It was a curious feeling- empty, but without the sense of freedom of an open space. It was more the emptiness of a small, close room bathed in absolute darkness. Nothing touched her, but everything pressed in, just out of reach but moving steadily closer.
Ginny moved across the lawn of Hogwarts, absently wondering precisely how many times she’d walked over this same patch of grass without ever associating it with death, because that’s all she saw now. The dead were cold, unmoving shapes in the darkness like great stones that had simply been shifted from the quarry to the lawn in some immense practical joke. The noises of the dying- pitiful, hopeless cries as they lay alone in the dark- could be mistaken for the songs of nocturnal insects and animals that had deserted the school this night. Even Nature herself had suffered a death of sorts, Ginny thought as she stooped and checked another body for a pulse that wasn’t there, that hadn’t been there for some time, judging by the coolness of the skin. Like the castle that she had thought of as indestructible, the grounds bore great, gaping wounds, snapped limbs and skin flayed from the whole. It made her want to cry, sob, shout at the horror of it all, but Ginny knew that if she expressed even a drop of what she was feeling, she’d scream, scream and never stop, just one breath after another until there were no more.
She knelt next to another body, one that did not emit any sounds. The hair wasn’t red.
That had become her only standard of identification after she’d turned over her first body minutes, or maybe hours ago. It was hard to tell if Time had died, too. Or maybe she had simply fled the playing field, leaving the participants to sort out the rules and penalties on their own.
She’d been the one to find Tonks, surprisingly peaceful looking, still with that incredible glow of a new mother. Her eyes had been open, empty in death, but a small smile seemed like it wanted to stretch her mouth. Ginny recognized hysteria when a giggle bubbled out of her mouth, knew clinically that she was in shock without having to ask Madam Pomfrey for confirmation, but she still couldn’t help the smile on her face as she dragged and pulled Tonks’ body to the walkway where Neville and some of the others were carrying the bodies inside. If anyone had seen her face, they’d have thought she’d gone round the twist, but Ginny was too busy recalling all of the ridiculous faces and hairstyles Tonks had dreamt up for her amusement back at Grimmauld Place. It felt like hours ago, decades ago, so immediately recallable but so utterly impossible to ever replicate.
Moans sounded off to her left, and the wind rustled some lost clothing or loose leaves to her right. The next neck Ginny touched had a pulse, and a small voice, too. The girl, a face she vaguely recalled as a student in Fred and George’s year, was whispering, mewling, begging for her mother, clutching at Ginny’s hand and devouring her face with her eyes as her blood seeped between their entwined fingers.
The empty closeness spasmed around her, looping a noose around her neck and stretching it taut slowly until it seemed like her calm would shatter like expensive crystal. She didn’t even know the girl’s name, couldn’t remember what House she’d been in or who she’d been mates with, so how was she supposed to tell her something so bloody intimate as ‘Your wound is very probably fatal, but even if it isn’t, I recognize the signs- if you survive, you’ll likely become a werewolf.’?
Gathering herself, Ginny told the girl the only thing she could bring herself to- a litany of lies. You’ll be fine. We’ll get you to your mum as soon as possible, just as soon as Madam Pomfrey sets you to rights. No, I haven’t seen a dead girl with long brown plaits twisted round her head.
And after she gently floated the girl to the area set aside for triage, Ginny walked back out into the field of the dead and the dying, the scarred earth and the empty silence. She walked past two still shapes, three, four, twelve, and still she walked, walked until her toes hit water, and there, at the edge of the Great Lake, she sank to her knees and began to scrub at the blood on her hands, submerging them in the frigid water and feeling only the absence of everything.
He was on fire, burning, pulsing, every sense heightened and sharpened to a painful hyperawareness, and yet for all the increased alertness, Draco couldn’t process his own status. He felt apart from it all, like a really good Protego had been cast between his body and his brain. His brain hummed along fourteen different paths, flitting from thought to errant thought without direction and he wondered suddenly if he could simply walk out the front door and keep walking.
The robes he wore were tattered now, scorched to a length most teatime frocks aspired to, slapping below his knees with the remains of his seared trousers. The burns all along his shins and calves were shiny, puckered and glistening with the fluid of burst blisters, edged dramatically in black. Objectively, he thought the contrast between matte, flaking black and angry, glossy pink was rather striking. His arm looked bad, the one he’d used to try to shield Goyle in that Fiendfyre-created hellhole from their imminent demise, but that didn’t hurt either.
Crabbe is dead. Crabbe is dead. Crabbe is dead.
The words suddenly ran through his head like a procession of marching musicians, banging their cymbals and crashing their bass drums over and over until his eyeballs pulsed and his skin prickled uncomfortably to the beat. Draco thought for a brief moment that he would vomit before he got himself together enough to drag Goyle, still unconscious, into an alcove that he knew led deeper into the heart of the castle. The fighting, it seemed, centered on the perimeter corridors and the main routes.
It was a long time before anyone came their way, and Draco was resigning himself to the fact that the hooded, unidentifiable Death Eater was not going to accept his cries for leniency, his shouted allegiances to the Dark Lord, and then he was lying on his back and bleeding from the mouth and wondering who had knocked out the Death Eater and punched him from thin air, but then everything sank into a strange silence and he was left alone again, with only the still unconscious Goyle and the downed Death Eater for company. Nicking his wand, Draco shot the body out a newly-fashioned window at the far end of the corridor, not caring what happened so long as he was gone.
The walls seemed to fly away then, and suddenly Draco felt small, cold and so very sluggish. All of the wonderful adrenaline that had flooded him earlier had gone, leaving a bone-chilling weariness in its wake. Not knowing what else to do, he pulled Goyle back until they sat sheltered at the joint of two walls and waited for the distant screams and explosions and thunder of footsteps to fade.
It was a very long time.
The Dark Lord’s pronouncement that Potter had until midnight had sent a jolt through him, but that had been some time ago. The whole castle had seemed to heave with a final shudder of noise and motion as Death Eaters, teachers, students, ghosts, creatures and animated objects rushed to wherever they were going, and finally Draco stirred.
A wand, he thought sluggishly. He had a wand. After several attempts, he managed to cast a strong enough Levicorpus to move Goyle’s worryingly still body through the corridors towards the Great Hall. They’d all be there, he knew.
He propped the body, warm and with a steadily thumping heart despite the unnatural lack of consciousness, against the massive double doors, darted back out of sight and gave a desperate, ragged shout, loud enough to surely draw attention. And as he’d hoped, several people rushed out to collect Goyle and pull him into the Great Hall.
Draco buried himself in the shadows of the mostly demolished main staircase as people rushed to and fro like demented worker ants with food for the nest, carrying, dragging and levitating bodies into the light-filled hall. The noise of them all, the brightness, the humanity, was too much, too immediate to deal with. It felt like they were scratching at him, tearing him away bit by bit until he wanted to scream that once they broke through the shell there’d be nothing left.
And like so many times before, Draco ran, ran down the western corridor until there were no more voices, no more cries and no more pattering, running footsteps, only a giant, crumbling hole in the castle wall and the vast silent darkness of the night beyond. He dove gratefully, maniacally, for freedom, scrabbling over the stones without feeling the tearing of his burned palm or the cracking of the blacked skin on his legs, only the siren coolness of the dark.
Draco tripped over a stone, and then a body, and then a person that moaned when he accidentally trod on a leg, and he fled, faster and farther and without conscious direction. It all pushed at him, pushed in and snatched at his hard-won calm and he ran harder than he could ever remember running, clutching someone else’s wand in his scorched fist, his tattered clothes flapping around him as he shot across the ruined grounds of the place he’d spent the majority of his last seven years at. It was only when the shocking cold of water engulfing his burnt legs seared through his brain that Draco forced himself to a halt, gulping in great lungfuls of air and wondering if there was anything in his stomach besides acid to come up when he vomited.
“Hello, Malfoy. You look like shit.”
He had shattered her calm, silent world with his swishing clothes, pumping legs and gasping breaths, coming to a spectacularly noisy finish in the shallows of the Great Lake. Ginny sat a few dozen feet away, her bare toes playing cat and mouse with the lapping water disturbed by his arrival.
Looking at him with flat, disinterested eyes, Ginny couldn’t muster the energy to raise her head from its makeshift pillow on her arms, propped up on her knees. “Hello, Malfoy. You look like shit.”
It wasn’t even gratifying when he started violently, sending water slopping out in all directions. She felt the wake crash over her toes and added, looking at the eyes silvered from the distant lights of the castle, “At least you’re still alive, though. I suppose that’s an accomplishment in its own right tonight.”
Seemingly impervious to the bitter cold of the water than swirled at his knees, Draco Malfoy faced her, a burnt and smoke-blackened, wild-haired, dead-eyed impostor that used to mean something in her world. He’d been a fixture of a sort- a Slytherin more foul than the others, a Pureblood bigot than hated her family on principle, a boy that had stood opposite her at every turn, but now he had been reduced to his basic components, things Ginny had never attributed to him before.
Small, in the basest meaning of the word. Insignificant and unmissed on this most horrific of significant nights. Like her, he was a shadow skating around the edges while the players delivered their lines and advanced the plot. And just like her, he had the unmistakable mark of hollowness in his silvered eyes. Strange, the feeling of understanding she suddenly had for a boy that had been as alien as the rings of Saturn before.
Turning her head, she returned her gaze to the horizon beyond the lake and sat in the cold, her toes curling in the colder water, her emotions thankfully encased in ice so thick it would no longer shatter. Cold, calm, she fancied herself just another part of the night. Later, she would go back. Later, she would be Ginny and hold hands and help the wounded and rally the ones who could still fight. It was the time between, in a space without, and she would do as she pleased.
She blinked. A star had shot across the sky, a blip on the dark canvas that she’d only just caught from the corner of her eye. Ginny wondered randomly if wishes ever actually worked and then wished impulsively to see eight other redheaded Weasleys still breathing when everything had come to the finish, whatever that turned out to be.
After a long time, Draco decided that the Weasley girl had the right of things. Wading to the shore, he sat a few feet away from her, mirroring her position and staring at the marriage of sky and earth. Things would resume, the battle would begin again like a puss-filled wound bursting after a newly-formed scab cracked.
Several long minutes passed in silence, and voices drifted down to them from the lawns. Ginny asked quietly, “Do you think he’ll win?”
Draco had the sudden urge to laugh. “I don’t think it matters anymore,” he replied honestly. “I think it’s over. The Dark Lord will win, and Potter will die. Your family will die, you’ll die.” He looked for and found Mars, its orange glow unmistakable in the sky, the planet of war. “I’ll probably die, too.” Finally, he did laugh, a bitter, broken sound that was a small rebellion in a world he was certain had died in a battle he’d helped to bring about.
“Yes, you’re probably right.” Ginny turned her head and studied him dispassionately. Statistically, several members of her family were most likely already dead, and a number of her friends, too. Odds were that they would lose, and soon, and she would have to choose whether to become something ghastly in the new world that would follow or to go out in a splendid empty display of what Ginny Weasley had been. “I’m surprised you’re here, Malfoy. I would think you’d be with the other Death Eaters.”
Her words were not rancorous; in fact, they’d had no inflection at all, and Draco found it oddly comforting to speak with someone else who understood the futility of it all, the disastrous results of previous beliefs and actions now borne to an end few would ever profess to want. “Crabbe, Goyle and I came back to capture Potter,” he said softly, returning her gaze evenly. “If I could have just brought him Potter, my family could have…” He shook his head. “No, no, we wouldn’t have ever been free. I was naïve to think we could do it.”
His sudden lapse into silence sparked some small measure of who she was and a faint wisp of curiosity broke free, rising to the surface. “Do what?” Ginny looked over into his sunken eyes and wondered suddenly at the bizarreness of this whole scenario. With the sheer number of witches, wizards, Dementors, giants and other magical beings on or near the grounds of Hogwarts, that she should have met Draco Malfoy alone at the Great Lake and been unafraid seemed impossible.
“Crabbe’s dead,” he said slowly, as if testing the weight and feel of the words on his tongue. “He’s dead, and I tried to save Goyle but he’s hurt badly, and do you know that Potter and your brother are the ones that saved us?” Planting his hand in the frozen mud between them, Draco dragged himself closer, so close that he could see the tear tracks on her filthy cheeks and the singed section of hair near her right temple. He leaned in closer, so close that her breath puffed around his head in a freezing cloud. “After everything I’ve done to them, Potter came back for me.” A strange, sick thud in his stomach made him wonder if he was going to be sick after all, but he searched her flat, cold eyes for something. “Why?” he whispered, so softly that it was little more than mouthing the word at her. “Make me understand.”
The question surprised her, but the utter incomprehension was even more perplexing. He truly didn’t understand. Something else in her twisted free with a great wrench, like a polar ice shelf fracturing along an existing fault and giving way. “You’ve always believed in saving your own skin, Malfoy, always put yourself first. Why did you try to save Goyle?”
His eyes flashed once, brightly, and faded back to pale, reflective grey. “I just did; I don’t know why.”
Lifting her head from her arms slowly, Ginny pinned his hand to the mud, pressing down, grinding it into the ground until he whimpered. “That’s a serious burn, Malfoy. So are the ones on your legs, which means your speed has either greatly increased since the fire or you stayed to try to save Goyle, something I’d never expect of you.” A curl of anger warmed her chest, twined around her lungs and made her throat burn. “Think about it- why did you try to save Goyle?”
She was small, delicately boned and despite his current physical state, Draco felt certain he could overpower her if he had to. Slowly, so as not to arouse her self-preservation instincts, he reached over with his good hand and grasped her wrist, wrapping his long fingers around it with ease. Applying just enough pressure to peel her hand back from his burned one, Draco held her eyes, knowing she would see the faint challenge in his own. He wasn’t disappointed.
With a feline grace, Ginny rolled to her hip and shoved him back with her free hand, allowing her captive wrist to go limp to avoid injury. She ended up on her knees with one hand firmly planted on the throat of the now-supine boy and the other still imprisoned tightly by his grip. “Don’t play with me, Malfoy, you’ll lose,” she snarled, feeling rushing back in to fill her up like the tides rushing through a seaside cave, anger singing through her veins. She wanted so badly to hold on to that frozen calm, but Malfoy was fighting her, sitting up into her hand and inexorably pushing her back on her haunches, and she could feel that even, soothing numbness startle like a bird, winging away. “Why’d you do it?”
Draco shivered at the sudden, feverish blaze of heat in her dark eyes as she tried anew to push him down, but even in the grips of anger, she wasn’t strong enough without magic. He wanted to shove her away, throw her in the lake, make her stop. He didn’t know. Merlin, he didn’t know. “I don’t know!” he growled, teeth snapping as she shoved harder, seemingly infuriated by his response. “Fuck, Weasley, I don’t know! I DON’T FUCKING KNOW!”
Like an animated rag doll whose enchantment had worn off, she flopped suddenly and bonelessly against him so that they were face to face, blackened cheek to tear-streaked one, and as suddenly as the rage had come, it was gone again, leaving only a gaping hole in its place. Ginny stared down at Draco Malfoy’s pointed, gaunt face, a startlingly pale oval below her. Slowly, she reached out a finger and caught the single tear that leaked down the side of his face. “Because he’s your friend, and you love him,” she whispered. “Because you care if he lives or dies, Malfoy. There’s no other reason a boy that thinks of himself first and foremost would ever knowingly risk himself for someone else, ever.”
Astonishment soared through him. “Goyle? Don’t be a cow,” he scoffed weakly. “He’s just a goon, but faithful ones are hard to find.”
Ginny laughed, sharp as a shattered mirror. “Shut up, Malfoy. You’re really an idiot at emotions, aren’t you?” His eyes dilated and his thin lips peeled back to retort, but she just put a hand to his chest, pushing herself up and away even as she tugged at the wrist he still held. “There you are, Malfoy, a revelation all of your own. Now go away.”
Was Goyle that important to him, then? Draco asked himself, thinking of how many years they’d known each other, the training brooms and afternoons fishing and the time Goyle had let him keep a puppy they’d found in his barn because Draco’s parents would have filleted him if he’d brought home a filthy dog. Goyle was his mate, had been around forever despite the abuse Draco had heaped on his head. He tugged on her wrist, pulling Ginny a few inches closer, but the words didn’t want to come out. “Th- I mean to say, I appre- Oh, for fuck’s sake, Weasley, thank you!” he yelled into her face a split second before she balled up her free hand and swung it at his head.
“You can’t curse me while you’re thanking me, you half-arsed git!” Ginny hissed, struggling to land a blow anywhere on his face. He was surprisingly quick at blocking. “You invaded my space. You wanted to talk, have your epiphany, and it’s your fault that I can’t go back to being peaceful now because you¬-” Finally, her fist connected with his razor sharp cheekbone with a satisfyingly loud pop. “You made it all go away and now… now I’m just…”
Tears rolled over her lashes at an astonishing rate, turning her eyes into dark pools that reflected the distant glow of the castle and Draco barely heard her whisper, “Damn you, now I’m just Ginny Weasley again. Merlin damn you, Draco Malfoy, God damn you, spirits damn you, because it hurts.” The last word was a ragged gasp and, without applying any thought at all, he released both of her hands to plow his fingers through the wild tangles of her hair, fisting his hands in it and yanking her down with brutal force, capturing her mouth as ruthlessly as he had ever chased a Snitch or plotted Potter’s demise.
The metallic tang of dried blood on his lips brought Ginny out of her shock at last, the hard bones of his ribs poking and protruding at her in a most uncomfortable way even as she realized that her mouth was moving, too. For each maneuver he made, she countered, head canted to the side and lips jockeying for best position, sliding back from quickly nipping teeth, dancing away from the sudden appearance of his tongue, chasing it back with her own. She fought and danced and urged and dueled, making him understand just how much the sudden influx of feeling could hurt after the comforting blur of numbness.
It was a fight, he realized dazedly, forcing away her assault and parrying with a hard suck of her lip, grazing it solidly with his teeth even as Draco rolled them over, forcing her to the ground as he loomed up, suddenly the one leaning in. But he should have known it wouldn’t last as she continued his neat roll full circle, landing once again half on his chest with her too strong legs to the side. Stars exploded behind his eyes as she reeled him back in slowly, waltzing her tongue from the corner of his mouth, around and across his lower lip and behind his teeth in a whirling flurry of movement that had his breath hitching in his throat.
Ginny bit back a squeak as he reared up, bringing them both to a sitting position as he hauled her across his lap and anchored her to him with a firm hand at her jaw, tipping her head back so he could explore her mouth fully. It was powerful, raw, an instinctual move of a male showing his mate that she is made to open to him, to accept his invasion, and it made Ginny shudder like she’d been dropped at the North Pole. The need to tear open his collar, expose him to her, had Ginny’s hands flexing at his neck. His pulse fluttered madly beneath her fingers and he moaned raggedly into her mouth.
“GINNY WEASLEY! GINNY! Ginny Weasley, are you out here?”
Professor McGonagall’s magically magnified voice sounded as if it came from just feet away and they both nearly trampled the other in their haste to jump apart, regain their footing and turn towards the castle.
Shakily, Ginny smoothed a hand through her hair, her eyes sliding sideways to catch him re-buttoning his collar with unsteady hands. Her cheeks burned. “I’ve, er, got to go.” Thoughtlessly, she added, “You should come with me.”
Draco goggled at her. “Sorry?”
“To the castle. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I know how You-Know-Who thinks, and you’re not going to be too high on his ‘To Be Commended and Not Tortured’ list.” Ginny looked back towards the castle and her stomach no longer heaved, her mind no longer twisted, looking for respite from reality. Things had to be done, people had to be saved and she had family and friends that needed her wand and her fighting spirit. She held out a hand. “I’m going back to the castle to fight. It’ll be midnight any moment now, and You-Know-Who will fight with an indiscriminate wand. Fight with us, Draco.”
He stared at her outstretched hand until it dropped several long seconds later. “I, er, I-” he stammered, grey eyes huge in his painfully thin face. Heaving a soul-deep sigh, his head shot up and his shoulders straightened. “Not out in the open. I’ll help, Weasley –Ginny-, but I’ll do it my way. If this is it, I’ll help from the shadows, cover the angles the rest can’t see.”
“I’M COMING!” she bellowed back. Spontaneously, she reached out and gave Draco Malfoy a bone crushing hug and smiled.
Draco thought that fire could shoot from her lips, the way she smiled at him, hard and brilliant and gut-piercingly radiant. It was a smile that burned away the fuzziness, the confusion, leaving only terror and anticipation. “Wait.” He grasped at her hand as she bounded up the embankment. “Just promise me one thing- please. If you live, don’t tell anyone. Ever. I don’t want you to tell anyone what I’ll be doing.”
Confusion glittered in her eyes. “But why?” she cried, pulling him along after her, towards the lawns leading back to the castle. “Why wouldn’t you want anyone to know that you’re doing the right thing? Why would you let everyone still think the worst of you?” Ginny wanted to stop, to plant her feet and make him understand what a colossally idiotic train of thought that was, but she could see people ahead streaming towards the front doors in groups and pairs, carrying bodies and shooting final protective spells over their shoulders.
Gaining the main lawn, Draco shot towards the gap in the castle wall he had fled from earlier. He wrenched his hand from her grasp and turned blazing grey eyes on Ginny Weasley for what he was sure was the last time. They were all going to die. He smiled, a slow, sure smile that said everything he didn’t think himself capable of voicing. “And here, we two, at the end of all things.”
She tipped her head to the side, the curtain of wildly tangled red hair cascading around her like a bloody waterfall. “I’ve heard that before, somewhere,” she replied with a little frown of thought.
“Go be what you’re meant to be, Ginny,” he replied, clambering over a pile of loose rubble, unmindful of the throbbing in his hand and the streaking pain in his legs. “Go be a Gryffindor and a Weasley and Potter’s best hope for a girl that can tolerate his pompous self-righteousness.” Turning back, the bright light of Hogwarts throwing his outline in sharp relief, he studied her for a long moment. “I’m glad,” he said softly. “Glad it was you at the lake; otherwise, I may have kept going.”
With that, he vanished into the castle.
“Ginny!” Neville came running out, Professor McGonagall on his heels, twin looks of incredible relief on their faces, and Ginny felt a spurt of shame for the worry she’d caused. Brandishing her wand, eyes alight, she shouted, “All right, let’s go!”
Startled from her reverie, Ginny watched silently as Ron and Harry cast sidelong looks of muted disapproval at Draco Malfoy, who stood down the other end of Platform 9 ¾ with his wife and son.
He nodded at them and turned away, waving his son onto the train with a gruff hug. Ginny stood a moment, absently searching her handbag, as Ron and Harry moved away with Hermione. The mist cleared again a moment later, and Draco Malfoy stood staring at her, his eyes flashing silver through the mist.
A surge of warmth filled her even as she heard Harry and Ron continue to carp about how much of a worthless coward Malfoy had turned out to be. Nodding softly at him, she smiled. “Here at the end of all things,” she whispered.
Snape's desire that no one should know of his actions right up until the very end touched me, and I think it may be a desire that Draco would understand well.
Also, because a quick internet search failed me, if anyone can tell me where the phrase 'And here, we two, at the end of all things' came from, I'll write you a fic of your choice because I hate leaving things unattributed.
***Edited To Add: The quote is a paraphrase of Frodo's words to Sam in LOTR. Thanks so much to everyone who let me know whose words I was swiping. :D
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