Chapter One: Apathy
Ginny wiped a tear from her cheek with her hand as the Hogwarts Express began to pull away from platform nine and three-quarters. The rainy weather outside reflected her dreary mood. It wasn't right—any of it.
Finally, after so many years of waiting, she had caught Harry Potter's eye. They went out for a month, and then his hero complex kicked in. She had no idea where he was even now, and she was trying desperately to forget everything about him…
…Like how dashing he'd looked in his dress robes at Bill and Fleur's wedding.
…And how he had taken her aside and kissed her, apologizing quickly afterward for his poor lack of judgment.
…And how she hadn't wanted him to apologize.
…Or stop kissing her.
She had to stop tormenting herself over this. It wasn't worth it.
…He wasn't worth it anymore.
She looked up suddenly as someone knocked on her compartment door. She was alone, having abandoned Luna and Neville for some of her own quiet time.
Ginny couldn't see the knocker through the fogged-up door glass. She opened it and was shocked at what she saw next.
Draco Malfoy was standing in front of her.
"Er…" Draco said, fear apparent in his eyes.
And why should he be afraid of her? She should be scared. He was the one who had plotted Dumbledore's death their previous year at Hogwarts. No one was with Ginny, and her wand wasn't in her hand.
Ginny shook herself slightly. What was she doing? Especially when she could be sliding the door into his selectively-pureblood nose?
She moved to do just that, but found she couldn't. He was holding the door steadily in place.
"What the sodding hell are you doing here, Malfoy?" she asked him through gritted teeth.
He sighed tiredly in annoyance. "I was looking for a place to sit, and no one would have me. And, I know you don't want me here, either." He looked around. "Ah, well, yours is the last compartment," he muttered, his lip curling into a sneer. "And you should watch your language. You're starting to sound like your brother."
Ginny ignored his words. "No, I mean, what makes you think you can come back to Hogwarts? After what you did to Dumbledore!"
"I didn't do anything to him."
"Liar," she hissed. "Harry saw the whole thing."
"I didn't even have a bloody choice," Draco said darkly. "The Dark Lord didn't forgive my father, and he hasn't forgiven me."
Ginny paused for a moment before flatly saying, "I don't care," and promptly sliding the door closed.
I don't care about much anything anymore.
Draco rolled his eyes. Great.
He knew something like this would happen. The rejection. The anger. The shunning. It was to be expected, with his family's reputation combined with his new one. There was nowhere to turn for counsel, nor condolence.
The little Weasley was right about most everything she had said. He was scum, and he knew it. It sickened him.
How he had negotiated his return to Hogwarts, he was still unsure of. He and Professor McGonagall, Hogwarts' new Headmistress, had had a conference discussing his want to continue schooling.
"Though I do not understand why you wish to return, Mr. Malfoy, I cannot argue that education is not important in times such as these," she had told him. "However, I simply will not allow any of my students to be put in danger again."
"I am willing to redeem myself," he had insisted for the umpteenth time. And he meant it. It wasn't as if he had seen the 'error of his ways' exactly, but he knew he never wanted to be part of Voldemort's inner circle again. Scary things happened to those who sought power amongst the Dark Lord, and Draco had been one of the select few to experience them.
"That having been said," Professor McGonagall sighed, "I might consider your proposition. In the case I do, you must understand that you will be stripped of all your privileges as a seventh year student while at Hogwarts. You will hand over your prefect badge. You will not partake in any Hogsmeade trips. You won't have contact with anyone outside of Hogwarts, unless it is absolutely necessary—in which case, your owls will be screened. And most importantly, you will never, under any circumstances, be allowed to leave the school grounds, unless on holiday.
"Now," she resolved, "that having been said, would you still consider coming back to school, given your restrictions?"
"Professor," Draco said earnestly, "I want to come back. I'll be shirked by my peers, but I'll come if it means safety. Put me anywhere but in the front line, and I'll oblige to your rules."
"I won't say you are welcome in Hogwarts," said Professor McGonagall, her mouth a thin line on her face. "But you can return if you so wish."
He had thanked the Headmistress and left.
Draco knew it was cowardice he was practicing. Instead of facing Lord Voldemort's temper, he chose to cower behind the walls of a school that he had never called home—but he was indeed safe there.
In fact, there was no place Draco called home.
He was thrown slightly to the right as the train lurched into a turn in the tracks. He braced himself against the wall, grimacing. If only he could find a compartment…
At that moment, Ginny Weasley came out of her solely inhabited compartment and walked briskly past him. "Take it," she snapped, advancing down the corridor without looking back at him.
"Thank you," Draco said quietly to the air, watching as Ginny turned to the left and slid open another door, a voice inside the compartment saying, "Ginny, Luna and I were wondering where you'd got to!"
Without any further ado, Draco gathered his things, which had been strewn across the corridor floor, and entered the compartment. He situated himself and sat down. Finally. His feet ached from having to balance himself against the train's constant motion.
Draco was surprised to find himself, after a moment, marveling at the little Weasley's unwilling kindness. He found it strange that she, so deeply rooted in her hatred of him and his family, had pity for him. Pity he didn't deserve.
Dumbledore's death humbled him. First, it was the shock of realizing what he had almost done. He had almost killed the Headmaster by himself. But then—he couldn't. The barmy old man had never given up hope in him. It was as if…as if Dumbledore somehow knew Draco could have some good in him. And that tiny ray of hope triggered in Draco a new Slytherin ambition.
He wanted to start over.