His footsteps hardly made a noise as he paced down the dim halls, the scarce torchlight wavering in even the slightest breeze of the winter chill. He closed his eyes, trying to block out the memory that still clung to him, raking his insides apart like claws dripping with venomous guilt. He took a deep breath, shrugging the guilt off so that he could breathe once more.
Oh but her eyes…
He groaned and dropped his head in his hands.
Her frightened, innocent eyes…
She had been captured, like so many before her and thrown into the dungeons. Her face should not have stood out in his memory; she was just another victim, a nameless face. But he knew her face and he knew her name and he knew that an innocent like her wouldn’t survive the night.
A bell tolled; the eleventh hour… He wondered what had happened to her, if she was still being tortured for information or if she was already dead. After all, the Order of the Phoenix would have never considered that harm could come to the small girl. They never would have thought that the information they allowed her to absorb would cause her pain. It didn’t matter that her warm brown eyes promised her trustworthiness, that her lips held their secrets. Her life was forfeit because of those secrets that they had allowed her to become entangled in and Draco knew that the moment the pain became too much, they would spill out from her lips just as easily as her life would trickle out from her bleeding wounds.
Ginny Weasley should have never been a part of this war.
He heard rough laughter then that made his stomach clench. Two voices were coming down the hall, the menace in their tones causing his hands to clench into balled fists at his side, his nails digging so painfully into his pale skin that he drew blood. The two Death Eaters grew closer and he forced himself to stand still, straining his ears to understand what the hole in his chest was already telling him though he still refused to listen.
“Hey, Malfoy!” He forced himself to face them, barely containing the fear that had overtaken him at their arrival. The taller one smirked in greeting, “We tried to save you some but…” here he turned to his companion, sharing some sort of sick inside joke before facing Draco once more, “I guess she just wasn’t durable enough.”
Waves of emotion crashed over him, ripping at the angry hole in his chest and leaving it raw and exposed. He should have never left her. It didn’t matter that their families were enemies, that they fought on different sides of this bloody war, that she had morals while all his life he'd ignored any notion of a higher being. However, in that cold moment of clarity, he knew... He knew and it made him sick because he couldn't escape the awful truth. He should have protected her. Everyone should have protected her. No one could have ever been more innocent.
The two death eaters recoiled from him, struck by how suddenly his storm grey eyes had clouded into a flat blackness. He stormed past them, the waves of rage and determination radiating from him as he cast off every loyalty and allegiance he had ever given to risk the chance that he might not be too late. If there was even a chance that she was still alive, it was enough for him to throw off everything. He couldn’t let her die, cold and abandoned.
He raced down the corridor, at the door to her cell in an instant. Silence fell on his strained ears but he wouldn’t accept it. Couldn't accept it. He threw open her door and abruptly froze, feeling sick at the sight of her mangled body.
Her body lie on the stone floor, unmoving, covered in her own blood. Draco had fought in this cursed war for three years now, killed countless men, women, and children but never before had he seen so much blood. He was going to be sick. A rattling breath escaped him. He took a step closer and then another until without even realizing it, he found himself knelt down over the small girl’s prone form. Her vivid red hair was lost next to her blood, nothing more than a dull red in comparison. Her smooth skin stood out glaringly white against the bruises they had left her with. Draco tentatively reached out, afraid to even touch her, to desecrate her beyond how much she had already been broken.
He briefly wondered if they had gotten any information from the small girl. Remembering her fierce personality from his school days, he thought not. She was a Gryffindor and a Weasley at that. No, she would not have betrayed her friends. His throat tightened as he remembered the sounds of her screaming, she had screamed for what felt like hours to him, the echoes of her pain still ringing in his ears.
Taking a deep breath, he somehow forced the memory from his mind as he reached out to touch her, desperately praying she might still be alive, that she might open her eyes. His long fingers lightly brushed against her bruised cheek and he felt his heart claw up his throat, afraid he would suddenly be sick and vomit out the last of his humanity.
She had been too delicate, angels always were. Her heart had been capable of more love than any creature he had ever met. But how could someone who burned with such passion within be so fragile? His fingers moved from her soft face to her small hands, protectively wrapping them in his own. Once so full of warmth, now her skin was as cold as ice though he was sure he detected the faintest throb of a dying pulse.
That one pulse was somehow powerful enough to send a burning sensation up his fingertips, restarting the heart that he had left bare all these years.
“Please, oh God, don’t let her die…,” he prayed, gently scooping her frame into his arms. He shouldn’t be touching her, he knew he shouldn’t, but he would be damned if he let this broken angel bleed to death. Somehow, his sinner’s hands would have to endure carrying her. His chest ached, a heart he hardly recognized as his own beating wildly against his ribs, giving him the adrenaline to lift her limp body and step away from everything he’d ever been anchored to. It didn’t matter anymore. He had to save her. He had to return her to somewhere she’d be safe, to someone who would find the way to return her broken body back to heaven.
He raced down the corridors, running as fast as his legs would carry him, past those who were once his companions, now drawing their wands and ordering him to stop. Their curses shot after him, intent to bring him down, each curse deadlier than the last. Draco pulled her into himself, shielding her body from their attacks, biting back the urge to turn and defend himself. He sprinted up the dungeon’s stone steps and out into the rest of the devil’s nest, fleeing not for his life but hers. Before he knew it, he had reached the exit, breathing heavily as his feet crossed the threshold to the apparation point. He drew her body into his chest, sure he held her more securely than his own life and disapparated as curses shot past him.
Her eyelids seemed to flutter as they recognized the feeling of the night’s cool breeze and she blinked up to see nothing but stars, shining down on her and illuminating her pale face in their light. She inhaled a trembling breath, her eyes filling with tears as she took in her surroundings. The caged cell was gone; its oppressive stonewalls nowhere to be seen. There was nothing but the brilliant night sky above her and the soft grass beneath her.
“I’ve died,” Ginny whispered, surprised to feel the relief wash over her.
But the sharp pain searing though her body told her otherwise. Being dead should not hurt and it certainly should not fill every inch of her body with unbearably agonizing pain. Looking down, she could only see blood, black as it appeared in the darkness but she recognized it for what it was regardless. It was the sign that though she was not dead yet, it was only a matter of time. She could feel her heart strain to keep her alive but her blood loss told her all she needed to know. She was dying.
It was then that she saw the arm thrown protectively across her body, the fingers pale as the moon that shone down on them. Filled with trepidation, she turned her head and suddenly froze, her eyes focusing to make out the figure beside her, his body nothing more than an outline in the darkness. He was a boy, hardly a year older than she was though the circles beneath his storm grey eyes betrayed infinitely more pain than she had even known. It took her a moment to realize that he wasn’t moving. There was no light in his eyes, they were empty and void.
Ginny felt her chest rise unsteadily as her eyes filled with tears. He was dead. The boy who had undoubtedly saved her was dead and she was alone. She furiously blinked back the wave of tears, struggling to study his face in the darkness but her vision was blurring.
Each breath came more labored than the last as Death’s chill overtook her. She strained her teary eyes, wanting just to see his face, to thank the person who had given his life in the hopes of saving hers. She inhaled a sharp breath as her vision focused and she recognized the face of none other than Draco Malfoy. Her heart skipped a beat in surprise, one it couldn’t afford not to take and her eyelids fluttered closed. Her heart didn’t beat a second time.
Everything was black, dizzyingly black. He couldn’t see a thing and there was nothing to see. He felt the numbing fear wash over him in such ferocity that he thought he would die just from the shock of it all and it was then he remembered the green light that meant he was already dead.
He strained his eyes, hoping they would adjust to the overarching darkness but they never did and he felt the stab of horror cut through his soul.
So this was hell…
He sank to his knees, though he never felt them hit the ground. There was no ground, no walls, no ceiling, no recognizable surface, only blackness: all-consuming blackness.
He had only wanted to save her! He had only wanted to save the angel he’d failed to protect but he had been killed and it was too late. It was then that the memories of his last moments flooded back. He remembered stars, thousands and thousands of stars…
Hope ignited in his chest, despite the knowledge that he was already damned; he felt the overwhelming hope burn within him. He had apparated. He had escaped and that meant… somehow, he’d gotten her out. He had no idea where she was, if she were even still alive but she wasn’t with him here and somehow that was enough to push back all the darkness. There was a bright light, so stunning that the endless blackness fled from it, gone in the blink of an eye.
Draco closed his eyes against it, afraid he would be blinded but when he opened them the hole in his chest pressed against him as he stared into the fires of hell. But, he didn’t feel any fear. Where was the horror that should greet him upon seeing the flames that would torture him for all eternity? No matter how long he stared at the fires, though he could not feel fear, only a peace that he couldn’t explain.
His focus sharpened and suddenly his chest swelled as he recognized the flames for what they really were, scarlet locks, framing warm brown eyes set over gently curved lips.
It couldn’t be.
Rage filled him as he realized the angel he had given his life to save had come to join him. She shouldn’t be here. Anywhere but here. She couldn’t exist in hell because she wasn’t a part of it! She never had been! He dropped his head in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably. He had brought her here! He had brought her down to hell and he would never forgive himself!
A hand gently lifted up his chin and he stared up at the angel, his eyes begging her forgiveness but her lips only curved into the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen. She bent her head forward and gently brushed her soft lips over his, setting his body on fire with warmth and unspeakable gratitude. He didn’t deserve her kindness and shamefully, he turned away from her until he felt her small hand clasp one of his, gently squeezing his fingers as her words brushed across his cheek.
“Come with me, Draco.”
He stared at her in shock, hardly daring to believe that what she was saying was true. This really was hell, the torture of his unattainable redemption dangling before his eyes, but once again, he felt no fear. It didn’t make sense. As if understanding his confusion, the angel smiled, banishing any doubt and leaving him with nothing but peace once more.
“Come with me,” she repeated, her warm eyes shining with an emotion he had never seen before because he’d never seen it directed at him, but in her bright eyes he recognized it at once.
He allowed her to pull him to his feet, still holding her small hand in his, unable to speak as he looked down into her soft face, no longer bruised and bloodied but bright and pure as she always had been.
Standing on tiptoe, she pushed herself up to reach his lips, gently pressing hers to his in a chaste kiss that filled him with emotion unlike any he’d felt before. “Thank you,” she whispered, pulling back so that he could see where he now stood, underneath a blanket of a thousand stars but he didn’t spare them a second glance, bending down instead to recapture her soft lips with his.
Heaven could wait.