He didn’t recognize her on the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh. It had been years since her face haunted his waking dreams – years since he would surface from the twisted pleasure of a traitorous subconscious to find himself without her – alone and isolated, in a world he did not know, amongst people he had been brought up to hate. And he didn’t know that he hadn’t forgotten her. That his heart would never forget her. But he no longer looked at the past as a catalog of mistakes and lost opportunities and he was no longer the boy who raged inside for regrets that were not entirely his own.
And so, as he walked past her, the red hair – though a banner of flame in the dusky day – did not catch his attention. Nor the odd bow of her wide mouth. He used to stare at it, fascinated with how the freckles began and ended there, merging into pink lips. He once knew her lips better than the contours of his own palm. A professor once – the one with the bottled glasses – what was her name? Trellis? Twissel? Oh, Trelawney, a name and a vague face in a history of lost memories, had traced the smooth skin of his hand and talked of a future he knew would never be. Ignoring her prattle, he had stared at her finger instead as it followed the long life-line down to the criss-cross scars on his wrist.
His hand had changed since then. It was no longer smooth but rough and calloused from years of labor. Of learning. Of growing. But the life-line had remained the same – long and prominent on the face of his palm. He no longer cursed the length of that line, no longer thought of how it taunted him but rather, gave him the chance to be a person he never realized he even wanted to be. Yes, things had changed in the intervening years.
And those years between them would have precluded even a backward glance if there hadn’t been a Muggle tourist group – all dressed in a matching garish lime – barreling past him at the moment they were about to separate for another lifetime. The excited group jostled him, pushing him into her and setting off the familiar tune of “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” from the stuffed pig in his arms. The music played merrily as the group continued up High Street, completely oblivious to the two strangers now staring at each other.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, confused. Old, forgotten memories were pushing to the surface, trying to break the suspension of time as he blinked at her. At her familiarity and at her difference.
“Draco,” she breathed. And her lips parting in that whisper brought him home.
His own lips wavered a bit before settling into an uncertain half-smile. He had almost laughed at how easy it was for all those feelings he had thought were long gone to come rushing back to him. After all, it had been twelve years since he had last seen her. Yet, those odd-shaped bow lips saying his name was enough to cause his heart to clench painfully. He had loved her and he suspected, even within these first moments of the rest of their lives, that he was capable of falling in love with her all over again.
But Ginny bit her lip in consternation, unsure how to interpret the strained smile that crossed his handsome face. After all these years, all those almost searches and the ten lifetimes worth of regrets that haunted her existence, here he was in front of her. Taller than when he left at seventeen, his slight build only marginally more filled out, his silver eyes still as unfathomable as ever. All she really had was that smile to go by – that half-pained tense look she seemed particularly talented in provoking.
She hadn’t noticed him as she was walking. And she would’ve missed him too while staring at the cracks in the road – where all lost things fell – if he hadn’t plowed right into her. Had it been Fate that brought him back to her? Or was the capricious goddess merely taunting her with what she had foolishly let go so many years ago? Ginny tilted her head at him – waiting – once again to see if she would be sent adrift.
The way her chin slanted up was achingly familiar and Draco wanted to place a finger under it and angle it just so – the way he used to before he kissed her. But he didn’t. Instead he clutched onto the stuffed doll in his arms, squeezing it reflexively and setting off the merry holiday tune once again.
He laughed this time and shook his head. He too thought of Fate. Merlin, what a twisted sense of humor She must have to steer them back together again on this Muggle street – standing worlds apart, as moisture hung thick in the summer air and a Christmas song played an absurd soundtrack to the muddled feelings between them.
Maybe it was because they had disowned Her as teenagers – sneaking around 12 Grimmauld Place where they had been left with nothing but old paintings, peeling walls, and other remnants of a life long forgotten. Within those decaying walls, they had pretended what was between them, what Fate deemed fit to put together, was nothing but a lazy by-product of boredom, or rebellion at the very most.
Of course, they had been wrong. It was more than either of them had been willing to admit. He had been an angry self-centered prat then, too scared and too proud to submit to his love for her and she, equally as proud, had been adamant about not giving her heart to a boy who would break it. And in the end, both of their hearts were broken anyway.
He saw now how it had changed her. It was not just age that had brought the corners of her lips down or drawn the wrinkles around her eyes in sharp relief. Or taken that sparkle from her eyes. “So…” he began, uneasy with his observations. He did not know what to say to her. They had never engaged in small talk before and it was still too early for them to talk about how they broke each other.
Never mind she had never really been able to talk about him. Hermione tried to get her to discuss it once. Somehow the other girl had known. Without really being there, she had still known there had been something between them. “It was palpable, Ginny. It was like electricity in the air.”
Ginny did not really understand what the other girl had meant at the time. As a pureblooded witch, Ginny simply did not comprehend the force of an electricity analogy. And as a stubborn teenager, she had refused to believe she had done wrong by him – done wrong by turning her back on him when she had known he had needed her the most.
Draco, spoiled brat that he was, had asked for very little back then in the dust of their adolescent years. He sneered and snapped but he never asked questions. What could he ask of people who despised him? But he did, he did ask her for one thing. Once.
“What will happen?” It had been near the end of the War and for a fortnight, an unusual amount of nervous energy had filled the air. The Final Battle – it was coming. You knew by the deep mists that hung menacingly outside the window, the dark groans that filled the once silent hours, the maddening slow tick of the clock. Time, time was even waiting for things to come, for the moment where lives ended and began again. And Draco had wanted to know if there was anything worth fighting for, anything at the other end of time. He wanted to know if there was hope for a future.
“Oh, what do you think will happen?” she had said unkindly. She had known, of course, he was not asking about the battle – he never cared for it, did he? Never offered to fight, never mind he was forbidden to leave Order Headquarters. No, he had been asking about them – if there was any such thing. And she had scoffed at him – not ready to make any kind of commitment, not realizing this was her only opportunity to. “Won’t it just be grand for you? Once everyone dies, you’ll be able to twiddle your thumbs in your own mansion instead.”
She didn’t look at him. She didn’t see him nod slowly but she could hear the hollow echo of his footsteps as he walked away, the sound bouncing off the cavern of her empty heart.
On the eve of the final battle, he slipped out and fought, standing with the rest of the Order as they formed the last line of defense for wizarding Britain. He wasn’t proving anything to himself, her or any of the blasted Order members. He was fighting to die. It distinguished him in battle and he almost achieved what he had aimed to do. But instead of finding his pathetic end, he swam back into consciousness alone in a stark white hospital room.
Of course she wasn’t there.
But she did come, some three days later. It was hard to tell within his closed walls when night turned into day, how time passed – if time passed. And she had asked him what he was trying to prove. Merlin, didn’t she know him at all?
He had thought – or at least, hoped – they were beyond clichés but perhaps they were the cliché – carrying on their affair in the empty rooms of 12 Grimmauld Place when the rest of the wizarding world had been out to battle.
“That was a stupid thing to do.”
“What do I have to fight for? You?” He sneered…because what was the point if she wasn’t fighting for him too?
“Now that it’s over – ” She had a strange look on her face. It was entirely blank and he stopped her.
“No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I like to live in my own tragedy really, and I don’t need you to create it for me.” But of course, they had created it together. Between them, they built a world of alternate pain and passion. And he loved that contrast – of two things coming together as one, a sort of balance of liquid fire. But it was only a fractured moment of suspended extremes, because they had built it up on the belief that it would never last, that it would collapse from within, as only a proper tragedy would do.
He pulled his knees to his chest and turned his head away from her. She didn’t move and he couldn’t bear it – to know she was right there but beyond his reach.
“You’re such a prat, you know,” she sneered, also unable to bear the silence that kept stretching out between them.
She didn’t think he even heard her until he finally turned his head slightly towards her. He didn’t lift up his eyes but his voice was accusatory enough without adding his piercing gaze to it. “Coward,” he hissed.
And it stung, because it was true.
She would not willingly stick her neck out for him and brave her family’s disapproval. They both knew that. Like they both knew he would never be willing to admit what he wanted either. And he called her that – coward – until she fled in rage and guilt, because he wasn’t just saying it, he meant it, even hated her for it, since he was sure that he was a coward too and he didn’t want that – he wanted her to be stronger than him. He forgot she was human too.
“What is that?” Her voice brought him back to the present. She was tentatively reaching out towards the plush in his arms and the tips of her fingers grazed the soft material before they pulled back quickly, as though the contact had burned her. It was odd – to see her so careful and almost timorous. The girl he had known would have laughed at how absurd it was for them to be here like this.
He followed her dull gaze to the singing doll in his hands. “Oh, you mean Pork Chop?” He smiled fondly at the battered stuffed pig before turning back to her again. She looked startled – but at least she was still capable of expression. “My daughter already has a wicked sense of humor,” he explained.
And he could see her come alive and die in front of him as she choked on her own words – or maybe it was his words. “Da-daughter?”
She knew it was selfish but it hurt her to think of the man he had become without her. The father he had become without her. Even now, she thought of little girls with fine silvery blonde hair and a silent boy with mysterious rainstorm eyes. She had thought about it back when they were teenagers – still unwilling to believe what they had always wanted was within their reach.
She wanted to touch the toy – the bright-eyed plush in his arms – and think of what could have been. But she couldn’t – she didn’t want to imagine what beautiful wife he had at home, she didn’t want to completely shatter that flimsy hope she had carried around with her for so long.
“What’s her name?”
And she did it again, tilt her head in that familiar way and he could almost see her in the woman standing before him.
“It means love. In Chinese.”
“Chinese?” she asked, her voice wavering in the thick air.
Draco wanted to close his eyes for a moment – close them against the vast difference, the unimagined paths, spread out before him here at the end of the Royal Mile. But he wasn’t sorry. He could never be sorry about his daughter. And a part of him still wasn’t sorry that he left – because now, now, he was standing here before her again.
But it hurt him to see her so affected. The bare tragedy in her face was almost like looking at a mirror of his former self. She may have broken his heart but he knew that she had laid the foundation that he had needed to become a person capable of loving without asking for something in return.
“Yes, her mother was part Chinese. We lived in China for a while. Hunan province.”
“Oh,” she replied, struggling to think of something to say. “And is she with your daughter now?” The question tasted of years of unshed bitter tears.
“No.” He swallowed. He never liked to say this – saying things out loud made them real but then, some things had to be said. “She’s dead. She died a few years ago.”
She swallowed too. She wasn’t sure if she should have been happy to know he was free but she wasn’t. He had loved her. He must have. And she could never want that kind of pain for him. She knew at one time he had wanted her to suffer – suffer when he had left her on a bright day in winter but she didn’t think he had ever wanted her to feel more than he felt.
It had nearly been a week since he had been discharged from St. Mungo’s and was again imprisoned in Grimmauld Place while the last of the Death Eaters were being rounded up. She hadn’t seen him for days – and though he had been avoiding her, she found him anyway in the bright cold of a winter’s day, huddled in the corner of his dead cousin’s balcony. It had been a beautiful day, a perfect setting for their self-made tragedy.
“You’re a wreck,” she had said stonily.
And he had smiled then without any humor, looking past her into a watery future. He had nearly drowned himself in a bottle of Ogden’s Firewhiskey, taking a twisted pleasure from the burn that traveled down his throat and settled in his chest. But it hadn’t stop hurting, the heart he never thought he had continued to beat steadily, rhythmically, to a tattoo outside of himself.
It unnerved her to see his eyes so glassy and unfocussed. She was used to his intense stormy gazes that she thought could reach into the depths of her soul if she let him.
Silence wrapped its chilling fingers around them and they sat there – worlds apart in their unwillingness to bend, to confess, to transverse the space between that kept tearing at them.
“I can’t fix you,” she finally sighed.
“Were you trying to?” But he already knew her answer and didn’t blink when she tried saying, “It isn’t over.”
He stood, and if it had mattered at all, he would have been proud of himself for managing to stand steadily in his intoxicated stage. He took one final look at her – at the girl who was breaking his heart – and he let the bottle drop from his hands, slip through his fingers.
“No, it is over.”
He thought it was poetic at the time – to leave behind only a shattered bottle of Firewhiskey. A trail of glass, a symbolic remnant of his heart.
And though it was years later, he still carried a sliver of shattered truth with him – she would forever be lodged within his heart.
“Well, I should…” she muttered. What should she do? Walk away? No, she couldn’t bear walk away from him but would he even stay? She was hardly the same girl he once knew, though she didn’t think about how he could hardly be the same boy he was when he’d left either. And then, his stormy eyes and the wheat blond hair in them – the pale moonlight looks that enthralled her – those were the same and she could see the boy she loved in them, behind them. She could never leave again.
“Do you want a drink?”
He cocked his head towards the brightly painted blue pub behind him.
“A Muggle pub?” she nearly gaped, her eyes tracing the script across the top of the building.
“Sure. Why not?” he replied, half-turning to go in. But he waited, waited at the threshold of the door for her. And finally, she followed him to the World’s End.
It felt like walking into a different world – the low ceiling and the dark woods, a huge contrast from the gray day that grabbed her outside. The rich dark colors warmed her and she no longer shivered as she and Draco sat next to each other at the bar.
“I didn’t know you were living in Scotland.”
“Obviously,” he replied, showing a trace of his trademark smirk. “And I’m not living here. Just passing through.”
“Oh?” she replied after placing an order for a Diet Coke. She turned her earnest brown eyes towards him.
“I’m on my way to the North Sea.”
“The North Sea? Why there’s nothing out there but…” And it dawned on her. “Azkaban.” She paused and licked her lips. Draco had once told her that Lucius had been a disappointment. Naturally, she didn’t think there was any need to elaborate – not that he would have anyway and not that she had asked him to. But that was a long time ago – when they had said things they did not mean to say and refused to say things they should’ve said. “Why?” she asked without a quiver in her voice.
“He’s my father.”
She opened her mouth to reply but he gently interrupted. “He wasn’t perfect. But neither was I. He deserves to know his granddaughter.”
Ginny smiled in understanding and of course, for Draco, quietly watching the final bloom of her bow mouth – it was like falling in love all over again.
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” he said matter-of-factly as he pushed his whiskey away.
And she knew, without asking, that he was giving her one.***Fin***
Different pub but if you walk up the Royal Mile, make a left at George IV Bridge and veer right along Cow’s Gate, you’ll find the Three Sisters