!