Crabbe and Goyle were starting to realize that they probably should have broken up the fight and separated the two morons before things had gotten so far. Now that Malfoy was in the middle of a full-on homicidal rage, it painfully clear that they’d miss that opportunity.
“So now that we’ve reached a critical point in the evening, it is time for us to make a rather important decision,” Crabbe said. “We either let them kill each other and pretend we didn’t see a thing, or we risk life and limb to separate them, save their lives and suffer their eternal wrath for interfering.”
“I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t hear Blaise complaining about us interfering at this point,” Goyle said.
Crabbe opened his mouth to counter this point, but what he was going to say, Goyle would never know. At that moment, Crabbe suddenly slammed into him and the two tumbled to the ground in a heavy heap.
“What are you two idiots doing just standing there? Why aren’t you stopping them?” an enraged redheaded demonic force was screaming at them. Ginny Weasley, having arrived on the scene and seeing the two buffoons standing to the side watching like bored spectators, had thrown all her weight behind her as she shoved Crabbe.
Running to give herself enough speed, she launched herself onto Malfoy’s back, flinging her arms around his shoulders. Malfoy let out a huge roar of rage and dropped Zabini to the ground. He started thrashing around viciously, trying to shake off the sudden weight but she held on tightly. Realizing that this wasn’t going to solve anything with Malfoy madly thrashing about, Ginny pitched all of her weight to one side and, in a stroke of luck, managed to throw him off balance, sending them both toppling over to the ground.
They landed in a heap; Malfoy on his side, Ginny face first into a snow drift, her body half-splayed on his. Malfoy moved quickly, pushing himself up off the ground. He reached around blindly in the disarray, grabbing for the person who’d attacked him, confused and defensive.
“Malfoy, it’s me!” Ginny cried, as he grabbed her by the shoulders, hauling up to her knees. His fingers were digging painfully into her shoulders, and she struggled to free herself from his iron grip. They were both on their knees, facing each other, and for the first time, Ginny got a good look at his face and sucked in a deep breath in surprise.
While Blaise was lying in a moaning heap, appearing as if he’d been on the losing end of their battle, Malfoy’s face was telling that it had been a bit more evenly matched. His lip was split and bleeding, he had a black eye rapidly making itself known, and the entire right side of his face was an angry red that foretold how much it would swell and bruise before long.
Malfoy froze when he heard her voice, and he blinked a few times in surprise. He relaxed his grip on her shoulders and his hands slid down her arms. She glanced down and felt her stomach roil as she saw his hands. They were a mess of blood and broken skin. She grabbed his left wrist, pulling his hand closer so she could inspect it, blinking furiously as her eyes unexpectedly began to burn.
She cradled his hand in hers, and looked up, meeting his eyes. He was watching her, his gaze locked on hers. Ginny remembered the very first time she’d been confronted with the truth that there was something more to Malfoy than arrogance and a violent sense of entitlement. The afternoon he’d healed her arm after the incident with the Whomping Willow, she’d been forced to see that he was capable of compassion and gentleness.
He carefully ran his fingers from her elbow to her fingertips, examining the swollen flesh with a serious and professional air. His fingers were long and slender, and despite the throbbing pain of her wrist, they moved so carefully – such a light touch, it was barely making contact at all – across her skin that it almost felt nice. Feeling slightly detached from the strange incident happening before her eyes, Ginny couldn’t help thinking to herself that they were nice looking hands – capable looking. Even if he is a Malfoy.
He gently applied a bit of pressure against the inside of her wrist, cringing slightly as she hissed in pain, but then nodded, having spotted the point where the bone had broken. There was a deep look of concentration on his face, and Ginny realized it was the first time she had ever seen him without either a look of rage or that infuriated sneer on his face. In a moment of hysteria she would later attribute to the pain she was feeling, Ginny noted that he actually was rather handsome when his face wasn’t contorted with some malicious smile.
“Weasley, it’s fine. I’ll heal it as soon as I get my wand back,” Malfoy said, his voice hoarse. She dropped his hand as if it had burned her, and stared at him, feeling a strange mix of anger and relief. Staring at him, with his face bloody and the truth of the dark and violent aspects of his nature marring his beautiful hands, she felt a intense swell of complete frustration.
She lunged forward and planting her hands on his chest, she shoved him backwards. She jumped up and brushed the snow from her legs and watched as Malfoy gathered himself together and stood up.
“What the hell was that for?” Malfoy demanded. He was looming over her, his eyes blazing as he attempted to give Ginny his typical infuriated glare - but his eye was almost completely swollen shut, significantly lessening any intimidating effect he’d been aiming for.
“Look at your face!” she cried out. Ginny could feel her face start to crumble and hid behind one of her hands to choke back an unexpected sob. She drew in a deep breath to steady herself, and summoned her anger again, needing to unleash it. “Just look at the state of you!”
“And why should you care about the state that I’m in?” Malfoy asked, moving in closer to Ginny.
“I don’t particularly enjoy seeing people I care about bleeding because of their own stupidity,” she exclaimed, yanking her hand away from him as he tried to take it. Malfoy looked behind him, where Blaise, who’d managed to stand up with Crabbe and Goyle’s help, was leaning against the alley’s wall while his two friends argued about the correct spell to stop nosebleeds.
“Well then, what about Zabini?” Malfoy demanded. “Why isn’t he feeling the warm embrace of your wrath?”
“I’m not particularly fond of him at the moment,” Ginny said stiffly. Malfoy stepped towards her.
“Does that mean you are particularly fond of me at the moment?” he asked, an attempt at his charming half-smile on his face.
“Don’t you dare try to charm me, Draco Malfoy. With your face as mangled as it is, the effect is more grotesque than charming,” Ginny snapped.
“As I said before, I’ll be fine,” he said, his tone soothing.
“Oh yes, a quick wave of the wand and it will all be erased!” Ginny spat, furious. “You have unlimited access to all the easy fixes to every single problem life can throw at you. No consequences, no repercussions, no lasting reminders of your own stupidity!”
She grabbed his wrist, and held up his hand so that his bloody knuckle was right in front of his face.
“Wave your wand, Malfoy. You can easily make it all go away. But magic can’t take away the fact that you have your own blood on your hands. You did this to yourself, and you did that to your best friend,” Ginny said, her voice cracking. “Are you even capable of thinking ahead to the consequences of your actions?”
“Yes,” he hissed, yanking his hand free of her grasp. “And I deemed them acceptable.”
“Why?” she cried out. “What could possibly be worth all of this?”
Malfoy stared at her, his eyes intense and penetrating. Ginny felt an unwelcome flutter in her chest as she understood what Malfoy left unspoken. She strode forward, closing the gap between them and, keeping her eyes squarely locked on his, she reached up and gently took his broken face in her hands.
“There is nothing in the world that could hurt me more than to see those I love either hurt or damaged. Or knowing that they’re reckless with their own safety,” she said softly, her voice clear and resonant. “It makes me feel like that helpless four year old, stuck hiding the woods and staring at the Dark Mark hovering over my home, not knowing if everyone inside was dead or alive.”
Draco was completely entranced by her, the softness yet command in her voice, her wide eyes, the stray strands of hair escaping her disheveled braid. He longed to just grab her, to throw his arms around her and take them both away to some where safe and quiet so that they could just be together.
Instead, he leaned down and pressed his forehead against hers and slid his hands around her waist, pulling her in closer.
“Can’t you see that you and I are just opposite sides of the same coin?” he breathed. Ginny leaned back and studied his face gravely. She gingerly touched her fingers to his bruised cheekbone, and he closed his eyes.
“Well, isn’t that just a terrifying thought?” she remarked softly, with a slight smile. “We’re a disastrous pair, Malfoy.”
“A beautiful disaster,” he insisted. She shook her head and slid out from the circle of his arms.
“Fix this, will you?” she asked, with a pointed look towards Zabini. Malfoy glowered sulkily at her. “The best things are worth fighting for. But after the fighting is done? You need to rebuild. Otherwise all you’ve done is just destroy, destroy, destroy.”
“Some things are not meant to be rebuilt,” he grunted.
“Fine. I’m going home. I’ve had just about as much of you Slytherin idiots as I can take,” she shrugged. She turned on her heel and stalked away, breezing away just as quickly as she’d come.
* * * * *
“Do not bring him in here,” Malfoy shouted, as Crabbe and Goyle trailed behind him as they entered the hall of Malfoy’s home, supporting a slumped-over Blaise Zabini between the two of them.
They were not amused - Malfoy had refused to help them and had marched rather impatiently ahead of them, claiming he was going to lock all of them out of his house. It was only Goyle’s threat to hold his wand hostage that had Malfoy begrudgingly welcoming them into his house.
“Fine, traitors. Throw him in the library. And will one of you heal that nosebleed before he stains something expensive?” Malfoy complained.
“We’re more likely to blast it off his face than heal it. You’d better do it,” Crabbe grunted. “You’re the only one that’s any good at healing spells.”
“Well, boys, I would have hoped your parents had taught you better manners than to keep a lady waiting all night,” a voice called out. Malfoy rolled his eyes in exasperation.
“Trespassers shouldn’t complain about bad manners,” he snapped as his cousin stood in the entrance to the library.
“In fact, not trespassing. My presence was most cordially requested. It seemed your friends had a particular task in mind for me upon my arrival. But it seems like it’s already been accomplished,” she said, looking Draco and Blaise up and down. “Pity.”
“Good to know you’re always willing to drop what you’re doing to come and bash these two idiots’ heads together, Tonks,” Goyle said. “Appreciate it.”
“I should be bashing your heads together. You should have owled me, oh, a week ago,” Tonks said, exasperated.
“We just can’t win tonight, mate. Between our murderous, psychotic friends, and the murderous, psychotic women in their lives, we just can’t win,” Goyle lamented. Crabbe just grunted and barged his way past Tonks, dragging a barely conscious Blaise with him. He dropped him down on the sofa.
“There. I hope he bleeds all over it. And that the two of you do end up killing each other tonight, so that we no longer have to deal with either of you,” Crabbe said. He nodded tersely at Tonks, and then stormed away. Goyle shrugged and followed behind, dropping Malfoy’s wand on a table in the hallway as he passed.
“So... you beat your former friend to a bloody pulp and then... bring him home to heal his wounds?” Tonks asked, raising an eyebrow skeptically. “Apparently your parents still have quite a bit to teach you about cold-blooded treachery and revenge. This inkling of compassion you’re demonstrating could get you blasted off the family tree if you’re not careful.”
“This isn’t the result of my compassion,” Draco grumbled sulkily as he grabbed his wand. “I would have been perfectly happy to leave him bleeding in a darkened alley, but apparently, that would not have been indicative of my life-long devotion.”
“It’s about bloody time you’ve admitted that Zabini is your true love. It will make your parents so proud to see you devoted to someone with a proper pureblood heritage,” Tonks said with a smirk.
Draco shot her a deadly glare and snatched his wand.
“It’s been such a pleasure seeing you this evening,” Draco spat sarcastically. “If you’ll be so kind as to excuse us, my friend Blaise and I have some unfinished business.” And he slammed the library doors shut, locking Tonks out.
* * * * *
Blaise hurt everywhere. That was his first observation as consciousness slowly came over him. As the fog began to slowly recede from his brain, he realized with no small amount of confusion that he wasn’t at home but that he was lying on the sofa in the Malfoys’ library.
The room was fairly dim but for the flickering light emanating from the large table at the center of the room. Painfully pulling himself into a sitting position, he squinted to focus his blurry eyes.
A dark figure was standing over a gently bubbling cauldron at the center of the table, stirring patiently. The fire burning below the cauldron, casting an array of light and shadow as it illuminated the face hovering above it, which looked positively gruesome - an angry mess of red and purple. Blaise realized with a start that it was Draco, and he was seeing the damage from their fight.
Draco looked up from his work, noticing Blaise had woken. He picked up an empty flask and spooned whatever concoction he’d brewed into it. After stoppering the vial, he repeated it, filling a second vial which he left uncovered. Setting down the spoon, he sauntered over to the sofa and handed it over to Blaise.
Blaise took it gingerly, and held it up, examining the purple, smoking liquid that was still bubbling. He sniffed it and winced.
“Just drink it. You look dreadful,” Draco grunted. With a heavy sigh, Blaise drank the contents of the vial and nearly choked at the horrible taste. But almost instantly, a cooling sensation at the tips of his fingers began to spread everywhere. He relaxed as his aches seemed to fade as the iciness passed over each of his limbs, and sighed as the tingling effects of the potion soothed his stinging, swollen face.
“What was that?” Blaise asked as Draco sat on the coffee table across from him.
“Something new I’ve come up with it. A mix of bruise healing paste, some wound cleaning potion, a dash of murtlap essence, a few other herbs. It will be interesting to see if you turn purple - witch hazel can be a bit of a wild card when mixed with murtlap,” Draco said with a shrug.
“Is that why you haven’t taken any yet?” Blaise asked. He closed his eyes and sank back into the sofa, feeling miraculously better than he had just moments before.
“I’m being tested. While I’m not entirely clear what the rules are, I’m fairly certain that would be a violation,” Draco answered testily.
“How did I end up here?” Blaise asked.
“Blatant insubordination,” Draco answered. A minute of heavy silence ticked by. “Well, you’ve not turned purple yet, so I think it’s safe.”
“Does that mean we’re ready for round 2?” Blaise asked warily, opening one eye to look at Draco.
“I have the undeniable feeling that I’m about to be fighting on too many battlefronts in the very near future,” Draco answered, his voice low and grave. “If I can eliminate one, it would certainly be the most intelligent move, strategically speaking.”
“Seems like you could use every ally you can get,” Blaise said, crossing his arms and leaning back casually.
“I prefer quality over quantity. I need to know that the people I trust won’t betray me in the worst way possible.”
“Oh, quit being such a prissy drama queen, Malfoy!” Blaise snapped. “Yes, I kissed your girlfriend and tried to steal her just to piss you off. Surely that’s not the worst that’s ever happened to you.”
“Even still, you think that’s what this was all about? You just stood by. I found out about it this afternoon - well, what I could glean about it from overhead conversations, interrogations and a few threats - and I damn-well nearly killed you just for being there. If I had been there... ”
“You weren’t there. I was. If I had interfered - no matter how cleverly or whoever’s influence I tried to use - it would have been a disaster for her,” Blaise answered, his voice grave. “And you know that.”
Blaise’s words hung heavily in the air. Draco dropped his head into his hands and sighed deeply.
“He knows,” Draco said. Blaise nodded solemnly in understanding. There was no need to elaborate on who Draco meant.
“Are you certain?”
“Not entirely. But it’s the only reason Nymphadora would be here, no matter that Crabbe and Goyle summoned her. She is an ally of undeniable quality.”
“You told me - well, shouted at me - that you wouldn’t allow Weasley used as a pawn. But she already is. The minute you started caring about her, she became a tool in this looming war between you and your parents,” Blaise said.
“And you were, what? The first strike in their offense?” Draco asked bitterly.
“No, I was a pissed off friend with a broken heart that, as you rather repeatedly phrased it, had been stomped all over by the girl he loves. A girl which you convinced me to chase after, I might remind you, so that you could get me out of the way because your girl fancied me,” Blaise explained. “I blamed you for everything, and I didn’t care that using Weasley was crossing a line. But then I saw what happened with the Dementors.”
Blaise leaned forward, meeting Draco’s eyes, the intensity on his face snapping Draco to attention.
“Her Patronus is a dragon, Malfoy. You’re afraid of that they’ll do to her in order to get to you? You need to start thinking about what they’ll do to you in order to get to her,” ” Blaise said, his words clipped and stern as he spoke. “Do you understand how easy this was for me? It took the lesser half of a fortnight and minimal effort to get you both spinning out of control, and that was over a silly kiss.”
“If Weasley hadn’t arrived, I think I might have killed you,” Draco said viciously. “Do you understand how easy that would have been?”
“Yes. I know exactly. I was there when you confronted David Carmichael,” Blaise said. “I was the one that stopped you that night, remember?”
“That’s not even comparable. Carmichael took what was mine and had to be punished,” Draco shot back angrily. “You just watched while someone almost destroyed what is mine.”
“Sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all. I read the situation. And, don’t forget, she walked away!”
“This time,” Draco said, his voice low.
“And isn’t that what this is all about? You caught a glimpse of the misery that will rain down on your heads if your parents catch wind of your relationship, and it’s scared the hell out of you,” Blaise said, knowingly.
“What relationship?” Draco scoffed. He stood up, pacing away a few steps, wringing his hands with agitation. “I can’t even take the stubborn, difficult girl out on a proper date, and you’re telling me to gear up for a war.”
“Think strategically, Malfoy. If our roles were reversed right now, what would tell me to do?” Blaise asked. He was growing weary. The effects of Malfoy’s potion, having healed his injuries and relaxed his sore muscles, was now making him drowsy.
“Lay low. Avoid contact. Create a situation to distract their attention and evade further suspicion. Carry on the relationship using subterfuge and evasion. But that has a myriad of problems, the most important being that I’m unable to avoid contact with Weasley.”
“Unable or unwilling? There is a marked difference,” Blaise said with exasperation. “Fine, that’s an unacceptable option. What other alternatives are available?”
“Make your enemy an ally. Concede to their demands. Apologize for your past differences. Act as if you’ve seen the error of your ways. In extreme cases, adopt their cause. At least until the most opportune moment presents itself,” Malfoy rattled off.
“You’re avoiding the most important, and most obvious, choice. You could just walk away,” Blaise suggested. Draco smiled for the first time, a painful looking half-grin distorted around his swollen mouth.
“Could you?” Draco asked knowingly. Blaise shook his head with a smile.
“She gets under your skin,” Blaise answered.
“She gets into your soul,” Draco correctly, matter-of-fact. “No. I can’t walk away. The ram has touched the wall, and there’s no going back for me. For her? I suppose that’s the unknown variable that’s going to determine everything.”
“Her Patronus is a dragon, Malfoy. I wouldn’t consider that an unknown variable.”
“Then you have completely underestimated how stubborn Weasley is, and how determined she is to continue the convenience of hating me,” Draco said pointedly.
“Draco, you do have an ally, should you decide that there is something to be said for quantity after all,” Blaise said, easing back into the sofa, sorely in need of a good long nap.
“I’m leaving, but I’ll send Tonks in. Act like you’re still injured, she’ll fuss over you - albeit in her typical gruff manner - but it’s better than the lecture you’ll get otherwise,” Draco said. He walked to the table and slipped the stoppered vial of potion in his pocket.
“Where are you off to?”
“Apparently, to rebuild something that, according to you, isn’t broken at all.”