Standard disclaimer applies, only the plot is mine.
Ginny walks down the corridor to the Great Hall for breakfast, trying to decide if she should buy the jumper she saw on sale in Madame Malkin’s when she last went to Hogsmeade. She still has some money left from her birthday and if she’s careful, she can stretch it enough to buy Christmas presents and the jumper. Absorbed in her mental calculations, she sits down at the Gryffindor table and absently takes some toast and fruit. She’s shaken out of her semi-trance by the eagle owl trying to grab a bite of her toast and with a frown, she gives it the rest of the slice after taking the message tied to its leg. The message reads simply, Weasley, 10 pm in the classroom. Be there.
She gives an inward smirk; it’s only been two days since she gave Malfoy the Pensieve and it seems he’s already eager to return it. Oh, Ginny knows from experience that what you see in the Pensieve can be frightening and even worse, disheartening. You see yourself without any illusions and sometimes the choices, the actions, the words make you cringe for the person you really are. She looks over at the Slytherin table where Draco is seemingly casually surveying the other tables. As his gaze flicks over her, she gives an almost imperceptible nod and then turns back to her breakfast, not even bothering to see if he has any reaction.
At 9:50 pm, she’s in the classroom, sitting at one of the desks, idly twisting her hair around one finger. She knows she’s early but the opportunity to leave the Gryffindor Common Room without anyone noticing was too good to miss. She didn’t need Hermione or Ron quizzing her as to where she is going so near to curfew.
She’s brought the bowl with her thoughts so she can transfer them back to the Pensieve. She still doesn’t want them back in her head, thank you very much, but she also doesn’t want to lose them entirely and she’s not sure of the effect on them of being out of the actual Pensieve for too long.
At 9:58 pm, the door opens and Draco walks in, holding the Pensieve in front of him as though it were something foul. He puts it on a desk and sits down, shaking his head. “Sometimes ignorance is a good thing, Weasley,” he says with a contemplative tone, “Sometimes it’s better not to know what sort of person you really are.”
Ginny laughs; Draco Malfoy – the big, bad Slytherin – scared by his own thoughts. “Really, Malfoy?” she asks, “And I take it that you didn’t care for what you saw?”
“No, I didn’t,” Draco says seriously, “I didn’t care for it at all. Oh, I suspected it, I reckon, seeing that as I wasn’t surprised as much as I would have thought.”
She waits for him to continue but he is now staring at the opposite wall of the room, almost as if something of interest was on it. After a few minutes, she grows impatient and decides it best to leave him there to ponder by himself. She goes over to the Pensieve and reaches in to stir the contents before returning her thoughts. She hears a startled “Wait!” and is suddenly pulled into the Pensieve, realizing as she falls through that the idiot Malfoy hasn’t taken his thoughts out yet.
Ginny finds herself in a coldly formal room with a young Draco Malfoy standing stiffly in front of Lucius Malfoy. Seated to their right is a woman she vaguely recognizes as Narcissa Malfoy. Lucius is speaking, telling Draco of his expectations for him when he goes to Hogwarts. His expectations are very specific and very high, but Draco Malfoy does not seem daunted by them; he seems to be eager to prove that he can meet them.
Next she’s in a shop she recognizes as Madam Malkin’s in Diagon Alley and a young Malfoy is talking to a young Harry Potter. She can see the confusion and uncertainty on Harry’s face and realizes that this must have been his first visit to the Wizarding world. To an almost intimidated Harry, Malfoy’s words must have seemed disparaging and snide but even with this quick glance she can see that they’re more the words of a boy parroting his father than anything else.
Then she’s on the Hogwarts Express and Malfoy is reacting to her brother’s smothered laugh over his name and then being rejected by Harry Potter. The images are coming faster now; Slytherin losing the House Cup in his first year as Gryffindor is awarded 160 points, her confronting him to defend Harry at Flourish and Blott’s and then his being beaten to the Snitch by Harry in his second year, his being injured by Buckbeak and Hermione Granger slapping him in his third year, Moody turning him into a ferret in his fourth year, Harry exposing his father as a Death Eater and her Bat-Bogey Hex in his fifth year, his mother’s pain and his confusion over his father’s imprisonment in Azkaban in his sixth year – they’re almost too much to take in, to bear, as they whirl around her.
Through them all, she has the overwhelming sense of being faced with continual forks in the road, a choice of roads to take, and always, always taking the one with his father in mind … his expectations of what his son should be. With some she gets a feeling of regret, with others a feeling of anger, and with yet others a feeling of hate. This latter feeling, this feeling of hate, grows stronger at the end and finally, when she’s certain she’s about to be consumed by blackness, she feels a strong tug and she’s back in the classroom, arse down on the floor, being glared at by a furious Draco.
She can only blink at him in confusion, her mind trying to process what she’s seen, and then she murmurs, “The road not taken.” Draco recoils at the statement and turns away, not wanting her to see his expression. After a few moments, he turns back, his face a blank mask, and holds out a hand to help her to her feet. She’s surprised but takes his hand and gets up somewhat shakily.
“I’m sorry,” she says with unexpected sincerity, “I thought you had taken your thoughts out already. I wouldn’t have done that otherwise.”
Draco sneers as he spits out, “Right, and that excuses you? Those were my thoughts and you invaded my privacy. Just like a Gryffindor … rushing in blindly.” He’s paler than usual with anger and with something else – fear?
Ginny replies softly, “Look, I’m sorry.” Then, before she knows what she’s saying, adds, “If it will make you feel better, I’ll show you some of mine.” She cringes inwardly as she realizes what she has just done; has she really offered Malfoy a weapon against her?
She can tell he’s considering her offer, but to her surprise and relief, he shrugs his shoulders and says, “No thanks, Weasley. I have a feeling that bad as mine were, yours would be worse.” She nods her head in acknowledgement and turns away to pick up the bowl with her thoughts, only a faint trembling of her hands betraying her tenuous grip on her emotions.
“I’ll transfer my thoughts out of the Pensieve now. Did you want to wait or would you prefer to pick it up tomorrow?” Draco asks quietly.
Ginny wants this to be over and done so she quickly replies, “I’ll wait.” She goes to one of the empty desks and sits down, her hands cradling the bowl with her thoughts, her eyes fixed on the shimmering liquid within.
It doesn’t take long for Draco to transfer his thoughts. As soon as the Pensieve is emptied, Ginny dumps the contents of her bowl into the Pensive and rises, eager to leave. She’s almost at the door when she hears Draco say in a strangely diffident voice, “I don’t want to see your thoughts but … can you tell me what thread you see in yours? I’m curious to know if it’s similar to mine. Just for comparison, you know – not to use against you. I promise.”
She turns back to stare at Draco appraisingly; for him, the request was polite and shockingly sincere. She gives a sigh and says, “It’s the same thread as yours. Accordingly to Dumbledore, most people see the same thread – the road not taken. The key is to understanding is not why you took the road you did, rather it’s why you didn’t take the other.” She gives a bitter laugh; oh yes, it’s always easy to justify why you acted in a certain way – we can always find excuses for that. But just why you didn’t act the way you should have done, again and again … it’s hard to find an excuse for that.
Ginny can tell Draco is confused, and she can sympathize – she didn’t understand the difference for a long while, and it took a number of times staring at her thoughts interlinked with one another to fathom it.
“You’d think they were the same, wouldn’t you? But they’re not. It took me a while to realize that. But that’s the key to the Pensieve helping you, Malfoy. You need to understand why you didn’t take the other road.”
Draco swallows audibly and then, with obvious effort, chokes out, “I don’t think I can do that alone. Would you be willing to … help me with that?”
The two gaze at one another for what seems to be a long time. Ginny wants badly to say no, but she’s torn by the pain in his face and by the fact that he’s actually asked for her help. Finally Ginny answers, “All right. Back here tomorrow night, same time.” And with that, she’s gone, the door closing after her.
Draco stands in the room, looking at the closed door, almost expecting Ginny Weasley to come back and say she’s changed her mind. He knows she won’t though; she’s the sort of person who will follow through with what she says. He slumps down in a desk, his head in his hands, wishing he’d never started this. It’s much easier to deal with your hate of others than to deal with your hate of yourself and your actions. It’s almost laughable when he thinks about how he was determined to learn everything about Ginny Weasley and now she’ll learn everything about him.
He’s torn between relief that she said yes and fear of what she’ll learn, and as he leaves the classroom, he wonders if he’ll have enough courage to return the next night.
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