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 *Author's note: I do not own anything HP. Warning: Some violence and mature situations*

Amazing image by beyond the rain @ TDA!

Draco was right. The very next day, he and Ginny went back to hating each other. She ignored him and he loudly criticized everything about her, from her freckles to her clothes. He made extra effort to humiliate her in front of everybody. He was comfortable hating her. On the outside, at least. Inside, Draco couldn’t stop thinking about her. He tried to ignore the annoying feelings that tugged at his chest every time he saw her, but it was hard. He couldn’t stop himself from glancing toward the Gryffindor table at mealtimes and finding her face in the halls between classes. She seemed so...sad. So empty. He knew she had been dating the famous Harry Potter before he fell of the face of the planet, and attributed her sadness to that. There were also rumors that her brother had a hideous disease that had disfigured his body. Not that Draco really cared about that, seeing as Ron Weasley was nearly as insufferable as Potter himself.

The weeks passed and Draco became busier with classes and the Dark Lord’s plans, pushing Ginny from his mind. The Dark Lord was furious that precious Potter couldn’t be found, even after being caught breaking into the Ministry of Magic itself a few weeks back. Every effort was being made to find him. Draco’s job was to listen for any breath, any hint of where he might be. There were still students at Hogwarts that Potter cared about and trusted. There was a chance he would reach out to one of them, and when they did, Draco would find out.

Meanwhile, life at Hogwarts was becoming unbearable. The new Dark Arts and Muggle Studies teachers, a pair of siblings assigned there by the Dark Lord himself, were using any excuse to punish students, particularly muggle-borns and half-bloods. Draco, of course, was allowed to carry on as he usually did, but the halls were unnaturally quiet between classes. No one made eye contact with him, knowing him to be one of them.

It was late one October evening, and Draco was patrolling the halls after curfew like a good little prefect. It had been weeks since he’d had a chance to really think about Ginny, and he let his thoughts wander as he mindlessly walked around the school. Suddenly he saw her. Her. He hadn’t really seen her in weeks, and now, here she was. Seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Running to him.

Running to him?

Ginny was sprinting up the corridor, away from something -- or someone -- looking over her shoulder as she ran. Her hair whipped wildly behind her. She didn’t even see Draco and nearly collided into him, but he caught her with his hands. He pushed her back, grabbing her shoulders.

“Weasley, what are you--” Draco began, but then he finally saw her face, illuminated by his own dim wandlight. She looked terrified. She was breathing hard, a combination of fear and pain and exhaustion. Her eyes were wide with fear and she was shaking. The blouse of her school uniform was torn slightly and spotted with something dark red that looked alarmingly like blood. He held his wand higher and saw the hint of a bruise blossoming across her cheek. His eyebrows shot up. “What happened to you?”

The answer came as heavy footsteps and angry voices could be heard coming towards them. The Carrows. Draco’s eyes narrowed. He knew they’d been ridiculous with their punishments, but this? She looked like she had been physically beaten.

Ginny fought against him but he held tight. “Let me go!” she hissed, still trying to get away. She winced and clenched her teeth as he held onto her. The Carrows were getting closer; their loud voices and heavy footsteps carried through the hall. She stopped struggling, letting her tense body go slack, and choked back a sob. “Please…”

Draco hesitated for a moment.

“Please,” she repeated. He looked down at her panicked face and saw that her dark eyes were bloodshot and begging.

That did it. Draco hastily dragged her to a nearby tapestry, shoving her into the secret alcove behind it. Then he darted down the hall to meet the Carrows. The brother and sister came upon him, huffing and panting.

“Where’d she go?” Amycus Carrow demanded. His sister, Alecto, stood beside him.

“Where’d who go, Professor?” Draco drawled lazily. He kept his expression bored, hiding the anxiety he felt inside.

Amycus growled with rage. “The girl!” he shouted. “The Weasley girl, where did she go?!”

Draco rolled his eyes. “I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about, Professor,” he said, emphasizing the word again. “I’ve been patrolling these corridors all evening and haven’t even seen a ghost. And if you were wise you wouldn’t scream at me like that. Need I remind you who I am? Who my parents are?” he added threateningly.

“Your name doesn’t come with the same prestige it once did, Malfoy,” Alecto spat suddenly, but her brother held up his hand.

“Let’s go,” he growled, and they both stalked away, muttering about ‘that blood traitor’ and where she might have hidden. Draco waited until they were completely gone before running back to the tapestry that hid Ginny. With one more careful look down the hall, Draco slid behind the heavy fabric.

Ginny was sitting on the floor, curled in a ball. Her position was very similar to when Draco had first seen her in the library, so many weeks ago, but she seemed even more frail now. She was still shaking, holding back tears. Draco stood above her, wondering how the strong, fiery girl had become so...broken.

“Well, Weasley? Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Draco asked sharply. She flinched slightly at the sound of his voice, and he silently cursed himself for speaking so harshly. She’d obviously been through hell tonight and he was only making it worse. He lowered himself to the floor and knelt in front of her. He tried again. “What happened?” His voice was softer this time, not so harsh. She looked up from her knees. Draco could see the bruise on her face had darkened over the last few minutes, and he noticed a few others on her neck. He unconsciously reached out his fingers to touch her shoulder, and she shrunk away from him. He stopped, leaving his hand suspended in the air. A tear escaped her eye and trailed across her swollen cheek, and something in Draco broke. He pulled Ginny to him, cradling her in his lap, and she let him hold her against him while she cried. They stayed that way for a bit, the only sounds being the occasional sniffle or hiccup from Ginny, or the soft shushing noises Draco made while his arms were wrapped around her shaking shoulders.

After a while, when her tears had slowed, Ginny pulled away from Draco. She kept her eyes to the floor and shifted herself out of his lap.

“They tortured me.” Her bitter voice was barely more than a whisper. “They tried beating me, and when that didn’t work they used the Cruciatus on me.”

Draco was appalled. “They wanted information.” Ginny nodded. “About Potter?” Another nod.

“But I don’t have any information to give,” she insisted fiercely. “I don't know anything!"

Her voice cracked on the last word and she massaged her throat with her hand. The bruises there were becoming more noticeable, and Draco's mouth opened in horror. They were long and thin, like someone’s fingers had been wrapped around her throat.

He felt sick.

"How did you get away?" he asked in a whisper, not able to tear his eyes away from the bruises.

“I managed to, er, kick him where it hurts--” she allowed herself a painful smile “--and was able to get away. That’s about when I ran into you.” She studied his face curiously. “Why? That’s twice now you’ve helped me. Why?”

Draco didn’t have an answer. He just shrugged lamely, running a shaking hand through his blonde hair. “I don’t know,” he whispered, mostly to himself. He realized Ginny was bracing herself against the wall, struggling to get to her feet. He quickly stood up and lifted her with him, being careful not to jostle her too much. She swayed and Draco put a hand on her waist to steady her. She winced, sucking air in through her teeth.

“I think I’ll need to see Madam Pomfrey in the morning,” she said, looking down at herself. Draco didn’t move his hand as he held onto her gingerly. They stood there awkwardly for a moment.

“Looks like you’re not as bad as you pretend to be,” Ginny whispered, breaking the silence. He looked at her and she was smiling slightly.

“But I am bad!” Draco whined childishly. What was wrong with him? Ginny giggled. She leaned toward him with a hand on his shoulder, raising herself onto her toes, and pressed her lips softly to his cheek.

“Thank you,” she breathed as she pulled away. She looked at him with shining eyes. “I guess I...I better go.”

Draco watched wordlessly as Ginny peeked her head out of the tapestry, and then hurried off into the darkness. His hand went to his cheek, touching the place where she’d kissed him. It didn’t feel like he was on fire, but he could still feel heat radiating from the spot.

You’re not as bad as you pretend to be.

No one had ever said that to him. No one had ever even hinted that there might be some actual goodness in him. And no one had ever looked at him the way Ginny did, with real gratitude and kindness and like he wasn’t just another Slytherin snake. And it felt...good. It felt good to not be seen as the bad guy, to have someone look past his name and position as a Death Eater, and just see that he was human, and that he could be good. He wanted to hold onto that feeling for as long as he possibly could.


*And there's chapter 2! I'm thinking of changing the title of this, but I'm having a hard time picking a new one. Leave a comment with any ideas! What do you think of Draco so far? What about Ginny? Is she too weak, or is it understandable that she'd seem so sad and frail?*

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