She'd had reason enough to go along with it, at least at first. So her childhood crush had faded over the years? So she hadn't really seen him as more than another brother by the time he'd gotten around to noticing her? So what? She was still justified in giving him a chance. He was the Boy-Who-Lived, after all, and a great person in his own right. He was everything she should have wanted in a boyfriend.
Even if he hadn't so much as asked if she returned his feelings. Even if he'd been more worried about her brother's reaction to his kissing her than he'd been about her reaction. So what if he'd just automatically assumed she still liked him in that way without waiting for so much as a word of agreement from her? She'd still done the right thing by giving it a shot.
She had done the right thing by ending it, too, despite what so many had told her over the last few weeks. Despite the hurt and confused looks Harry kept giving her, despite the glares Ron and Hermione gave her whenever they saw their best friend looking so upset. She wouldn't have been justified in continuing a relationship when she didn't have feelings for him. She'd tried to see him the way she used to, tried to think of him as more than a brother, tried to enjoy it when he kissed her. But she wasn't the star-struck eleven-year-old she used to be, and she just couldn't make herself feel something simply because it would be convenient. So she'd broken it off, and rightfully so, as far as she was concerned.
Unfortunately for her, others didn't see it quite the same way. Not even her brother had managed to see things from her point of view, only seeing the effect the breakup had had on Harry. No matter that she had tried her best, no matter that she had been as careful as she could have been in telling her former crush that she didn't think they were working out, everyone still seemed to see her as the villain. It hurt that so many had turned on her so quickly for injuring the legendary infant hero, and moreover, it made no sense to her. She couldn't remember any such backlash when Cho had turned him down.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that most people automatically assumed that she was madly in love with him and were just shocked that she'd given up a chance to be with him. Maybe everyone was just that bored, she didn't know, but whatever the cause, it had made her life quite uncomfortable. On the whole, she was a social person, and while she didn't have many close friends, the subtle criticism she'd been receiving was difficult to handle. The fact that everyone, even the teachers, seemed to be upset with her, made it even worse.
It had been almost comforting to be treated as if nothing had changed, even if that meant being insulted. She'd almost smiled at the blond when he'd sneered at her, had almost thanked him for the cutting remark about her clothes. She was pretty sure she'd shocked him when she hadn't gotten upset at the barb; she knew she'd intrigued him, because certainly he wouldn't have asked her what was wrong otherwise. Of course, the inquiry had been made with a sneer and he had said something more along the lines of 'what disturbed your cesspool' but it had been enough to start them talking. It had been less than completely civil for the most part, and they hadn't become friends, by any means, but the encounter had been refreshing just the same.
It felt like nothing had changed when she was exchanging insults and anecdotes with him, seemed like people saw her the same as they had before her short-lived relationship with the famous sixth-year. His unchanged disdain was an almost masochistic balm to her injured psyche. But while that in part explained the pleasure she received from their encounters, it didn't excuse the fact that she'd started to crave that rude, uncaring presence. It didn't tell her why she'd started relying on it to make her feel a little more normal, a little more secure as her friends distanced themselves from her, and the reality she'd known fell apart.
They'd only talked three times, had barely held a real conversation, having filled the short spaces of time with barbs and verbal sparring. It simply made no sense that she felt so compelled to see him.
Sure, given the momentous row she'd had with Ron that night, nearly two months before, and the horrendous mess her emotions had been in afterwards, she could almost understand what had driven her from the Gryffindor common room to the deserted dungeon halls. She could almost understand why she ended up in the small room that had once been used as a private study hall for Slytherins of years past, the room where she had first run into him after seeking privacy after a brutal Potions class.
She could not, however, understand what had happened after she'd burst through the door that last time. He'd been studying quietly and had loudly expressed his annoyance at her presence and disruption, but she'd ignored him, simply unloading her inner torment and frustration on the one person that made her feel sane. She'd raged for several minutes, and after a few moments he'd stopped demanding she leave, and started listening. At least she thought he had. Most of that time was a bit of a blur, up to, but not including, the moment they'd started kissing.
She wasn't sure if she'd gone in search of him, if she'd chosen that room in the hope that he would be there, or if she'd just gone somewhere she knew her brother wouldn't find her. Nothing about that night made much sense to her, even two months later. She didn't understand why she'd gone there, why her fragile composure had chosen that moment to shatter around her, why the normally caustic blond hadn't hexed her for barging in on him, why she'd ended up kissing him with all the anger, hurt, and confusion that had been festering in her.
She supposed, on some level, she'd been within her rights, finding someone who could make her feel a bit better for a little while, regardless of who it was, or under what circumstances. How many people sought comfort in another's arms after a bad break up? It wasn't exactly a foreign concept, even at her age. So strictly speaking, she'd had reason enough to unload on him, to let him comfort her, even through his insults. She had not, however, had quite enough reason to sleep with him.
Ginny stared down at her hands, watching them shake with a kind of perverse fascination as the tears started to burn her eyes. One tear fell on her left palm but she didn't feel it, didn't feel much of anything as the cold, numb feeling continued to sweep through her. What the hell had she been thinking, she wondered absently. Sure, she'd been upset, really upset, but that didn't excuse her actions.
Malfoy was Harry's arch-enemy, the one person he hated more than Voldemort, even more than his aunt and uncle, and his cousin. Just because she didn't love him, didn't mean she didn't care about him, didn't mean she wanted to hurt him. Just because her brother and her friends still, nine weeks later, kept her at arms length, didn't mean she wanted to alienate them completely. And she would, she'd hurt Harry and drive everyone away when they found out what she'd done.
She was surprised they hadn't found out already, surprised Malfoy hadn't gone straight back to his common room and bragged to all his friends that he'd shagged Potter's ex-girlfriend. But he hadn't said a word, and neither had she, leaving everyone else completely in the dark. But how long could they realistically stay there? Panic swelled within the redhead as her stomach rolled once more, sending her surging forward to lean over the toilet as the rest of her lunch made a return visit. She retched and choked and coughed for what felt like forever, until there was nothing left to come up. For several minutes, she simply dry heaved as the sobs bubbled up and sent tears coursing down her cheeks in a near torrent.
What the hell had she done? And what in Merlin's name was she going to do now?
She had to do something, she knew; she couldn’t just hide in the bathroom forever, couldn’t keep what had happened a secret forever. She had to tell him. She had to tell him the truth, herself; he deserved to hear it from her, to hear it before it was all over the school. The mere thought of seeing him, talking to him, telling him, sent shivers of fear down her spine. How would he react?
Twin curtains of red hid her face as her head fell forward, her chin touching her chest and her arms wrapping tightly around her stomach as she considered the various, disastrous, possibilities. The sobs came quickly then, pouring from her lips and shaking her slender frame, leaving her hair and face and arms and hands and sleeves wet as she tried to wipe at the wetness pouring down her cheeks. On and on they continued, her eyes swelling and burning and her throat becoming sore as her voice grew scratchy from her cries. Eventually, she seemed to run out of tears, as her stomach had run out of food, and she simply choked and wheezed until the last of her energy drained away.
By the time she picked herself up off the hard tiles and splashed cold water on her face, the swelling and redness around her eyes had lessened, though it was still obvious, and her hands had steadied a little, though they still shook as she turned off the faucet. Brown eyes stared into the mirror, taking in the pitiful sight reflected back to her with resignation. It was no use waiting until she felt better, no use waiting for the evidence of her breakdown to fade; she'd feel just as despicable, just as scared tomorrow, and there was no hope of the tears staying gone for more than a couple hours.
The only thing waiting would do was give her time to back out, to convince herself not to do it, and she knew deep down that she had to do this. It was the right thing, and no matter how terrified she was of what she had to do, she was a Gryffindor for a reason, and she would do it anyway.
Such lofty determination gave her the unsubstantial strength to make it all the way to the Owlery, pen a short missive, and send it to the one person she didn't want to see. The words had been shaky and the parchment slightly tear-stained, but it would serve its purpose. She watched the tawny owl dive gracefully out the window and down to the ground below, where it glided over towards the lake. He must be there, she thought, her mind picturing him automatically, his shoulders hunched slightly over book and parchment as he hastily finished whatever assignment was due next.
It would take him seconds to take the scrap of parchment from the owl, read it, and know who sent it. It would take him less than ten minutes to pack up his things and make the trek inside and to the place she had requested to meet him. If he was coming, anyway. There was every chance that he wouldn't come, and that possibility sent fear and hope through her in equal measure. Both emotions swelled as she saw a single form reach the top of the hill overlooking the lake and head towards the school.
He was coming.
Her heart raced helplessly in her chest, racing as she turned and sprinted down the narrow stairs, not sure if she was going to run to the designated meeting point, or as far from it as she could get. Her sense of what was right seemed to wrestle control of her legs long enough to lead her where she needed to go, and her rampaging emotions lent her the speed to reach it first. Even so, she had mere moments to gain some semblance of calm, of control, before the door opened and he stepped through.
His eyes narrowed as they landed on her, then narrowed more as they swept over her disheveled form, her tearstained face. She knew how she looked, practically cowering against the wall, her arms banded around herself so tightly it actually hurt. She knew the fear was visible on her face, along with the tears, knew there was raw panic shining from her eyes, knew he could see the way her entire body trembled as she fought to stay standing. She couldn’t do anything about that, though, nor could she put off explaining the cause. That, of course, didn't stop her from tripping over the words.
"Thank you f- for coming, I-" She bit her lip viciously, suppressing the hysterical sobs that wanted to spill forth. "I-" Ginny swallowed, looking down at the floor as her heart threatened to beat its way out of her chest.
"I'm sorry." The tears made it past her pitiful defenses, falling to the stone floor silently as she tried to piece her thoughts together. "I didn't know what else to do, and you- you deserve to know first, fr-from me."
The redhead dug her nails into her arms, focusing on the sharp pain as they broke skin, then slowly raised her head, the desperate fear in her wet chocolate orbs bright and clear when she met his gaze.
End Chapter One
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