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The Draco/Ginny Exchange

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fandom, fanfic, Harry Potter, Draco, Ginny
dgfiaexchange wrote in dgficexchange

Red Sky at Morning, for Rinney: Part One

Red Sky at Morning


Rating: Extremely Naughty
Possible Spoilers/Warnings: Takes place in an AU where Harry failed to defeat Voldemort in the Battle of Hogwarts at the end of Deathly Hallows (more or less canon-compliant up to that point).
Summary: Two years after the Battle of Hogwarts tore the wizarding world apart, Voldemort's Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix remain at a stalemate, with no victory in sight for either side. Draco Malfoy finds his world thrown suddenly into disarray when he once again crosses paths with a girl he never wanted to see again--the girl he has tried in vain to forget.
Author's Notes: Alright, this story sort of ran away with itself but I hope it still fits the prompt reasonably well--even if it's not quite as creative the original prompt asked for. >_< Also, it ended up being a lot longer than I had planned. (Turns out I'm incapable of writing short fics, and I'm also incapable of writing D/G without a lot of backstory...)


Part I

Draco Malfoy stood motionless in his room, staring listlessly outside at the dreary grounds of Malfoy Manor in December. The cold chill of winter had recently set in, leaving the trees barren and the window frosted over in glittering swirls of ice. Another year had come and gone, but nothing had changed. It felt like nothing ever would; he had lost hope of that happening a long time ago.

The last time he had felt any hope had been over two years ago, before the Battle of Hogwarts. He'd been convinced the war would end that day. He didn't quite know why--perhaps it was because everything in his seventh year seemed to build up to that one moment. Perhaps it was because he had wanted it to end so badly that his mind refused to see differently. Perhaps, it simply seemed fitting that the war should end with the conclusion of his seven horrible years at Hogwarts. He still remembered the grim excitement before that battle, the thrill of dark anticipation that it would all be over soon.

But the war hadn't ended that day. No one came out victorious--there was no triumph for anyone, no shouts of jubilation or joyous celebrations. Severe casualties were suffered on both sides, yet Harry Potter and the Dark Lord both refused to die. The scorched and bloodied field was littered by battered bodies, listless eyes staring unseeingly up at the sky. Many of the fallen were students--children far too young to be subjected to the horrors of war, now buried underneath piles of fractured stone and debris. The ancient school had been torn apart that day, the once-formidable castle reduced to smouldering ashes and rubble.

That was the last Draco had seen of the school, because he had never returned to Hogwarts after that fateful day. No one had ever returned--there was nothing to return to.

Ironic that he had never missed Hogwarts until it was destroyed. During the greater part of his school years, he couldn't wait to leave the place--to be rid of the annoying Gryffindors and the blatant favouritism bestowed upon Potter and his motley group of tagalongs. But as miserable as his last years at school had been, at least he could still pretend. Pretend that he was just a normal student, not a Death Eater forced to serve the Dark Lord, forced to torture and kill. Pretend that there was an end in sight to everything--that one day he would graduate and take his place in the world, making a name for himself as a Malfoy. Pretend that the war would end.

At Hogwarts, he at least had something to hope for, to strive for. Now he never felt anything but fear and anger and disgust, emotions he was forced to keep suppressed deep inside lest the Dark Lord sense the slightest inkling of rebellion or disobedience. Some days, there didn't seem to be a point in carrying on under all the burdens that weighed heavily down on him. But he had to--if he did not, the consequences would be deadly. Not only for himself, but for his family as well.

He was disrupted from his thoughts by a sudden loud crack echoing through the room, signifying the arrival of a house-elf. Draco made no move to acknowledge the creature except to curl his lip up in a distasteful sneer; the wretched things were always so bloody loud.

"Master Draco, they are waiting for you downstairs," it squeaked, bowing so low to the ground that its nose pressed into the polished hardwood floor.

Draco lifted a pale hand in a dismissive wave, and the pitiful creature bowed once more before popping away.

He stared outside his window for several more long moments before finally closing his eyes and turning away. Then he ran his hand roughly across his face, steeling himself for the afternoon ahead. With a grim set of his jaw, he fitted the silvery-white mask over his face before striding purposefully from the room, banishing the unwanted memories from his mind. It never did any good to dwell on the past. He knew that--he had forced himself to forget, and yet his thoughts always seemed to drift back to the Battle of Hogwarts.

And although he refused to admit it, even to himself, the truth was that he knew exactly why he could never rid his mind of that day. It was more than just a turning point of the war, more than just the destruction of the school he had known throughout his childhood.

That day had been the last time he had seen her.

And there he stopped himself, for he always, always cut short his thoughts before they reached her.

***

Her red hair in complete disarray, Ginny Weasley blindly threw another hex behind her as she tore around the corner and flung herself flat against the wall. Barely a second later, she heard the thunderous explosion of crumbling stone as a curse meant for her shattered against the bricks instead.

"Come on, Ginny--we have to get out of here, now."

Gasping for breath, she glanced up into Neville's anxious face and nodded grimly. He was right--they were outnumbered and there was no point in continuing the fight here. Ginny quickly put up a Shielding Charm in order to give Neville time to activate the Portkey they carried with them for emergencies. Once she was sure they were well-protected, she leaned her head cautiously back around the corner.

A group of about ten witches and wizards advanced quickly upon them, shrouded in black cloaks with their faces hidden behind sinister masks. Several of them sent fierce curses in their direction, but the bright flashes of light simply glanced harmlessly off her Shield.

She couldn't stop herself from wondering if any of those masked figures was Draco Malfoy.

Ginny wondered if he had tried to kill her tonight, wondered if any of her own curses had hit him. She wondered, if they ever came face-to-face again, whether he would look at her with hatred in his cold slate eyes, or if he would just pretend he never knew her at all.

Sometimes she almost hoped that she would cross wands with him. It was the part of her that could not give up on him, the part that refused to believe the Draco Malfoy she had once known was gone from her forever. She had lost count of how many times she'd fought against a Death Eater--and every single time, she always looked for his grey eyes behind the mask. But since the war had truly begun in earnest over two years ago, she'd never had a chance to duel against him. Not even once.

Perhaps it was for the best, really. She didn't know what she would do if she ever crossed paths with him; didn't know what to expect if she came to face him again. He had made his choice, after all, and was now among the most prominent in Voldemort's inner circle--or so the rumours went. No doubt he had irrevocably changed; she couldn't expect him to be the same young man she had once known in school. Most likely he had forgotten her already, and would not hesitate to kill her if he saw her again. A sharp pang stabbed through her heart at the thought, and Ginny berated herself for being so weak.

Neville's urgent voice broke her abruptly out of her reverie.

"Ginny! Let's go!"

"I'm coming," she replied, reaching for the end of the Portkey he held out to her. But she couldn't help glancing back one last time at the shadowy figures in the distance. For a brief moment, she thought she caught a flash of platinum blond hair from underneath a dark hood--but in the next, it was gone. She had probably imagined it.

"Who are you looking for?" Neville asked, sending her a worried and confused look.

Ginny shook her head and turned to him, grasping the Portkey tightly. She was being foolish, once again. And yet, even though she had told herself countless times that it was an utterly stupid thing to do, she could not seem to stop herself from trying to find him.

"No one."

***

The battered woman was slumped in the chair, looking utterly defeated. A trickle of blood dribbled down from the corner of her mouth as she gasped for breath; her black hair hung limply over thin shoulders that convulsed periodically with the after-effects of the Cruciatus.

"Please, will you...will you just kill me now?" she begged pitifully.

Draco narrowed his eyes in her direction but let his gaze unfocus. He did not want to see his victims too clearly. It was easier this way. Otherwise, he was afraid he would recognize certain features, and wonder if he had known them once, in the past. If he had gone to school with them, perhaps, or if they were family to any of his former classmates.

He was most afraid that he would look into bright brown eyes, or a small face dusted with freckles. He did not need to be reminded of that.

Draco turned his attention back to the matter at hand. He was nearly done with this one--she was close to breaking, he could tell. He hardly even needed to threaten her anymore...Just one final push was all that was needed. And the sooner he got the information he needed, the sooner he could leave this hellish dungeon.

Fortunately, he was one of the best when it came to interrogation--it was how he had steadily risen in the ranks during the past few years, and it was why the Dark Lord had spared him despite his continued failings when it came to certain other Dark curses. No one else came close to being as good at extracting information from the prisoners as Draco was. Most of the Death Eaters had no finesse--they knew only of physical torture and death threats. Sometimes, they were too eager and killed the victim prematurely, or damaged their brain beyond repair so they were no longer of any use.

But he understood only too well the power of words and the manipulation of the mind. It helped, certainly, that he had learned to master Legilimency, thanks to his former Potions professor. And it was also fortunate that most people were simply no good at Occlumency. Indeed, most of the captured Order members were really only able to actively hide certain important pieces of information. They were often caught off guard by seemingly unrelated questions--and he was good enough that they did not even realize when he was reading those inadvertent thoughts.

Draco leaned forward until he was eye-to-eye with the woman.

"Would you like to know who else we've captured?" he drawled softly, letting the implications linger in the air while he delved subtly into her thoughts. He was gratified when an image flashed unbidden in her mind, of a chubby little boy with light brown hair and large blue eyes.

Sometimes it was ridiculously easy. These people were so predictable; they fought valiantly to keep the most crucial knowledge hidden in the deep recesses of their mind, but never thought to suppress the other memories that made them such easy prey.

"I am asking you one last time," Draco said calmly. "Now, would you like to answer me before I go pay a visit to the other prisoner we have kept next door? Quite a cute little boy, really. Brown hair, blue eyes...Perhaps he will be more accommodating." He allowed a cruel smile to play on his lips as he watched the woman's eyes widen in terror.

It was an empty threat, of course, but she did not know that. It was pathetically easy to crush someone's spirit when their loved ones were threatened--he himself was proof of that.

"No! Not--not my son. You--you can't--please, just let him go--"

Draco raised an eyebrow. "That depends entirely on you," he replied coolly, waiting patiently for her response.

"Alright...I...I'll tell you. Just please, don't hurt him. It's to be held next Tuesday evening. Nine o'clock," the woman finally mumbled in a hoarse, broken voice.

Draco turned away from her, hating himself for what he had done and unable to take anymore of it. Instead, he focused his attention towards the two hunched figures leering in the shadows behind him.

"You can have your fun now," he said in a cold voice. "I'm done here."

Amycus and Alecto Carrow stepped forward with identical looks of twisted glee on their faces as they advanced towards the broken figure shackled to the chair. It absolutely sickened him, the way some of the Death Eaters took such perverse joy in torture and death. Although to be fair, he did have to admit they had their uses--they were more than willing to inflict the more gruesome, physical curses on the prisoners, ones that Draco himself did not have the stomach for.

At least she didn't end up in the hands of Aunt Bellatrix, he thought disgustedly as he strode out of the room with his jaw set. After the door clicked shut behind him, Draco glanced quickly down the hall to make sure he was alone before slumping against the wall. A gut-wrenching howl filled the air, causing him to clench his eyes shut in an effort to block out the horrible sound. Then he took a moment to collect himself, letting out a deep breath as he ran a shaky hand across his face. Quickly, he smoothed his slick blond hair back in place before forcing the events of the afternoon into a dark corner of his mind, determined to forget all that had happened in the dreaded torture chamber.

He lost track of how many of these memories he had banished from his mind these past few years, leaving them behind in these dungeons. But he had to forget--it was the only way he could keep himself from going mad. There were more and more prisoners held down here now, and it repulsed him that these wretched beings were kept beneath their stately manor home where they lived. What had once been only a simple holding cell had since been expanded into a much larger maze of locked rooms and dark cells designed for the Dark Lord's use. His mother had been most displeased with the changes, but of course she could do nothing but graciously acquiesce to Voldemort's orders.

Lifting his chin, Draco made his way quickly up the stairs and into the drawing room of Malfoy Manor. His father was standing near the head of the long table, deep in conversation with Mulciber. They had returned from the planned attack in London, then. Neither of them seemed to be in a good mood, however; it appeared that the raid had not gone well.

Not that he particularly cared. Draco nodded a curt greeting to the two men as he approached them, but neither bothered to acknowledge him. Snatches of their furious exchange drifted to his ears as he stalked past them towards the door.

"--you knew very well the Dark Lord would not be pleased when he heard of this! We very nearly got our hands on two of Potter's close friends--the Longbottom boy and the Weasley girl--"

Draco continued on into the main foyer without pause, his polished shoes clicking steadily on the marble floor. He forced his breathing to remain even and regular. I do not care. I do not remember. I do not feel anything.

He saw Peter Pettigrew in the foyer and barely managed to suppress his sneer. The whole Manor was overrun with these vermin now--it was no wonder his mother preferred to remain ensconced in her rooms for much of the time these days.

"The Dark Lord wants to see you," Pettigrew said, eyeing Draco suspiciously with beady eyes as he gestured towards the open door of the sitting room.

With a curt nod, Draco swept past the shorter man, not bothering to spare him another glance. He was not surprised to be summoned--after all, Lucius had failed in his mission that afternoon, so he was most likely being punished for it as well. Par for the course where the Dark Lord was concerned.

Entering the darkly lit room with his head bowed subserviently, Draco knelt down before the abhorrent creature seated before the fireplace. He hated every moment of this--acting like a lowly servant to the foul being who did not even look fully alive--but knew he could never let those thoughts show. So instead, he pushed those feelings to the back of his mind, walled off from his conscious thoughts, and allowed himself to think only of gratitude and servitude.

"You asked for my presence, my Lord?"

"I called you here, young Malfoy, to remind you of your place in my ranks."

"As always, I exist only to serve you, my Lord."

There was a pause as Voldemort rose from his chair; Draco forced himself not to flinch away as the tall figure approached him. Knowing what he wanted, Draco raised his head slowly to meet the Dark Lord's piercing red gaze. He was no longer afraid to let Voldemort delve into his mind; he was adept at Occlumency himself, after all.

"You have successfully extracted the necessary information, I presume?"

"Yes, my Lord. The prisoner has confessed. Their next meeting is to be held next Tuesday evening."

Voldemort let out a pleased hiss. "Very well. There will be crucial members of the Order present. If we should capture them, the information obtained will be invaluable." His thin lips curled up slowly in a terrifying version of a smile, though his glowing red eyes remained cold. "And as a reward for your service...I will give you the honour of participating in the attack this time."

Draco swallowed. An icy feeling of dread pooled in the bottom of his stomach. He hated battle, he hated duelling--but of course, the Dark Lord knew that very well.

"Hmmm...Do I detect a hint of unease?" Voldemort narrowed his scarlet eyes. "Of rebellion, perhaps?"

Draco knew he had waited too long to give his answer. He quickly bowed his head again and hastened to reply. "No, my Lord--I would never think such thoughts--"

"Liar," Voldemort hissed. "You take for granted the liberties I have given you these past few years. I have kept you in my service despite your failings. I have overlooked your inability to kill. You forget how easily I could have your father brought in, at this very moment, gagged and bound...Or perhaps your mother..." The Dark Lord made a grand show of tapping a long, spidery finger against his chin in false contemplation. "I think both may work better. I could force you to kill one of our wretched prisoners in front of me, or else kill your parents should you fail. Would that be enough incentive for you to eliminate this pathetic and inexcusable weakness of yours?"

A frisson of terror chilled his spine. Draco found that he could not speak; his words stuck in the back of his throat. He knew he could not afford to give a wrong answer. And yet, he did not know if there was even a right one.

Fortunately, it seemed as though Voldemort did not expect an answer this time.

"Luckily for you, I have decided to be merciful today," he said, cruel amusement in his voice.

Draco refused to let himself scoff at that, even in his mind. He needed to remain ingratiated with all that the Dark Lord was allowing him. Voldemort would accept no less.

"You still prove to have some use for me at the moment, as do your parents," he continued. "But rest assured that if you shall displease me any way, all of you are most certainly disposable."

"Yes, my Lord. I understand."

Draco remained bowed submissively on the ground as Voldemort swept out of the room in a swirl of dark robes. He waited several more moments, until he was sure that the Dark Lord was not returning, before scowling angrily and rising shakily to his feet. His knees hurt like hell from kneeling on the hard marble floor for so long, and the fear that had seized him moments ago still made it hard to breathe.

He had never made a good Death Eater. He hated death, he hated blood, he hated torture. He hated the war, he hated the Dark Lord, he hated Harry Potter. He hated it all, and there was still no end in sight.

Voldemort was right--the simple fact of the matter was, he still could not kill. Death and destruction were what defined the Death Eaters, and yet he, Draco Malfoy, the youngest to be initiated into the circle, could not do it.

His mother had always told him it was a good thing. His father had sneered that she had raised him to be too soft, too weak.

She had always said it was a good thing, too--that it was admirable, brave, even--

Draco scoffed at the thought and shut it down resolutely.

Yes, he had always been a downright atrocious Death Eater. An utter failure, Lucius had told him numerous times with derision. When his father had been released from Azkaban, he had taken no pity on Draco and his glaringly unacceptable weakness. Indeed, he had taken it upon himself to try to rectify the situation.

***

It had been during the most terrible summer of his life, after his sixth year at Hogwarts. Lucius had taken him down to the dungeons one afternoon, where a bound man stood helpless in the centre of the cell. A burlap sack covered his head so that Draco could not see who it was, but from the muffled whimpers, he could tell the man had been gagged. He barely had time to react to the scene in front of him before Lucius thrust his wand in his hand and pushed him forward roughly.

"Kill this repulsive Muggle, now," he ordered.

Draco stared back at his father, frozen in a state of shock.

"Father, I don't understand--"

"I heard about your failure at Hogwarts, Draco, and I intend to make sure such an incident will never happen again," Lucius said.

Draco swallowed and looked away; a familiar wave of shame burned inside him as it always did whenever he disappointed his father. He was surprised when Lucius placed a hand on his shoulder, in an almost reassuring gesture.

"It's for your own good, Draco," he said, the harshness gone from his voice. "The Dark Lord is not forgiving of these failures."

"I know, Father...but I...I don't think I can," he whispered miserably. "I don't know how--"

"Well, now is the time to learn!" Lucius snapped, sounding impatient once more. "I am well aware that Bellatrix has taught you the curse, and demonstrated it in front of you more than once. You simply need to find the confidence to perform it."

Draco nodded numbly and raised his wand, pointing it at the Muggle. His hand was shaking so badly it was a miracle he hadn't dropped his wand altogether.

"A--Avada..." His voice shook and faltered. He was not ready for this. He would never be ready for this.

"The first kill is always the most difficult," Lucius said. "It does get easier after this, I promise." There was a slight note of pity in his voice, something that seemed so out of place for his father. Pity was simply not an emotion that Lucius Malfoy ever felt. "Do not see him as a human being, Draco. He is not even a wizard. He is a Muggle. They are stupid, useless creatures--they are beneath us, they deserve to die. You are doing the world a favour, ridding it of this cretin."

Draco focused on the man--no, not a man, he was merely a lowly creature who needed to die--and kept his eyes trained steadily on what was to be his first victim.

"Avada..." His hand still shook terribly--perhaps he would miss his target altogether. "...Kedavra..." Draco broke off in a gasp after finally uttering the horrible syllables, nearly collapsing to the ground. The tip of his wand sparked green briefly before fizzing out.

"You need more authority!" Lucius roared, sounding angry and impatient. "Do not stutter!" His grip on Draco's shoulder tightened painfully. "Again! NOW!"

"AVADA KEDAVRA!" Draco yelled desperately, his mind clouded over with panic and fear. A jet of green light shot towards the Muggle, hitting him square in the chest, and he toppled backwards wordlessly. Draco's eyes widened in horror as the man hit the ground with a thud. His wand clattered to the floor as he staggered back and fell to his knees, a strange ringing in his ears. The room spun dizzily around him and he felt a terrible wrenching inside of him, as if something had been irrevocably destroyed.

And then, the man twitched and groaned.

Relief flooded through him. The Muggle hadn't died. He hadn't killed another human being. It was alright, he would be okay. Draco closed his eyes, only vaguely aware that he had slumped back against the wall, and gasped heavily for breath.

When he finally managed to get himself under control and opened his eyes again, it was to find Lucius towering above him and staring down at him coldly, every line of his body tensed in fury.

"You are an utter failure," he spat. "A disappointment. A complete--"

Draco was thankful that his next words were cut off by the loud clang of the door being pushed open. Lucius turned around with a sneer, clearly infuriated by the interruption, but the angry retort died on his lips when he saw who it was.

Narcissa Malfoy stepped elegantly into the room and surveyed the dingy cell, her nose turning up slightly in distaste at the scene that greeted her.

"Lucius, it's time for dinner," she said commandingly.

"Not now, Narcissa," he snapped, turning back to Draco with narrowed eyes. "I'm teaching our son a lesson. Go upstairs--we'll be up when he's ready."

Narcissa raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow and pinned Lucius with her sharp blue eyes. "It's time for dinner," she repeated, her voice cold. "We will discuss this afterwards."

Lucius flicked a disgusted glance at Draco. "I hardly think the boy's in any state to present himself at the dinner table," he spat contemptuously.

Narcissa was not appeased. "Then you shall go upstairs first," she replied haughtily, lifting her chin with authority. "Draco and I will meet you in the dining room in a moment."

Draco watched distantly as his parents stared daggers at each other for several long moments. Lucius finally turned away.

"Fine," he snarled, sending a quick Killing Curse at the Muggle. "That's how it's done, son," he growled, before marching out the door and slamming it behind him.

Angry footsteps thundered up the stairs as Lucius made his way up to the main floor. Draco swallowed, trying not to empty the contents of his stomach all over the dungeon floor. He refused to glance over at the corner where a dead body now lay.

For several moments, there was only silence as Draco remained slumped against the wall with a heavy heart, staring up blankly at the ceiling. He felt as though his entire body was still numb with shock. Finally, Narcissa walked over to him with a weary sigh and knelt down gracefully beside him, before lifting slender fingers to gently brush his hair away from his forehead. Draco was reminded of the many times when he was a little boy, and his mother comforted him in her arms after Lucius yelled at him.

"I had hoped the war would be over before you were forced to get involved. I wished to spare you from all of this." She shook her head sadly. "I thought that at least you could avoid all of it while you were still in school, but I should have known better..."

"It's alright, Mother," Draco said, his voice sounding dry and hoarse. It was a lie--nothing felt alright.

But his mother knew that too, of course. Narcissa smiled sadly down at him, and for the first time Draco noticed how haunted and worn she looked. The recent events of the war, his father's imprisonment, his own impossible task, the intrusion of Voldemort and other Death Eaters into their home...They had all taken a toll on her.

"This is a war that our generation started. It's not fair that your generation must finish it," she said quietly.

Draco did not know how to reply to that. He wished that he could comfort her somehow, but he did not know how to do that, either.

"I will speak to your father," she said at length. "He does love you, Draco--he is just scared, and the past year in Azkaban has not been easy for him. It has not been easy for any of us." She looked down at him with her beautiful blue eyes filled with concern. "The Dark Lord will be more troublesome to deal with. You must tread carefully, Draco--he is difficult to please and easy to anger. I will ask Lucius to speak to him on your behalf...Although your father no longer holds the same influence he once did. Perhaps Bella can help."

"But...I can't do it, Mother. I can't do what he wants, I can't cast the Killing Curse. I'm a failure, aren't I?" Draco looked away, unable to meet his mother's pitying gaze.

"Of course not," Narcissa replied gently, smoothing the last of his stray hairs back into place. "Not at all. In fact, I am proud of you, Draco."

He shook his head in defeat. "I'm useless. The Dark Lord's going to kill me," Draco whispered. It was the first time he had voiced the fear aloud, and he regretted it almost instantly. All throughout his sixth year he had tried to remain calm, putting up a brave front for his mother, yet here he was, weak and helpless before her.

"No, Draco--you do not have to kill in order to stay alive. There are other ways you can make yourself useful. The Dark Lord is ruthless, of course, but in truth he is in dire need of more followers right now. He does not have the same widespread support he used to have, and he will want to keep every follower he can. We can use this to our advantage. You will still have to do terrible things, Draco--I wish I could keep you from that, but the current situation is what it is."

Draco nodded. He knew what she referred to--Voldemort would still force him to torture and practice other horrible Dark curses. But he saw now that at least, he might not have to become a murderer. At least for the time being.

"I understand." He took a deep breath and sat up straight, feeling clear-headed and purposeful for the first time in a long while. "Thank you, Mother. I think I know what I have to do."

Narcissa smiled at him. "I'm glad." She rose to her feet gracefully, pulling him gently up along with her. "Come, Draco--we are late for dinner."

***

That had been years ago, of course. But thanks to his mother's suggestions, Draco had successfully managed to avoid most of the battles during the war. Instead, he'd volunteered to interrogate the prisoners at Malfoy Manor and allowed others, such as the Carrows, to deal out Killing Curses when necessary.

Of course, there was still the occasional raid he was forced to participate in, like the current one in Diagon Alley. All he wanted was for this to be over so he could leave the horrible place. There was nothing he despised more than being in the middle of battle, surrounded by the anguished shrieks of the injured and the silence of the dead.

And as he certainly didn't plan on becoming one of the casualties of that evening, Draco had chosen his opponent carefully. He fully intended to avoid the worst of the fight if possible, and to that end, he had immediately singled out a young, frightened-looking boy the moment their attack had begun. The scrappy little thing was merely a child--he shouldn't even have been here in the first place. In better times, he would've still been a bright-eyed young student at Hogwarts. Yet here he was, thrown prematurely into the horrors of war.

But hadn't they all been? Draco refused to let himself feel sorry for the kid as he ruthlessly sent curse after curse towards him. There was no place for pity during a war. There were only those who died, and those who survived.

The two of them were the only ones duelling in this back corridor--Draco had purposely forced the boy further away from the main meeting room where complete chaos raged. He had no intention of being caught in the path of a wayward curse, and was not about to be trapped amongst the maelstrom of deadly spells.

A terrible pain suddenly seared through his entire body, making him double over in agony and drop his wand.

"Fuck," he swore under his breath. Draco had been so focused on the boy in front of him that he'd failed to notice an older wizard jumping into the fray from the side. Clearly he was out of practice--he really hadn't duelled much in the past several years and was caught off guard far too easily. Thankfully, he still had his lightning-fast Seeker reflexes.

Gritting his teeth against the burning pain, Draco threw himself to the ground to narrowly avoid another curse, then rolled towards the wall, snatching up his wand. He hardly had a moment to take a breath before the next spell came hurtling towards his chest. There was no time to throw up a Shielding Charm, nor could he move out of the way, lying prone as he was on the ground. He was only barely able to throw up his left arm in front of him, letting it bear the brunt of the curse. Draco let out another hiss of pain as a deep gash sliced open his arm and bright red blood drenched through his dark robes.

The situation was quickly getting out of hand. He needed to take down one of his attackers immediately; otherwise, it was going to be a losing battle, fighting against two Order members by himself. His stupid Death Eater mask certainly wasn't helping--the damn thing completely cut off his peripheral vision and was stifling as hell. Voldemort was a bloody idiot for designing it.

Angrily, Draco tore off his annoying mask and quickly ducked behind a marble column, shooting a spell up towards the ceiling. It was a harmless charm, but the bright sparks and loud noises served their purpose in confusing his two opponents. He wasted no time in taking advantage of the momentary distraction by sending a powerful curse at the older man, who was the bigger threat at the moment. The spell hit right on target, blasting the wizard against the far wall.

"No!" shouted the boy, watching with horrified eyes as his comrade slid to the ground in an unconscious heap. He ran towards the man in a panic, but did not even make it halfway there before he collapsed to the ground himself.

Draco slowly lowered his wand after Stupefying the boy, still feeling the rush of fear and adrenaline coursing through his body. With a shaky breath, he forced himself to calm the heavy pounding of his heart and steady the trembling in his hands. The corridor was now mercifully silent, but he could still hear distant shouts and screams coming from the direction of the main rooms. Any moment now, someone else might come across him. Draco grimaced as the gash on his left arm throbbed painfully--he had forgotten about it during the duel.

I better take care of this before I bleed to death, he thought bitterly. But at least I'm still alive.

Holding his bleeding arm in his right hand, Draco managed to stagger inelegantly into an alcove located several feet away. The back wall had been partially blasted away, exposing the hallway on the other side, but he could still remain unseen in the shadows if he pressed himself flat against the stone. Gritting his teeth, he tore back the black sleeve of his robe to reveal the deep gash on his arm, running straight down the middle of his Dark Mark.

"Pity the curse didn't manage to obliterate the ugly thing," Draco muttered to himself, examining the wound critically. Unfortunately, he had always been rubbish with Healing spells--Narcissa had taken care of that when he was at home, and at Hogwarts there had been the annoying but efficient school nurse, Madam Pomfrey. Still, he tried to clean out the wound and close it up as best he could; he would ask his mother to fix it up properly when he got home later. It better not scar, he thought.

Then he almost laughed at how ridiculous that thought was, when he still wasn't even sure if he would make it out of there alive tonight.

Once his arm was taken care of, Draco leaned his head back against the cool wall and finally allowed himself to relax. Closing his eyes, he let out a slow breath, trying to ignore the anguished cries in the distance. So what if he was hiding here like a coward--he was no bloody Gryffindor, after all, and he had no inclination to get killed. There was absolutely no point in being stupidly brave and risking his life further for the Dark Lord who wasn't even here to fight his own damn battles.

Unfortunately, his solitude was short-lived. Loud footsteps thundered down the corridor towards the spot where Draco stood hidden, while several harsh voices shouted out curses and hexes. He snapped his eyes open and gripped his wand tighter in his hand, standing at attention in case they discovered him. When the group of wizards came charging into view, however, Draco was relieved to see that it consisted of three Death Eaters, all fiercely duelling with just one Order member.

Then he got a better look at the man and at once his relief turned into shock. Draco would recognize that bright red hair anywhere--it was unmistakably a vivid Weasley red. Since he couldn't identify him as being any of the Weasleys who had attended Hogwarts while Draco was there himself, he figured that this must be one of the older brothers.

The red-haired man was certainly an impressive dueller, managing to easily fend off all three of his opponents. With a fierce, determined look in his eyes, he shot lethal curses towards two of the Death Eaters, sending them slumping to the ground, dead.

This is how pathetic I am now--even a Weasley can kill, when I still can't, Draco scoffed miserably. He couldn't tell whether he knew those Death Eaters or not--their faces were still hidden beneath masks as white as death itself.

Meanwhile, the duel continued, fiercer than before. The one remaining Death Eater was far more adept than his two companions, easily dodging the spells sent his way and returning them with a vengeance. Neither man seemed to have the upper hand in the fight.

"Expelliarmus!"

A deep voice rang out above the fray, shouting out the spell that knocked Weasley flat on his back and sent his wand flying away. Another masked figure had leaped in out of nowhere and caught him completely off guard. The two menacing Death Eaters advanced on their target together, laughing cruelly.

"Got you trapped now, Weasley," the first Death Eater taunted. "I've been waiting for this day for a very long time now."

Weasley lifted his head defiantly, struggling to lift himself up on his knees, and glared at the Death Eater. "Go ahead, kill me then," he spat. "I'm not afraid. And you'll all get what's coming to you, soon enough."

"Gladly," the hooded figure replied, lifting his wand and pointing it straight at Weasley's chest. Even behind the mask, Draco could hear the vicious smile in his voice.

"Avada..."

Time seemed to slow to an impossible stand-still as Draco watched the scene unfold before him in horror. He found his wand lifted halfway in front of his face, but he made no move to cast a spell--he couldn't, immobilized as he was.

I could stop this. I could hex both of them. They don't know that I'm here--they wouldn't even see it coming.

But still he remained, hidden in the shadows, frozen in place. It was almost as though someone had Petrified him where he stood. Draco watched helplessly as the Death Eater finished the deadly incantation; he watched as the jet of green light hit its target square in the chest; he stared in numb shock as Weasley's eyes widened in slight surprise for the briefest moment, before the red-haired man collapsed backwards onto the ground, motionless.

A cold dread enveloped him as the dead man's blank and unseeing eyes stared back at him. The numbness overtook his senses; he neither heard nor felt anything for what felt like an eternity.

He was brought suddenly back to the present when a strangled howl tore through the air and another tall figure thundered into view, shooting curses in rapid succession at the two Death Eaters who fled down the corridor.

Draco's grey eyes widened as he recognized the tall figure of Ronald Weasley crumpling to the ground beside his fallen brother, anguished pain contorting his freckled face.

"Charlie--bloody hell, get up, Charlie--you've got to get up--"

Charlie. So that was his name. Not that it mattered, anymore.

Draco watched silently, still frozen where he stood, as Ron Weasley cradled his older brother's body in his arms and howled incoherently, silent sobs wracking his body. Before long, a bushy-haired witch burst onto the scene, the blood draining from her face as she took in the terrible sight in front of her.

The Mudblood. Of course.

Granger knelt down beside Weasley, wrapping her arms tightly across his shoulders but not saying a word. The ensuing silence was punctuated only by the raw, harsh sobs of the red-headed boy.

After several long moments, Granger finally stood up slowly. "I'll be right back, Ron," she said quietly, furiously wiping away the tears that spilled over from her red, puffy eyes. "I'm going to go find Ginny."

Draco reeled back as if someone had struck him; there was a loud rushing in his ears and his mind went completely blank. Ginny. She was here too?

He panicked. He had to leave--he had to get out of here. He couldn't see her again. He had tried so very hard over the past several years to forget her. He couldn't afford to remember now.

"NO--Hermione, you can't! Please, don't let Ginny find out about Charlie," Weasley was pleading desperately.

Draco glanced quickly back into the hallway and saw that the other boy had grabbed a hold of Granger's wrist, stopping her from leaving.

Granger looked sadly down at him, her voice sounding pained. "You know we have to, Ron. We can't keep this from her, and she deserves to say goodbye."

Weasley shook his head vehemently. "No! This is going to kill her. She can't take much more. Dad's still missing--we don't even know whether or not he...whether he's still alive, because our clock was destroyed along with the Burrow--Mum's been a total wreck, Percy has never been the same since he was tortured...And you know how broken she was after Fred died--" his voice cracked and faltered. Ron Weasley took a deep breath before swallowing and glaring up defiantly at the girl beside him. "No," he repeated in a much stronger voice. "We can't let her know."

Draco tore his gaze away from the scene, closing his eyes against the two grieving figures bent over the dead body of the older boy. Memories rose unbidden to the forefront of his mind--he could not stop himself from picturing a hauntingly similar scene from two years ago, when Fred Weasley lay lifeless on the cold marble ground of Hogwarts. He remembered watching from the shadows as Ginny Weasley knelt over her brother, silent tears spilling over from dark, haunted eyes. He had seen first-hand the anguish in her face, the violent trembling of her slim shoulders as her whole body shook with grief. And he had turned away without a word, wishing he could somehow comfort her but feeling utterly helpless and at a loss for how to do so.

Now, another one of her brothers was dead. He had been there this time--he could have stopped it from happening. Yet he had done nothing. Nothing, even though he knew what this death would do to her.

The ringing in his ears grew louder and his chest constricted, making it difficult to breathe. He knew he was fast losing control of himself. Black spots danced in front of his eyes as the ground spun underneath him and a hurricane of conflicting emotions stormed inside him. He had to get out of there--he had no idea what would happen if he saw her again, but the thought terrified him. There was simply no way he could face her now.

Placing a shaky hand against the cold stone for support, Draco somehow managed to stumble through the gaping hole that had been blasted into the back of the alcove wall. Once on the other side, he found himself tearing down the next hallway, not knowing where he was going but not caring.

No, he didn't care about anything anymore. He couldn't care less that Charlie Weasley was dead. He certainly didn't give a damn about how she would feel when she found out. And he most definitely didn't feel any guilt for having just stood there and watched her brother die. None whatsoever.


Part II

It was uncharacteristically cold for this time of year--it was well into April already but spring seemed reluctant to arrive. Draco pulled his cloak tighter around himself to ward off the chill. It had been a long, dreadful winter; there had been few new captured prisoners to interrogate, and as a result, the Dark Lord had sent him on almost every raid and attack.

During the past few months, he had seen enough death and bloodshed to last him a lifetime, and it didn't seem to be ending anytime soon. He had especially dreaded tonight's mission--they were returning to Hogwarts. Or, rather, to the empty ruins that stood in place of the once-proud castle. There had been reports that several Order members had returned to the deserted school grounds, and the Dark Lord was determined to gain control of it as part of his plan to capture Hogsmeade.

The one good thing that had come out of it all was Voldemort choosing to stay at Yaxley's estate in Scotland for the time being, in order to focus on his takeover of the wizarding village. For several blessed weeks, Malfoy Manor was free of the Dark Lord.

Too bad it isn't permanent, Draco thought miserably. He set his jaw and slipped on his mask, bracing himself for the sight of his destroyed former school. This was not going to be a fun task. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and Apparated to the front gates of Hogwarts.

***

It was almost over. There had only been a small handful of Order members hiding out in the castle, easily driven out by the large squadron of Death Eaters. Most of them had fled, but a good number had been captured; the wards preventing Disapparation were still in place on the school grounds, making escape far more difficult. Now, there was only one job that remained--search the castle for any survivors still hiding out.

Draco moved silently down the ruined hallway that had once led to the Hogwarts library with his wand held in front of him, wary of any sudden attacks. He had walked these steps countless of times before, on his way to research information for an essay or to study for a final exam. It had once been a bustling, hectic corridor, filled with chattering young students; now, it lay deserted and empty.

But he was not here to reminisce. Draco paused outside the double doors to the library, blinking a few times as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom within. Much of the large room had already been reduced to rubble--broken wooden bookshelves lay haphazardly on the ground, surrounded by hundreds of dusty books with ripped spines and torn-out pages. Overturned tables and cracked chairs filled the space in between. Further back, he saw that the entire ceiling had caved in, burying much of the library in heavy slabs of shattered stone.

Lighting his wand, Draco stepped cautiously towards the doorway, alert for any signs of activity. And then, without warning, his foot slipped suddenly out from underneath him.

He swore under his breath, very nearly losing his balance, and glanced down to see what he had stepped on. When he realized it was someone's lost wand, Draco quickly bent down to pocket it for future use--spare wands always came in handy during the war.

And then he froze, a cold chill running down his spine. He knew that particular wand--he would recognize it anywhere, even though he hadn't seen it in nearly three years.

Heart pounding, he burst through the open doors, searching the aisles with frantic eyes. At first glance, the library seemed completely empty. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. Maybe she had managed to get away already, and simply hadn't had time to collect her wand during the escape.

Or maybe...maybe they've already got her.

Draco rushed forward, a renewed surge of terror shooting through him. He tore through the darkness with a desperation he had not felt in a long time, pushing aside chairs and upending desks in his frantic search.

And then his eye caught a flash of red, barely visible from behind a fallen bookcase.

His blood ran cold and his heart stopped beating.

Draco stumbled towards her, heedless of all the debris strewn across his path. "No," he whispered, terrified of what he would find. "No, no, no, no, no..."

It suddenly hit him, then--all the feelings and memories he had tried so desperately to forget and suppress came flooding back with a vengeance. At that moment, he knew that he would never, no matter how hard he tried, be able to keep Ginny Weasley locked away in a compartment in his heart. Time had done nothing but intensify his feelings.

He rounded the corner of the aisle and the terrible sight froze him in his tracks. She lay sprawled unmoving among the wreckage, her eyes closed, her face deathly pale. Icy numbness pervaded his entire body as he fell to his knees beside her, feeling as though he had become completely paralyzed. This had to be a sick nightmare; it couldn't be real.

Draco gathered her up in his arms and shakily pointed his wand at her chest. "Rennervate!" he said desperately.

Nothing happened for a long moment; dark despair began to flood his mind and a terrible dread curled in the pit of his stomach. But he refused to believe she was lost to him. She couldn't be.

He had just lifted his wand to try the spell again when she let out a soft groan and turned her head slightly. Relief washed over him and hope flared bright in his chest--she was still alive.

It wasn't safe here, though. She needed to get away before she was discovered by the others.

"Wake up, Ginny. You have to wake up," he said urgently, giving her a gentle shake. Her eyelids fluttered briefly, but remained closed.

"Rennervate," he repeated. "Rennervate!"

Draco buried his head into her neck, feeling the soft waves of her red hair brushing against his face. "Come on, Gin. Wake up. Please..."

He froze suddenly, tensing as he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Leaping to his feet in a panic, Draco looked around frantically, his heart pounding in his chest. He had to do something--perhaps manoeuvre her behind the rubble, and try to hide her as best he could. Maybe he could distract the others--tell them he had already searched the library and found nothing.

But before he could do anything, Blaise Zabini rounded the corner.

The dark-haired boy raised an eyebrow, eyeing the unconscious girl on the floor with interest. "Well, well," he drawled. "If it isn't the littlest Weasley." A slow, predatory smile spread across his face, revealing gleaming white teeth.

Draco had never wanted to punch him in the face more than he did at that moment. Subconsciously, he stepped in front of Ginny's motionless body to block her from view. Maybe he could Stun Blaise, Obliviate his memory, and get Ginny to safety.

But in the next moment, several more Death Eaters followed Blaise into the narrow aisle--Gregory Goyle, Theodore Nott, and a scared-looking young boy who Draco vaguely recognized as Malcolm Baddock.

Fleetingly, he entertained the idea of hexing the lot of them. There might still be a chance he could overpower them all, if he took them by surprise...

He already knew that it was too late. Goyle and Baddock would be easy to deal with, but Zabini and Nott were both adept at duelling--he could probably take on one of them, but it was unlikely that he could defeat both without a long, drawn-out fight that would draw attention from the rest of the Death Eaters still searching the castle.

There was nothing he could do. Draco turned towards the other boys and fixed a sneer onto his face, twirling his wand smoothly between his fingers.

"I found one," he said, tossing a disdainful glance towards the girl sprawled haplessly on the ground. "Still alive. We'll bring her back to headquarters with the others."

With a flick of his wand, strong ropes curled around Ginny Weasley's body. Another sharp flick and he Levitated her to float along behind him as he strode past his former classmates without another backwards glance.

He hoped they didn't notice the trembling in his hands or the erratic beating of his heart. Panic was threatening to overwhelm him--he hadn't felt so absolutely helpless, so completely terrified, in a very long time.

***

The dungeons below Malfoy Manor were as dark and gloomy as ever. Draco stood outside the cell where he had deposited Ginny a moment ago, watching as Amycus locked it securely with a nasty smile on his brutish face. Alecto hovered nearby, licking her lips as she peered through the bars.

"I knew we'd get our hands on that little blood traitor again someday," she cackled triumphantly. "She's not going to get away from us like she did last time. We're going to have a lot of fun with this one!"

Draco clenched his jaw and gripped his wand tighter in the pocket of his robes. He did not want to leave Ginny alone with the horrid Carrows--he remembered how much they had relished torturing her back in Hogwarts, and he did not intend to let a repeat of that occur. Unfortunately, Lucius had demanded Draco's presence before he left for Scotland to join the Dark Lord. No doubt it would be an long lecture about his responsibility to maintain the Manor in Lucius' absence.

"I will deal with her later," Draco stated, levelling a cold stare at the two Death Eaters who had turned to face him. "Right now, I have business to take care of with my father. No one is to touch any of the new prisoners until I return. Is that clear?"

The Carrows stared back at him with angry, mutinous glares on their faces.

Draco lifted his chin. "Is that clear?" he repeated.

The two grudgingly nodded, still shooting daggers at him, before skulking away into the shadows.

Taking a deep breath, Draco cast one last glance towards Ginny's unconscious figure before sweeping out of the corridor.

***

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Your opening, this whole first part to your story is very strong. You did a stellar job depicting what things would've been like for Draco and portraying the turmoil he would have had to endure should Harry have failed to defeat Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts. It's all very canon-believable. After having read HBP and seeing the side to Draco that that book revealed, I have a very hard time now buying into stories that depict *young* Draco as someone absolutely cold-hearted and in complete control as if he'd always been that way. For me, the more interesting as well as being more true-to-canon Draco is the one you've depicted so well here, one for whom walking the path of a Death Eater isn't easy at all. Not too many DG fics do such a good job of such a portrayal - it's much more common to just make Draco entirely cruel at first and then have him pull an often unbelievable/unrealistic 180 later. That's definitely not the case here, which I was very glad to see. Your portrayal of the other characters like Draco's parents and the other Death Eaters were also very on point as well. Well done.

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