It was four-thirty on a frosty October afternoon, and for the third time, Ginny Weasley rubbed sleepiness from her eyes and spelled heat into her mostly-untouched coffee cup, the sixth or seventh of its kind. Steadily and wearily, she cursed her job, cursed her mother, and cursed the all-nighter that had put her in this position.
Not that she was generally opposed to her job, her mother, or nights without sleep. The combination of the three, though, made for a nightmarish day after, and she was paying for it right now. Blinking, she tried to focus on the work-ups she was supposed to be proofreading before submission, but, once again, her mind started wandering.
Should have taken a personal day, she thought with a sigh, reflecting on the ridiculously small amount of work she’d done. At nine o’clock this morning, of course, she hadn’t thought that a personal day would be necessary—still riding the energy and adrenaline from the evening before, she’d felt confident that she could make it through and had resolved to save her days off for more auspicious occasions. That was before she’d slammed into the brick wall of exhaustion at noon. She’d been practically sleepwalking ever since, and now, it was too late to change anything. After half an hour more, she’d be done for the day.
She heard stealthy footsteps behind her, but before she could move to see who was approaching, an arm reached past her, setting a fresh cup of coffee on the desk, its owner catching her with a kiss on the cheek as she turned to look, and then she knew.
“Hey,” she said. It astonished her, really—she was in a near-completely numb state and she still managed to feel that same flutter of mingled excitement and anticipation that always accompanied his presence. No need for her to express that astonishment, of course. His ego needed no nourishment.
“Afternoon,” he said lazily, picking up her old cup and frowning at the contents. “How old is this?”
“An hour, hour and a half. You’re early.” She took a tentative sip from the new cup and melted into bliss. He’d probably picked it up from one of the upscale places, the kind that had perfected the art of infusing their brews with cinnamon or vanilla or practically any other flavor you fancied. It definitely was a huge leap up from the basic, bitter office coffee she’d been surviving on since right after lunch.
He tried the old coffee and pulled a face of disgust, though he never did anything so ungraceful as cough and splutter. He forced himself to swallow and then made a noise half-intended to express disgust, half meant to clear his throat. “Ohhh, that is revolting. How many times did you reheat it?”
“…three,” she said. He was lucky he’d gotten her new coffee; it had put her in a relatively tranquil mood and had eased the crankiness that had been growing all day. “And you’re early.”
He chuckled, walking over to her window. “Finished up with the investors a little early today. This stuff is roughly the consistency and color of Longbottom’s best efforts at Veritaserum and must be disposed of,” he added, pulling the window open and tossing the old coffee out, mug and all.
“Draco Malfoy! There are people down there!” she exclaimed, half rising from her chair.
He pulled an innocent face (as if), and stuck his head out the window for a split second, frowning down at the street. She heard a muffled, angry voice from below, then her boyfriend lifted a hand and waved cheerfully before spinning that same hand around and folding down the fingers, leaving the middle one extended. She slumped in her chair and shook her head with a long sigh. I am dating a man with roughly the maturity of a five-year-old child, she realized, not for the first time.
On a day in which she had more energy, she would probably jump over to the window, smack him roundly, and lean out to apologize to whichever of her coworkers he’d managed to offend today, but she was far too tired, and so she let it be. Draco pulled his head back in and closed the window neatly, cutting off a torrent of angry chatter and turning back to her.
“There, see? No one was hurt,” he said pleasantly. She glared at him, index finger pressed hard to her temple.
“You know, you earned yourself a gold star with that magnificent coffee, but I’m about to take it away,” she threatened. He grinned and dropped into the chair opposite her desk, crossing one ankle carelessly over the opposite knee as he lounged backward. She was too tired to envy his elegance.
“Late night, then? Did she take it that badly?”
“Well, what did your mother say?” she challenged him. He shook his head, pulling a pensive face.
“It wasn’t my mother’s reaction that was problematic,” he said offhandedly. “She’s got her pride, but you know, she feels a little obligated towards you and yours, and she hates feeling obligated. I think she sees her relative good grace in accepting this as adequate payback. Father, on the other hand…”
Ginny winced. “I still say I should have come with you.”
“And I still say you would have no idea what you were dealing with,” he said steadily. The tone was still light and careless, but the skin around his mouth tightened and the lines that were beginning to form around his eyes when he smiled vanished entirely. “My father is a broken man. Seven years ago, he began to realize that his whole life was skewed, and unlike me, he was neither young nor resilient enough to figure out how to reconstruct it. Instead, he’s become a wounded animal—growling and snapping at anyone who comes too close, even Mother, even me. You think what he did to you in your first year was bad? At least then he was acting on orders, Ginny. This time he’d try to hurt you out of some sense of self-preservation, and believe me, my father’s survival instinct is remarkably strong.”
He had picked up some wryness in the pronouncement. Ginny tightened her jaw stubbornly, though as always, her stomach turned to lead at the reminder of what had happened to her in her first year life. “You wouldn’t have let him—”
“Physically, of course not, but that’s not really his game. Instead, he’d have struck out at every insecurity you have, real or imagined, and he’s gotten very good at it over the years. No, Gin, you’re better off keeping your distance from my father, at least till he’s gotten accustomed to the idea,” Draco said decidedly. “And don’t you jut your lip out at me, either,” he added quickly. “I know that look.”
“That one,” he said sharply. “The rebellious one, the one that says that tomorrow I might find you in the study trying to talk to my father. It’s the same look you used to give your brother when he tried telling you that Quidditch was a man’s sport; it’s the look you wear when you think you’re being condescended to. Nine times out of ten, you’d be right, but this time I’m not worried so much about your safety as I am about the thought that a confrontation would seal my father’s disapproval against your family for good. It isn’t worth the hassle. If he’s left alone, he might come around, but if you go in and try to change his mind…” Draco shook his head, not saying the rest.
He didn’t need to. Ginny thought about it and scowled deeply. He was making sense. She hated when he made sense. She glanced up to find him grinning lazily. “I know that look, too,” he said in response to her questioningly lifted eyebrow. “It’s the one you wear when you’ve been Confunded.”
“That’s it,” she said, launching out of her chair and rounding the desk to attack. Smirking, he brought his hands up to grab her wrists as they came flying at him, twisting her around so that she landed firmly in his lap and anchoring her in place with one lean arm. She fought against him, but she could feel her own weariness hindering her from escaping and doling out punishment. After a moment or two, she simply gave up. She could hear Malfoy chuckling softly in her ear as he smoothed her hair down, but she knew she couldn’t do anything about it at this point, and so she just curled up against his chest.
“As soon as I get some sleep, you’re dead meat,” she muttered.
“I have no doubt,” he said. She could hear his sarcasm—ohh, he was taking advantage of her exhaustion, and she filed away his numerous offenses for future punishment. In the meantime, though, she was happy with the order of things. Though he was hardly a cushiony sort of person, very bony and lean, he made up for it by holding her just tight enough, making her feel supremely comfortable.
“Weasley,” he said presently.
“You wouldn’t happen to be falling asleep, now, would you?” he asked politely.
“All right, come on, let’s go,” he said, jiggling his knee and making her clutch at his shoulder so she didn’t fall off. “You’re at work, there’s no time to sleep.”
“Hey,” she complained, throwing her hair back and looking at him in annoyance. “Do you mind?”
Hermione stood at the door, arms crossed over her chest, foot tapping rapidly and disapprovingly. Ginny mad a move as if to slip off of her boyfriend’s lap, but Draco’s arm tightened around her, preventing her from leaving as he looked arrogantly up at her friend. “Can we help you with something, Granger?”
“You can stop distracting Ginny while she still has twenty minutes left in the work day,” said Hermione fiercely.
“She’s right,” said Ginny, working to extract herself from Draco’s grip. He held on for a moment for the simple fun of watching her struggle (on a normal day she wouldn’t be half so tired and he’d pay dearly for the attempt to physically restrain her) and then loosened his arms a bit. She writhed free and deposited herself in her own chair, putting the desk between them. She looked up expectantly at Hermione, but her sister simply looked more agitated, re-crossing her arms the other way ‘round and tapping her foot more rapidly.
Draco’s head lolled to the side; he shot Hermione a sly grin, and before Ginny could send him a warning glare, he drawled, “Are you waiting for me to leave? Because really, I’ll be accompanying her home in twenty minutes, so it would be a little counterproductive if I—”
“You should leave,” Hermione snapped. “I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to be here while she’s—”
“Hermione, it’s okay,” Ginny said soothingly, flashing Draco a quick scowl. “I’m nearly finished and he’ll behave himself. Won’t you, dear?”
He glanced from Hermione to her and back again, and then smirked. “Sure.”
“It’s not him,” Hermione said loudly, though it certainly seemed that with every minute Draco remained in her line of vision, her glare doubled in viciousness.
“Hermione,” said Ginny sharply, calling her friend’s attention away from her boyfriend and back to her. “What’s the problem?”
Hermione opened her mouth, closed it again, opened it once more, and then, quickly, as if she was dragging the words out by force, she said, “It’s your brothers.”
Draco and Ginny exchanged a quick look, and the former rose quickly from his chair. “Well, then, I’d better be—”
“Sit. Down. Now,” Ginny ordered, and, resigned, he returned his bottom to its seat.
Boyfriend dealt with for the time being, Ginny returned her attention to her sister-in-law, feeling a jolt of nervous adrenaline that felt quivery and unnatural inside her tired body. “What about them?”
“It’s been a few hours since they found out,” Hermione said, and that old tone of disapproval surfaced in her voice, comforting Ginny somewhat—as long as Hermione could still disapprove, then the world would be okay. “Ron’s been dark and dour about it all day. I popped home for lunch and found that George and Charlie had stopped by and they were having some sort of secret huddle, and when they left, he quit complaining. Obviously, I found that a bit suspicious, and so I cornered him and made him tell me everything. They’re kidnapping you tonight and taking you out drinking.”
There was a short, flat silence, and then Ginny asked, “All of them?”
Hermione nodded, lips pressed grimly together. “All of them.”
Ginny slowly dropped her head to her desk, forehead hitting the smooth wood and staying there. This is nice, she thought in the midst of the fresh quiet. Wonder if I can just stay like this forever.
Draco’s voice broke through the quiet. “That’s all? They’re coming to take you drinking?” It was clear from his tone that he didn’t consider this menacing at all, which made it also clear that he had never been out drinking with the Weasleys.
Ginny slowly lifted her head and stared at him, noting vaguely out of the corner of her eye that Hermione had disappeared. Beneath her stare, the arrogant poise with which Draco sashayed through life began to crack ever so slightly, allowing her to see the uncertainty beneath. He knew she could see, too; he began to inspect his fingernails carefully to avoid meeting her eyes. “That’s not so bad, is it?” Beneath the question was a question, fueled by the faint sense of dread that he oh-so-occasionally exhibited when confronted with her family’s customs, which were so foreign to him.
At the reminder, she decided to give his flippancy a pass. After all, how could he know? In addition to their other (very numerous) differences, he had no siblings. He wouldn’t naturally understand the issue at hand here, and so Ginny, rubbing the bridge of her nose, tried to explain.
“Draco, I’m the youngest.” Blank stare. “And their only sister.” Nothing. “Which means,” she said, sighing, “that they don’t take me out with them. Ever. I weigh them down, it looks odd for them to have just the one girl tagging along with the five of them, they feel like they have to protect me, and I’m generally just a nuisance in their eyes, even at my age. It’s the curse of being the youngest. So, for them—all of them, it seems, to just up and decide that they want to take me out with them… no. I smell trouble. I smell trouble related to you, if what Hermione says is anything to go by, which it usually is.”
Draco’s eyes flicked back and forth as he thought. Finally, he said, “So should we go meet them? You know, pre-emptive strike before they get the chance to spring it on you?”
There was that chivalry she was still trying to get used to—it always popped up in the most unusual of places, which didn’t exactly help her learn to predict it. She successfully (though with difficulty) kept a smile off her face, and her eyes grew wide at the thought of her brothers and Malfoy in the same room so soon after the announcement. “No. Ohh, no, you’re not coming along.”
“Why not?” He feigned indignant outrage very well, and she was tempted to “relent” just to see him squirm.
It was too chancy, though. He might hold her to it. She simply shook her head adamantly. “Come off it. You know as well as I do that you don’t need to have anything to do with my brothers right now.”
“Weasley—are you trying to protect me?” She glanced up, startled at his tone, only to see that he was doing a very credible imitation of her stubborn face. She swallowed a laugh as he continued, infusing his voice with the slightest of histrionics: “Of all the nerve, I never in my life have been condescended to like this,” he pronounced quickly. “As if I need your protection from your family, crazy gits though they are—that is degrading to my entire sex, madam, and I hope you’re proud of yourself—”
“I get it,” she laughed, “but I agreed not to go see your dad.”
“Mm, technically, you didn’t,” he was quick to point out. She groaned and dropped her head in her hands again, and heard his soft chuckle as he relented. “All right, all right, fine. You handle your brothers without my intervention and I’ll thank you for it. Especially that big one, testosterone factory, what’s his name?”
“Charlie,” she sighed. “That would be Charlie, and he’s not the one you need to worry about.”
Hermione had returned and announced her presence by clearing her throat again, this time less pointedly. The two returned their attention to her, and she entered and placed a closed flask on the table. “Granger, I honestly think she’s going to have enough to worry about tonight without starting earl—”
“Oh, hush,” Hermione said furiously, and turned her attention to her friend. “It’s an invigoration draught, Ginny, and I know it’s not as pitch perfect as one you would make, but I think you’re going to need it tonight. You look exhausted. Why didn’t you make one yourself earlier?”
“Granger, are you actually admitting out loud that she’s better at potions than you are?” Draco wondered aloud, promptly ignored by the two girls.
“I didn’t want to deal with the crash when it wore off,” Ginny said, but that had been before she’d found out that she was apparently going out with her brothers, and she thanked Hermione with another sigh at the thought, uncorking the flask and sipping pensively.
“What, do you have them stocked somewhere?” Draco asked Hermione, eyebrow quirked in slight interest. She glared at him, and he shrugged. “It takes an hour at least, and that’s if you’ve got all the ingredients on hand—you were gone five minutes.”
“She keeps a stockpile,” Ginny said, perking up just a little as the potion began to take effect. When Hermione doubled around to glare at her, she shrugged. “What? He’s going to find these things out sooner or later, and besides, everyone knows you enjoy work more than sleep.”
Hermione made an indignant noise and whirled on her heel, stalking away down the hall. “Thank you, Hermione!” Ginny called after her. Her sister was either out of hearing range by then or had decided that stony silence was the only way to go, but Ginny shrugged off the lack of response, turning back to Draco and nursing the spicy potion. “Interesting. I can taste clove. She must have added that on her own.”
“You’re aware that you’re going to pay for that in a big way, yes?” he asked as her eyes began to brighten. “Feels good now, but see what happens when you combine alcohol with the crash that’s going to come along in a few hours.”
She put her tongue out at him, safe behind her desk. “Tomorrow’s the weekend. I get to sleep all day. I need this if I’m going to deal with my brothers; you think Hermione would have given it to me otherwise?”
“Considering the fact that she’s clearly an addict, yes, probably,” he drawled, but she saw the little smile around his eyes and at the corner of his mouth and knew he was far more amused by this whole situation than he was openly letting on. She knew she should be annoyed by that (he wasn’t the one who was going to have to deal with her brothers), but the invigoration draught was working beautifully for all Hermione’s assertions that it wasn’t perfect, and she found her mood much improved as her energy rose.
On the bright side, Charlie will be there; that should be fun, she thought. Drunk Charlie was a legend and one of Wizarding London’s more well-known secrets, one which she had never personally witnessed in action. She knew it was worth seeing, though, due to the fact that her mother still had no idea that Charlie had ever drunk more than a glass of wine here, a butterbeer there. For a secret like that to be kept from the sharp-eyed, keen-eared Mrs. Weasley required a great deal of orchestration, unity between siblings and witnesses, and possibly an Obliviate spell or two.
Apparently, the last time he’d been in town, he’d set the tavern on fire (trying to stoke up the hearth so that they could all feel “how hot we have to keep it for the dragons in Romania”), stumbled through a wall (in his defense, Bill said it was a very thin wall), and found an unfortunately inebriated goblin, which he insisted on carrying around with him for half the night, calling it his little buddy, until it managed to sober up enough to escape his thick-armed grasp (“Not really improving goblin-human relations, is he?” Ron was heard to remark dryly). This was all hearsay, of course, but Ginny found herself rather excited at the idea of seeing Charlie’s exploits firsthand. This would likely be the last chance she’d have for a while—his semi-annual visit to England to see his family would only last a few more days, and then he’d be headed back to Romania and his much beloved dragons.
“Look at you.” Draco interrupted her train of thought, and she glanced over to see that his smile had taken on smirkish qualities. “Your eyes just completely lit up.”
“It’s the potion,” she said, flipping the flask bottoms up and finishing the last of it at the reminder.
“No. I think you’re actually happy about this,” he said, that blasted smirk widening. “You don’t mind a jot that they’re going to rake you over the coals; you’re just thrilled to be joining your brothers on drinking night.”
She scowled, standing. “Thanks for reminding me about the coals. I was trying to focus on the bright side.”
“There’s a bright side?” he wondered as she approached him and tugged lightly at his hands, trying to get him up. He didn’t budge, of course, preferring to let her pull away with no results.
“Possibly, if you let me forget about their real purpose for two seconds.” She glowered in response to his complete lack of cooperation, locked her hands around his wrists, and with an almighty heave, jerked him onto his feet. He was laughing as he lost his balance, stumbling into her.
“I forget how strong you are, Weasley. You’re too pretty for the good of those around you; makes everyone underestimate you,” he said as he got an arm around her, steadying them both.
“Good,” she said, chin jutting out stubbornly as she threw her hair back and craned her neck to look up at him, willfully ignoring the backhanded compliment. “Serves them right for making assumptions. It’s time for you to go.”
“I call that friendly.”
“Oh, shut it, I’m just looking out for you again. If you want to wait around for my brothers, be my guest.”
She watched his face for a second, the mocking frown as he weighed the tempting prospect of taunting her brothers against the considerable odds that he’d be leaving with swollen ears, pink hair, torn flesh, or some other battle scar. Finally, he shrugged lazily and gave her another smirk. “Suppose you’re right. If you need help, send up red sparks.”
She snorted. “Sure. Just look for the pub that looks like it’s celebrating Guy Fawkes Night early. There’ll just be a massive cloud of sparks hovering over the roof and I’ll be curled up in a corner somewhere, rocking back and forth, traumatized.”
“You’re resilient. You’ll be fine.”
She was going to say “Thank you for being so sympathetic,” but he didn’t exactly give her the option, deciding that her mouth would be better suited at the moment pressed up against his. Ginny yielded—they could argue later, but if the planned night in with her boyfriend wasn’t going to happen, then she was going to take advantage of her last couple of minutes with him before her brothers came in to whisk her away.
Of course, with the way he kissed her, it was far too easy to lose track of time, and despite the fact that they couldn’t afford to do that at the moment, she found herself getting slightly lost in him regardless. With a jolt, she suddenly realized that they’d whittled away several more minutes, and she broke away, planting her hands on his chest to push him back. “Whoa! No! None of that, Draco Malfoy, unless you want to get blasted through the window when my brothers arrive. You need to go.”
“Well, that teaches me to try and be nice to you,” he said, making her laugh even as she spun him around and pushed him towards the door.
“Go,” she said again, and without further argument or distraction, he obeyed.
He left just in time. A bare minute after he waved up at her from the street and took off, she spotted her brothers’ familiar ginger heads from the window—Ron, looking as grim as though he was walking to his own execution, and George, cheerful and with a spring in his step.
Ginny sighed and sank back into her seat. She was feeling considerably better due to the potion, and certainly there was a part of her that was excited by the prospect of going out with her brothers, but the gravity of the situation was inescapable. She was in for a bullying session, and she knew that this was her first and best chance to convince them that yes, she was in her right mind, and yes, the relationship was both serious and healthy. She’d have other chances, true, but perhaps none as significant as this, none where she could get all of her brothers in one blow.
She took a deep breath. “Hermione?”
“Yes?” her sister-in-law called from down the hall.
“Thanks for the warning. And the potion.”
Hermione, at once managing to sound modest and entirely disapproving, said, “You’re welcome.”
When her brothers finally appeared in her office, Ginny was ready for them.
Next up- the Weasley siblings reunite and begin drinking and storytelling. Ron is surly. Ginny is defensive. Bill, Charlie, and George are amused. Percy is late.
"Knock, knock," George said cheerfully, rapping on the door frame. "May we come in?"
"If I said no, would it stop you?"
"Most certainly not; my asking was just a courtesy." She smiled wryly as they barged into her office. George dropped into the chair her boyfriend had just vacated, but Ron seemed ill-at-ease, prowling 'round the room, checking behind the door.
"And how's my favorite sister?" George crooned, putting his feet up. He's really laying on the honey, Ginny thought wryly, wondering if this was a bad sign or if he was just making up for Ron's considerable vinegar.
"I don't know," she said, keeping a close eye on Ron, "I haven't seen Percy in a while." George cackled appreciatively, but Ron didn't even crack a smile. He picked an ancient iron teapot from the early Ming Dynasty and looked inside it, and Ginny snorted. "Ron."
"What?" He looked up, appearing stricken, eyes big. She shook her head.
"He's not in the teapot."
His eyes grew even wider, this in a ghastly imitation of desperate innocence. "Who?"
George wisely intervened. "Well, now," he drawled, giving Ron a pointed look, "got any plans for tonight, Ginny?"
She narrowed her eyes. Maybe I could—"Yes. Lots of plans. All sorts of big, important plans."
"Well, cancel them. We're all going drinking."
She sighed. She could argue, but it would do no good, and in the extremely improbable event that she did get out of it, it would only delay the inevitable. "Fine, then," she said, rising from her seat. "Let me get my scarf and inform Hermione of what sort of flowers I want at my funeral and I'll be right with you."
A quick check-in with Hermione, and then she and George left Ron alone with his wife for a moment, going down to the cobbled street below. Ginny's breath turned to steam in the cold air, and she tightened her scarf, ugly plum and chunkily-knit by her mother. She looked up at George and asked, "Where are we going?"
"The Snake's Tooth."
Ginny made a face. The Snake's Tooth was one of several wizarding drinking establishments in the greater London area, and not the one that would be her first selection. The clientele was violent and boorish, the design of the interior was bizarre, and she suspected that the glasses there were never properly cleaned. Ginny was far from squeamish, but when the bottom of one's glass was coated in what looked like troll bogeys… "Ew. Why?"
"Because The Leaky Cauldron is too public and word might get back to Mum, and Charlie got banned from Limey's Manger last time. The Snake's Tooth is the next one down on the list." He glanced sideways at her. "You look worried."
"Well, I'm almost sure the apocalypse is pending. When was the last time we all went drinking?"
"You've only been of age for—" He paused, did some math in his head—"five years?"
"Yes, you're right, no time at all in the last few years to send me an owl—'hey, Ginny, what's up? Want to go to the pub with us?'"
There were very few forces on earth that could make George Weasley look sheepish. His little sister was one of them. She, along with Bill (and to a lesser extent, Charlie) was cut out of the same cloth as the twins, unlike Ron and Percy, and she had the distinction of being a sister and therefore somewhat more frightening than their formidable mother—she hadn't given birth to any of them, and so she had no qualms whatsoever about seriously injuring them. While only her worst tempers could keep her brothers from meddling with her just for the hell of it, they always thought twice about trampling carelessly on feelings that might or might not be bruised.
In consideration of those feelings now, George said carefully, "Well, you know how it is. Time gets away from you. But we're making up for it now, aren't we?"
"Are you?" she asked pointedly. "Considering the conversation I had with Mum last night, I'm afraid generosity might not be your motive."
His smile remained firmly in place, but his eyes grew rapidly wary. "Ah, perhaps we shouldn't talk about that just now," he said carefully. "Wait till we get some drinks in us, eh?"
"Whatever you say," she sighed, spotting Ron coming out of the building, "but I want it on record—I think this is a bad idea."
"Duly noted," George sang out cheerfully, clapping her on the shoulder as Ron joined them. "Let's go."
"Charlie and Bill are already at the pub?" she asked as they started out.
"Yes, and Percy says he'll meet us later. I should warn you—he doesn't intend to drink."
Ginny groaned aloud. Percy's story hadn't quite been that of the prodigal son—while he'd rejoined the family and forsaken the Ministry, his realization that he'd been a complete twat was not enough to change him from… well, a complete twat. He'd always been ambitious and sanctimonious, and his return to them hadn't exactly come with a complete personality change. While she loved him like she loved all her family, she dreaded his officiousness almost more than Ron's.
The Snake's Tooth was a small establishment, dingy and ramshackle on the outside, dark and firelit and labyrinthine on the inside. There were walls in the oddest places, meant to section the patrons off from one another, which struck Ginny as ominous.
She dismissed the thought as they located their other brothers, cloistered away in a roundabout booth far from the bar, which raised another red flag for Ginny—just why were they so set on keeping her separate from other patrons and staff? Did they really think she'd make such a terrific public scene?
Maybe they're just ashamed that I'm dating a Malfoy, she thought wryly, and though it manifested as a sarcastic aside, it quickly took hold as a legitimate reason. Partially due to that, she was scowling as she approached.
Bill and Charlie rose to dispense hugs and greetings, and Charlie chucked her under the chin. "Look at this sourpuss," he boomed. "Why the long face?"
Her scowl just deepened. "Why do you think?"
"Come on, brighten up," he coaxed her. "You get free drinks and you get to spend the whole night in the dazzling company of your brothers. What's not to like?"
She smiled unwillingly. "The smell of testosterone, for starters," she couldn't resist saying, and he laughed loudly and gestured for her to slide into the booth.
Which she realized was a mistake as brothers pushed in on either side, nudging her around to the very back center seat. The wall was at her back, and the heavy spool table was between her and escape. She was, effectively, trapped.
"First round," George said, pointing at Ron. "Firewhiskey. Go."
"Maybe," Bill said, looking carefully at his sister, "a butterbeer for her to start?"
Ginny wasn't in the habit of glaring at Bill, as she often found him the most sensible and down-to-earth of all her brothers, but the look she gave him now was absolutely poisonous. "If you'd ever troubled to go drinking with me before, you'd know I could drink any of you under the table. Firewhiskey, Ron."
"That sounded like a challenge," Charlie grinned as Ron stomped off to the bar.
Ginny looked at her burly brother, nine years her senior and twice her width, and swallowed. You're not afraid of anything, not even your incredible beast of a big brother, she reminded herself, and said, "It's a dare."
George grinned widely. "I get the distinct feeling that this night is long overdue."
"That's what I've been telling you," she said sulkily, unwinding her scarf from her neck and putting it on the bench beside her.
Ron returned with the firewhiskey, and they all bolted it down rapidly, all anxious on some level to bypass the awkward soberness with a little liquid courage. Charlie then expressed his belief that this was going to get them nowhere fast and left the booth, only to return quickly with a massive bottle of Odgen's Old for their consumption.
In the meantime, feeling resentful of the awkwardness and determined to shatter it, if not make her brothers feel it even more acutely, Ginny struck up a casual conversation with George.
He gave her a wry grin. "Not too pleased with me just now. I was trying to show her the faux-Ghoul charm I've been working on, and it turns out there's a few kinks I've yet to work out. Until the stink and the stains fade and the ghoul disappears, I'm banned from hers."
Ginny was laughing. "You didn't think after the jammy dodger fiasco, you might want to keep your products away from her while they're still in the testing phase?"
George grinned. "I didn't know they were still in the testing phase, did I?"
"She might have to get used to explosions and mess," Bill interjected. "I don't think they're going to stop anytime soon."
As they traded jibes, Ginny leaned back and watched George. She still worried about him, though perhaps not as much as in the first year. For the first year after Fred's death, George was like a man lost. For the first couple of months, Ginny worried that he would actually shut down the joke shop—he delegated responsibilities to employees and completely stopped inventing. After a while, though, he slowly began again, haltingly and without much initial success, but he was working, and in time he regained his feet.
In addition to returning to work, he ran into Angelina Johnson, bumping into her in Flourish and Blotts, where he followed her around teasing her for fifteen minutes before asking her out, and after paying him back by acting indecisive for a few minutes, she said yes. They were now engaged, and their wedding was scheduled to take place in late spring.
Ginny knew that Angelina had dated Fred for a while when they were in school and had remained close to him even after they split up, and sometimes she wondered if Angelina and George had initially built their relationship out of their mutual sense of loss and need for some connection to Fred. However it had started, though, it was working. Angelina was level-headed, both unfailingly logical and compassionate, and she was good for George. She didn't baby him, but when he needed it, she offered a listening ear, and when he needed space, she offered him that, too. In large part, Ginny credited her with George's recovery, such as it was. He still, Angelina told her, talked to Fred when he thought he was alone.
And times like now, as the conversation slid over to Bill and Fleur and his contributions slowed, his sadness showed through. He didn't smile so easily, and his eyes were more intent, more serious. He was alert, but sometimes, he seemed completely disconnected, and Ginny knew that was when he was at his saddest. She didn't think it would ever fully go away, and she didn't think anyone should expect it to.
In front of her eyes, though, George's face was shifting, taking on a predatory expression. Ginny stiffened and was immediately on her guard. When George got that look, someone was in for it. She followed his gaze, however, and when she saw that it had landed on Ron, she relaxed, smirking a little.
Ron should have been more careful, but he was so clearly fixed on the purpose of the night and so unwilling to allow his attention to be diverted from it, even for a second, that he had been brooding and sullen since they had picked Ginny up. There was no easier way to make oneself a target for George Weasley than to sulk. Under Ginny's amused gaze, he balled up a napkin and pitched it across the table, hitting Ron directly in the temple.
That got his little brother's attention. Ron looked up, his expression thunderous. "What?"
"What's wrong with you?" George asked lightly. "You look like you've been Spitsied."
Charlie guffawed, Ginny groaned, and Bill's mouth twitched a bit, as though he wanted to smile but was concerned that it might put Ron in an even worse mood. As children, young witches and wizards were obviously not able to use (or at least clearly direct) their magic, and so they, like their Muggle counterparts, were forced to be creative when it came to tormenting their siblings. Fred and George had risen admirably to the task with a game they called "Spitsy." It involved them screaming "Spitsy!" at a smaller sibling and then chasing them down. When they caught the sibling in question, one of the twins would hold the arms down and the other twin would sit on the stomach, hold his face over the tortured sibling's, and let a long line of spit hang from his mouth, slurping it back up seconds before it looked like it might drop. It was disgusting, and needless to say, they weren't always able to pull the spit back before it broke free and landed—splat—on the poor victim's face. The spit was bad enough when it did drop, but the psychological torture before that was unbearable.
Ginny and Percy (the latter of whom had been much smaller and weaker than the twins well into his teens) were common victims of this treatment, but Ron was the most frequently-targeted because he hated Spitsy so much. Fred and George were always out for a reaction, and Ron had always been the most emotional Weasley. Once, when he was nine and the twins had pinned him down, he had gone into such a rage that his dormant magic had kicked in and thrown both twins hard into walls on the opposite sides of the room—and in the process, the spit that had been dangling from Fred's mouth had fallen and landed square in Ron's eyes, so his emotions regarding the triumph were still incredibly mixed. Fred and George were fine, aside from well-deserved bruised bums, and they'd left Ron mostly alone for a full two days before their treatment of him resumed, business as usual.
The reminder of the childhood torture did little to put Ron in a better mood. If anything, his scowl deepened. "That's not funny," he said shortly.
"I don't know," Charlie said, his voice shaking with suppressed laughter, "it was pretty hilarious at the time—"
"What are you expecting?" Ron exploded suddenly. "You want me to be all sunny and cheerful when she's—"
"Oy," Bill interjected suddenly as Ginny's glare sharpened in preparation for battle, "do any of you remember Ginny's second Christmas?"
The interruption wasn't quite enough to dispel the sudden concentration of tension, but Bill had the advantage of being the eldest. He had grown up with the responsibility of six younger siblings on his shoulders and was well-suited to it—he was never as authoritative as their parents, which meant that none of the younger Weasleys ever really felt the need to rebel against him. He was the resident peacemaker and usually the voice of wisdom, less sanctimonious than Percy and a little more dependable than Charlie, whose general attitude towards brewing rows was let's poke it and see what happens. As a result, all of Bill's younger siblings listened when he spoke and generally went along with his decisions. Therefore, aside from glaring heatedly at one another for another few seconds, Ron and Ginny let the quarrel drop before it could really build up, turning their attention to him. They were helped along by Charlie, who poured each of them a new shot and put the drinks in their hands encouragingly.
"A bit," George jumped in gamely. "Mum put a stirring charm on her fruit cake batter and turned her back, so Fred and I put dirt in it."
"I remember that," laughed Charlie. "Aunt Lucretia ate some."
"So did Percy," George said with more than a touch of smugness.
"Poor Aunt Lucretia," grinned Bill. "She was trying so hard to be polite."
"I obviously don't remember," Ginny said shortly, still too displeased with Ron to go along with the warm reminiscence. Charlie poured her another shot, which she ignored for the time being, the memory of her last drink still fresh in her mind and the top of her esophagus. Firewhiskey was a lovely drink, but too many shots in rapid succession could leave one with a scorched throat.
"I only bring it up because I think it was the first real indicator that the twins might have a rival within the family," Bill said easily. "We were all sitting around the fire, getting ready to go to bed, when we realized that no one had seen you for about five minutes. We searched the house and found you in Percy's room. You were sitting happily on the floor, tearing pages out of his books."
Charlie bellowed with laughter. "That's right, and he was livid. He ran around the room fussing like an old hen, gathering up ripped pages and howling at her. Fred just made things worse, hoisting her up on his shoulders while he and George sang 'God Save the Queen.'"
Ginny couldn't help it; she started laughing. "I've never heard that story! Why didn't anyone tell me?"
Bill shrugged, smiling. "Slipped through the cracks, I guess. With all the things that happened while we were growing up, it's hard to remember who knows what."
"Poor Mum," sighed Ginny, still smiling. "She didn't deserve having to live with those two year after year until they finally got accepted and were shipped off—"
"Excuse you, Missy," George said, digging into her side with his long fingers and making her cut herself off with a yelp, "but I seem to recall you being quite the troublemaker yourself. If anything, you should be thanking us."
"Mum was so distracted with our behavior all the time that she hardly noticed that you were just as bad."
"Oh, I think not!"
"Really? Who was the one who started stealing broomsticks out of the shed as soon as she could walk, resulting in a spectacularly broken leg at the age of three?"
"…um," Ginny said.
"Who got into Mum's medicine cabinet and drank an entire month's stash of calming draught, which literally induced catatonia in the party in question and nearly scared Mum to death?"
"It's not my fault it's the same color as blueberry juice; how was I to know it wouldn't be delicious?" Ginny protested weakly.
"Uh-huh, and who opened all of Percy's presents the night before his ninth birthday?"
Ginny sat up straight. "That was you and Fred."
"Oh." George frowned for a second. "Blimey, you're right."
"Anyway," Ginny said, sensing that she had gained an advantage, "why are we focusing on me? Ron was just as bad."
"Was not," Ron objected sullenly. "All I was trying to do was survive growing up around all you mental cases."
"Oh, so you were only trying to survive when you tried to get me to eat glumbumble dung when I was eight?"
Ron suddenly looked shifty. "Well… yeah, in a manner of speaking."
"In a manner of speaking?"
"Fred and George were holding my broomstick hostage! They said they'd give it back if I could get you to do it—"
"Oh, they did? Well, did you get it back?"
"No, because you didn't eat the bloody stuff!" bellowed Ron.
"Well, can you blame me?" she howled back.
"Whoa, now, we gave your broomstick back eventually," George interjected, placing a mockingly calming hand on Ron's arm. Ron jerked back, eyeing his brother balefully.
"Yeah, after smearing it in flobberworm mucus," he muttered.
"I think what we can take from this is that Ron was woefully mistreated as a child," Charlie said cheerfully. Ron's siblings all glanced at each other and pulled various expressions of agreement, and Ron scowled all the deeper, lurching forth to grab the bottle of firewhiskey and pouring a drink for everyone who lacked one.
"Well, look on the bright side, brother dear," George said, lifting his shot to Ron. "You got pretty damn tough, which served you well when you were saving the world from the greatest menace it has ever encountered."
"Oh, so now you're taking credit—"
"Not at all," George interjected smoothly. Normally, he would happily take the opportunity to antagonize his brother further, but the final battle was one of the only things George (understandably) never treated lightly. Ginny felt a pang at the reminder. George's knee-jerk reaction to pain of any sort was automatically to jest about whatever had caused it. His refusal to joke about the final battle was just a testament to how deeply he had been wounded and how clearly he still felt it—even his surefire defense failed in the face of his loss. "Just pointing out the bright side of your tormented childhood. Cheers."
"Cheers," echoed the others, and clinked their glasses against his before bolting down the contents. Ron looked unwillingly placated by this toast in his honor, made with only the slightest touch of sarcasm from George, and Ginny was glad—scowling like that had to be eating up his energy; it was time he stopped brooding.
But that's not likely to happen soon, she thought as Percy made a sudden appearance across the tavern, looking around confusedly for his siblings. Despite her awareness that his arrival meant her interrogation was nigh, she stifled a giggle as the twisted design of the pub got the better of him. He wandered in and out of her line of vision twice before she took pity on him, put her fingers to her lips, and gave a sharp whistle. He glanced sharply in her direction, looking thoroughly disapproving, an expression which only faded slightly when he realized who had whistled.
Ron brightened up a little as Percy pulled up a seat directly opposite Ginny. Percy was the easiest target in the family; things always went a little better for Ron when Percy was around. Additionally, now that the only remaining brother had arrived, they were free to proceed with the night's business.
She had been foolish to let her guard down, for as soon as Percy got seated and said his rather stiff hellos, Bill said again, "Well, then." As if it was some sort of signal, all of her brothers turned their heads and stared at her with a sort of unrehearsed synchronicity that, despite the fact that she was decidedly not afraid of her brothers, made gooseflesh rise on Ginny's skin, and she shrank back into her seat instinctively.
"So, Ginny," began Charlie casually.
"We stopped by Mum's earlier today—" said Bill.
"What, all of you at once?" Ginny muttered mutinously.
"—and she had some rather interesting news," he finished, ignoring her growing scowl with a stoicism that came from years of wheedling information out of his younger siblings that they'd rather not give.
"So," said George, blithely picking up the ball—he'd never been intimidated by anyone's fierce looks, let alone his sister's, so no problem there—"we organized this little outing because we desperately wanted to ask you—"
"—what the hell are you thinking?" bellowed Ron.
And here we go. Ginny pulled in a breath and held it, wiping the scowl from her face and forcing herself to look calmly at each of her brothers in turn. After a moment of this, she slowly released the air from her lungs and reached for the bottle of firewhiskey, pouring herself a new shot but not taking it just yet. Instead, she glanced up, looking again rapidly from brother to brother.
"I'm assuming this is about my current romantic relationship."
Ron crossed his arms over his chest so tightly that Ginny was surprised he didn't crack a rib. As George nodded with false enthusiasm, Ron muttered through gritted teeth, "What else do you think we'd be talking about?"
"Don't ask her that," Charlie said quickly. "I don't want to know any of her other dark secrets. This is bad enough."
Ginny sighed. Oh, well. It's not as though I didn't already let the kneazle out of the knapsack last night. Might as well own up to it. "Well, I suppose the first thing to do is to confirm it personally. I'm dating Draco Malfoy."
The reaction was immediate. Ron threw out a hand and hissed "Shhh," checking over his shoulder to see if anyone he knew was in the tavern; Percy immediately began droning on about political tactics and how perhaps she wasn't quite as adept at navigating her way among the established families of the wizarding world as she thought, maybe he could help. Charlie slumped in his seat, putting one huge hand over his face and moaning something incomprehensible, and George said loudly, "It's a plan, isn't it? An evil plan to get his money. Wow, Gin, I wasn't sure you had something so devious in you."
Only Bill said nothing, sitting back in his chair and regarding her inscrutably. Ginny glanced at him as she waited for the uproar to die down, hoping that despite the unlikelihood of it all, perhaps his lack of reaction meant she had a potential ally. More likely, he was being his diplomatic self, but a girl could dream.
She glanced across the table at Ron, who, it appeared, was filling his lungs so that he could start in her. That's a good indication that they're not planning on taking a break from their ranting anytime soon, she decided, and before he could get started, she leaned forward, placing her hand flat on the table.
"I want you all to listen to me," she said, speaking very, very quietly, almost whispering. It was a technique she'd developed after watching her mother shout and howl at the boys to no avail. By whispering, Ginny forced them to shut up if they wanted to hear what she had to say, and in this case, they were very interested in what she had to say—how else were they going to plan a counter argument? They behaved predictably, immediately going silent and fixing intent eyes on her. Ginny waited a beat to make sure she had their attention before going on.
"I was well aware of what was going to happen tonight when George and Ron picked me up. I came with them willingly enough because you are my brothers, and while I don't believe I owe you anything, I respect and love you all enough to tell you whatever you want to know. However," she said, giving Ron and George the evil eye as they made as if to speak up again, "I have a condition."
"Tell us, Ginny," said Charlie with false brightness, sounding as though he was having way too much fun with this whole ordeal, "what is your condition?"
She stared levelly at Percy. "I've had three shots. That makes me tipsy but not drunk, and I intend to be thoroughly drunk by the time this is over. However, I have no intention of letting anyone sit there and judging me for being drunk. Therefore, Percy, I expect you to match me for every drink from now on."
Percy opened his mouth to object, but she cut him off before he could even begin. "Consider yourself fortunate I'm not making you catch up to me before I start talking. You're a lightweight, so we'll forgive those first three, yeah?"
Percy pushed his glasses high on his nose, sniffed, and said, "I have no intention of drinking tonight."
Ginny leaned back and folded her arms over her chest. "Fine. Then I have no intention of saying a word."
George and Ron were on it immediately. George threw an arm around Percy's shoulders, jostling him fiercely and saying "Come onnnnn, take one for the team, Perce! Who knows? Maybe a few shots of firewhiskey will finally dislodge that wand from its position shoved so deeply up your arse—" while Ron, stonefaced, poured Percy a drink and placed it adamantly down in front of him. Percy, looking totally disgruntled, scowled at Ginny. Still slouched down, frowning stubbornly, she cocked a daring eyebrow at him.
Having his sister show him such blatant disrespect was apparently the final straw for Percy. He reached out almost automatically, grabbed the glass, and took the shot, though it took him two tries to get it down. His siblings, including Ginny, erupted in a howl of approval, beating their fists on the table as he coughed and sputtered, looking disgusted and reluctantly pleased all at once. It was well known that Percy almost never drank, especially after an incident at Ron and Hermione's wedding, where he drank entirely too much elderberry wine, fell on his face in the garden, and only woke up the next morning when a gnome mistook him for a fungus-covered mushroom and sat on the back of his head. In light of this, Ginny also received some approving pats on the shoulder from her two eldest brothers.
She grinned, lifted her glass to Percy, and then bolted it down. She took the drink much more gracefully than he did—indeed, she was beginning to feel a pleasant fuzziness, the warmth in her chest spreading out to her fingertips and making the tavern seem much more welcoming and the drinks go down much easier. Making a face as the firewhiskey burned its way pleasantly down to her stomach, she set her glass gently on the table, cleared her throat, and then glanced around at her brothers.
"All right, then. One at a time, please, I'd like you to tell me—what do you want to know?"
Next up-- Ginny starts telling her story, and the siblings continue to drink and misbehave.
On an unrelated note-- if you are enjoying my writing, you might be pleased to hear that I just published my first original novel on Amazon. If you're interested in possibly checking it out, head over to my profile, where I've included links. Thank you for reading!
Surprisingly, the Weasley men paid heed to Ginny's request not to be inundated with a flood of questions all at once. For a beat, none of them spoke, and then, one by one, they all looked to Bill, whose expression had hardly changed since she admitted to being involved with Draco.
As always, he took his responsibility as oldest brother in stride. He cleared his throat, leaned forward, and said, "I suppose the first question is this: how did the two of you meet? Er… again."
"And," George added, "what made you decided that Malfoy was a potential romantic prospect? We all knew him at school. He never exactly put off the impression that he was anything but a snide, greasy, bullying, ferret-faced, blood-purity obsessed, evil little—"
"George," interjected Bill quietly as Ron's head bobbed more approvingly with each unflattering adjective. "We've all heard the recitation of his lack of values more times than we can count. We're here to listen to Ginny talk, so—Ginny, if you would?"
Ginny traced the edge of her glass with one finger, looking warily from George to Ron. "I know," she said to them rather than immediately answer Bill's question, which would take a little more effort. "I hexed him more than once for just that, remember?"
"Exactly," Ron interjected dourly as Percy looked disapprovingly at both of them.
"But it's been five years. That's plenty of time for someone to at least get a good start at reformation, wouldn't you say?"
"Not a Malfoy," said Ron darkly. George nodded, for once refraining from adding his own pithy comment, and Percy, surprisingly, quietly agreed as well.
Ginny stared at them. "Have none of you heard of the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy?"
"What's that got to do with—"
"Take Oedipus for example."
"Muggle legend—honestly, did none of you pay attention in Muggle Studies? Just me and Percy? Okay, then. Oedipus was born to a king and queen, and when he was born, a seer told them that he would grow up to kill his father and marry his mother. The king, understandably a bit shaken, sent his son off with one of his warriors to be killed. The warrior left the baby on a cliff to die from exposure, and a farmer happened along and decided to adopt him. Twenty years later, Oedipus is traveling when he meets a man and they get into a dispute. He kills the man, and then later in his travels, comes across the queen of the land, who he marries. Turns out the guy he killed was his father, and the queen was—you guessed it, his mother."
She looked to see if the tale had made any impression whatsoever, but she just got looks of faint disgust from all but Percy. "His mother would have to be twice his age," Charlie objected.
"She had a magic necklace. Kept her looking young and fresh—and anyway, that's not the point!"
"Well, what is the point?" demanded Ron in exasperation.
"That by trying to keep the bad thing from happening, the king made the bad thing happen! This to say that when everyone treated Malfoy like a bad guy, I think… in large part, that's what made him into a bad guy. Temporarily. He's different now."
Ron snorted, Percy shook his head disapprovingly, and George rolled his eyes. "Suure," the latter drawled, and then again, "Ginny, he's a Malfoy," as though she might have missed that singular fact. "They're all rotten, every single one of them. He was raised to be an evil bigot. What about that made you think oh, goody, I want that for my boyfriend?"
"It's probably a plot," Percy opined. "His family's never recovered from the backlash after the war; he must believe that dating a member of our family might restore some of the former esteem in which they were held."
Ginny glared. "I already thought of that, thank you."
"Let's back up," Bill interjected. "Ginny. What happened that threw you two together in the first place? You're not huge with the holding grudges, I know, but I would have thought that if you were going to make an exception for anyone, it would be him."
Ginny had no intention of saying so, but she flashed back to the moment she had relinquished her grudge, though she'd hardly been aware of it at the time. It had been right after the conclusion of the final battle, and everyone was in the Great Hall to rejoice and mourn. Harry had disappeared somewhere with Ron and Hermione, and Ginny was sitting a short distance from Fred, her eyes red and sore from the crying she'd finally let herself do—George was right next to the body, his head bent low, and she didn't want to intrude, but of all her brothers, she was especially bonded to the twins, and her heart was aching so badly she thought it might be less painful to pull it right out of her chest. She couldn't imagine what George felt; she didn't want to.
At some point, her gaze had drifted across the hall to three heads of white-blonde hair. She'd been vaguely aware of the Malfoys throughout the battle, but not one of them had posed a threat to their side, not that she'd seen, and their presence in the hall confirmed their change of heart at the eleventh hour. Looking at them, she expected to feel the old hatred rise, for Lucius at the very least, but when she saw them looking around as though they expected to be attacked, saw the way they huddled together as though their lives depended on it, she found that she had exhausted her rage and hatred during the battle. All she could manage to feel for the Malfoys at that point was a sort of vague pity. She didn't notice when they left, and from that point, that was her last impression of them—cringing together like scared animals, no longer a threat to her and hers. It was hard to despise people who evoked that sort of pity.
She didn't intend to tell her brothers that, though. It would probably be best not to remind them of that battle—it would doubtless also remind them that the Malfoys had spent the majority of it fighting on the wrong side. Better to start with the occasion that had reunited them in the first place.
She glanced around the table at her brothers and took a breath.
Six Months Ago
It was Luna Lovegood's first serious breakup.
It was also Luna Lovegood's first time drinking vodkafreize.
In hindsight, Ginny should have known better. First, alcohol was a depressant, tending to make the morose even more so, and in the wizarding world, clear alcohols (cold) were considerably worse for it than dark alcohols (warm). Second, it was Luna Lovegood. One couldn't predict her behavior on the best of occasions.
Still, it had been reflex. The Weasley children had cultivated something of a tradition since they all became adults—if something awful happened, or something wonderful, two or more of them went out drinking to mourn (or celebrate). Even though Ginny had never been included in her brothers' nights out, she had dated Harry for every years, and the Trio had rather adopted the tradition as well. Short story made shorter—Ginny picked it up and tended to apply it to her friends' woes. She couldn't deny the fact that a night out spent with friends consuming mind-altering substances had something of a therapeutic effect in many cases.
She was thinking, though, that in Luna's circumstance, emotionally medicating with alcohol was a bad idea. Her friend, after her third drink, was oscillating rapidly between staring out the window with that particularly spacey look that had in part been responsible for her nickname at Hogwarts and muttering confidentially to her cup about the real use for Jarvey livers.
When Luna fell off her stool after drink number five, Ginny, who was marginally more sober, decided it was high time they got going. She picked Luna up from the floor, got her arm over her shoulder, and started for the door, uttering soothing nothings in response to Luna's troubled, suddenly despondent mumblings.
Right as they reached the door, though, it swung open before them, and Ginny found their path blocked by a tall, black-clad somebody. "Excuse me," she mumbled. When the somebody didn't step out of the way, Ginny's eyes reflexively traveled upwards.
And she gulped.
The man blocking her path was, unmistakably, Draco Malfoy—though the last time she'd seen him, he had been seventeen, perpetually scowly and miserable, and always rather peaky-looking.
The Draco that stood in front of her now was… different. Oh, he was still dressed in extremely well-tailored robes, black with silver trimmings, and he was still quite slender (Ginny thought bitterly of the two pounds still clinging to her hips after an overindulgence in wine and chocolate on a girls' night out a week ago and savagely bet herself that he never had to go on week-long crash diets to get himself back into shape), but… the scowliness had gone. Are those laugh lines? she thought fiercely, examining the crinkled pale skin surrounding his gray eyes. Surely not. He was a Malfoy; Malfoys didn't laugh—they sneered.
A truth that was falling into question before her eyes. He looked from her to Luna and back again, and those lines creased and she could see his mouth twitching just a bit. Altogether, the effect was… appealing. He still had the air of an aristocrat, but there was something less threatening about it than before. Something sexy.
Whoa, now I know I've had too much vodka, Ginny thought. The day I think Ferret-Face Malfoy is sexy… but then, she didn't remember his shoulders being that broad or his mouth looking that soft or his eyes that bright.
Definitely the alcohol talking, she thought. Bad Ginny. Remember school. 'His eyes are as green' and all that.
The memory of that fateful Valentine's Day was enough to fuel her annoyance. She scowled at him, and rudely, she said, "Well, well, if it isn't Draco Malfoy. I haven't seen you for a few years."
His mouth smirked, but the crinkling around his eyes definitely faded. "I've been touring Europe, Weasley," he responded loftily. "Something I'm sure your experience fails to encompass. Tell me, is your family still living in that ramshackle little hovel?"
"Tell me, how is your father enjoying house arrest?" she snapped back. "I imagine your flight to the rest of the unfortunate countries in Europe wasn't quite as fun without Mummy and Daddy along for the trip." To be fair, she'd consumed a fair bit of alcohol, though she couldn't honestly say she wouldn't have said the same while totally sober. Malfoy was demonstrating his unique talent to get under her skin, and she wasn't inclined to sit around and take it.
The smirk disappeared. It might have been the alcohol, but she swore she saw him nod just a little, almost as though allowing her the point, before he narrowed his eyes towards Luna. "Your friend seems a little the worse for wear."
Ginny glanced over at Luna, whose large eyes were fixed blankly on Malfoy's face. No telling what was going through her head. "Nothing we can't handle on our own—if you wouldn't mind getting out of the way," she said pointedly.
Malfoy didn't budge, and Luna suddenly jerked into action, her arm slipping off Ginny's shoulders as she lurched forward. Ginny made a wild grab for her rogue friend, but Luna collided solidly into Malfoy—and instead of letting her fall to the floor, his hands shot out and grabbed her elbows, steadying her. Just reflex, Ginny thought.
"Draco Malfoy," said Luna calmly, quite as if his grip wasn't the only thing keeping her from a rather unfortunate appointment with the floor. "Has anyone ever told you that your eyes are the exact color of the jabberwock's soul? They're quite unusual, you know. Jabberwocks. They wear their souls on the outside, almost like a ruff."
Malfoy looked down at her uncomprehendingly, then glanced over at Ginny. She shrugged and mouthed 'I don't know,' quite as mystified as he, but he didn't have time to respond before Luna reached up and grabbed a fistful of his hair—which had grown considerably longer since the Hogwarts days, brushing the lines of his jaw. Sharp lines, Ginny thought, and then scolded herself for letting the alcohol once again possess her thoughts.
"Look!" Luna crooned, grabbing a fistful of her own hair and bringing it up next to his. "I've never noticed. Our hair is almost the exact same shade. I wonder if we're related."
"Um," he said, loosing one of her arms to reach up and try to disentangle his hair from her grasp. "I suppose—many wizards are, at some point in history, so…"
Ginny blinked, wondering if she was hearing—or seeing—quite correctly. Draco Malfoy, flustered? Scratch that—Draco Malfoy, passing up a perfectly good opportunity to take a pot shot at a blood traitor? She rubbed her knuckles into her eyes, wondering if perhaps she'd been Confunded at some point in the night.
"Oh," said Luna serenely. "That might explain it."
"Let's just… get you—" Draco mumbled, using one hand to steer her back towards Ginny. With his free hand, he reached into his cloak.
Tipsy or not, Ginny recognized potential danger when she saw it. Quick as a flash, she had her wand out, though perhaps her hands were shaking a bit more than was normal. For his part, Draco slowly raised his hands, his wand clasped in one but pointed against the far wall instead of at either of the women in front of him.
Her voice was steady, even if her hands weren't. With deadly seriousness, Ginny asked, "Just what do you think you're doing, Malfoy?"
Was it just her, or were the lines around his eyes crinkling again? "Lightening charm, Weasley," he said slowly and quite reasonably. "If you plan to drag your friend all the way home, there's no reason you should have to lug all—" he flashed a glance towards Luna—"ninety pounds of her across town."
Ginny gave him a hard smile, though it was perhaps more a baring of the teeth than anything else. "Aren't you the chivalrous one, Malfoy."
"I try," he replied, quickly and modestly.
"Something you picked up during your extensive travels throughout Europe?"
Ginny was more than a little out of her comfort zone, and she rather thought it showed. Of all the things she'd thought might happen tonight, running into Draco Malfoy was fairly low on the list. Add to hisunexpected arrival the fact that he'd somewhere along the line grown into a full-grown man (a surprisingly attractive full-grown man—no, stop it, Ginny) and had expanded his sense of humor beyond his full treasury of "a mudblood, a half-breed, and a blood traitor walk into The Leaky Cauldron" jokes and… well, frankly, she had no idea what to think.
Well, that's not strictly true, she thought grimly as she resettled Luna's arm over her shoulders and scowled openly at him. I know I'm not letting him point that wand at Luna—or me, for that matter. "Thanks for the offer," she said shortly. "I think I've got her."
"Far be it from me to question the abilities of the youngest Weasley," he said, something of the old mocking back in his voice, and finally, he stepped aside, pushing the door open and waving them through with a flourish that reflected his tone.
Ginny shot him a dirty look and cautiously maneuvered herself and Luna past him, not taking her eyes off him till he put the wand safely back in his robes. Then, she turned her attention to getting Luna out on the street, where they could safely disapparate.
Before taking them back to her flat, Ginny glanced backwards once more at Malfoy, unwilling to trust that he wasn't planning on firing a curse at her back. It was immediately clear to her, though, that his attention was elsewhere. She couldn't blame him for not noticing that she'd turned her head, considering the fact that his eyes were fixed quite firmly on her backside.
She was too astonished to do anything other than growl out a strangled noise of disgust, which at least achieved the feat of making him glance up for a second, the crinkles around his eyes showing again. Ginny toyed the idea of reintroducing him to her favorite little hex, but quickly decided that giving him more attention, any attention, would be a bad move. Rolling her eyes and trying not to feel too bewildered by the fact that a man who had spent seven years of his life tormenting her family had suddenly decided that it would be perfectly appropriate to check out her bum, she turned on the spot, gripping Luna tight, and disapparated.
Ginny raised her eyes to see that every single one of her brothers was gaping at her.
"Oh, come on," she said in exasperation. "I didn't say anything shocking!" Did I? I thought I'd kept those thoughts about his sudden increase in sex appeal to myself, but then, I'm more than a little tipsy by this point… maybe they slipped past.
George was the first to recover, and predictably, he came out of it swinging. "Let me get this straight," he said sarcastically, only slurring a little. "The guy blocks your way, pulls a wand on you, then checks out your arse—" Whoops, Ginny thought with a cringe, hadn't meant to include that little detail—"and you, what, fall head over heels?"
"Absolutely not," Ginny objected, offended. "I was this close to hexing his brains out."
"So why didn't you?" Charlie asked interestedly, as Ron muttered, "Oh, I see, you decided that snogging his brains out would be a better alternative—"
"Ron," Percy said, looking repulsed, "might I remind you that I, too,knew Malfoy at school, and so those mental images are decidedly unwelcome."
Ginny buried her face in her hands. She was bone-tired (invigoration draughts only worked on mental energy, unfortunately, and her body was well aware that it had been up for over thirty-six hours now) and a little drunk and suddenly the black oblivion offered by her palms seemed more than welcome. As Charlie spoke up, demanding to know just how ugly this kid was, and George took it upon himself to describe the most unflattering physical features Draco had borne during his childhood, Ginny heard Bill begin to clear his throat. By the time he had finished, silence had fallen. Ginny didn't bother to look up, though. She knew the lull was just temporary.
"Perhaps you misunderstood, Ginny," her eldest brother said gently.
"No," she mumbled into her hands. "You asked me how we met again. I told you."
A second later, Charlie's warm arm fell over her shoulder, and she was suddenly crushed against her massive brother's side. "Our fault," he said cheerfully. "Wrong question. Tell us instead—how is it that you decided to date him at all? Surely you understand our concern—I have it on good authority that the majority of us believe you've been Imperiused."
For some reason, due to a fragment of memory drifting around her brain and the alcohol making her tongue looser, this struck her as incredibly funny. She started laughing.
Charlie's grip tightened on her, and she heard Percy say "Oh, dear" as George declared "That's it. She's lost it."
"No, no," she giggled. "It's just—I said something very similar to that the next time Draco and I spoke."
As silence fell again, she slowly lifted her head. She couldn't help it—Charlie's hugs were a sort of magic all on their own, his size made one feel secure, and combined with Bill's gentleness, she realized that her two eldest brother provided a healthy buffer between her and the three brothers who had gone to school with Malfoy and therefore had personal prejudices instead of Charlie and Bill's detached contempt for the family as a whole. Feeling a bit more protected from the onslaught, she nodded at the bottle of firewhiskey.
"Pour me another drink. This one might take a bit longer."
Five Months Ago
Malfoy hadn't been completely correct in his dig at her regarding Europe. After graduating Hogwarts, Ginny had been recruited as a chaser by the Holyhead Harpies. She'd spent three full years zooming around Europe, playing tournament after tournament and doing a damn good job of it.
Still, she'd always known that despite the fact that she enjoyed Quidditch, she didn't want to play it until she got too old to be good at it anymore, didn't want to become one of those athletes who had no other skills and spent their entire retirement reliving the glory days. Add to this the fact that she had recently broken up with Harry Potter, and the urge to make a fresh start was beginning to overpower her.
She announced her retirement on her twenty-first birthday, and took a brief sabbatical, living at the Burrow temporarily and enjoying a month at home as she decided what she wanted to do. She had a number of talents, but she wasn't sure any of them translated to a career she'd want to hold for the rest of her life.
She'd discovered her next move by complete accident one morning, reading the Daily Prophet over breakfast one morning. The Ministry of Magic was advertising for applicants for the position of Potions Apprentice.
Ginny had something of an aptitude for potions, despite the fact that she'd scarcely put in an effort during her years at Hogwarts—she absorbed the theory, but failed to see why she should try hard in practice, since Snape never gave Gryffindors more than an E in anything. It was something of a surprise to her when she'd moved out on her own and found herself in need of various cures, cleaning potions, things of the like, and had found that she was quite adept at creating them on her own. This she credited to her mother, who had made a strong effort to teach Ginny some domestic skills as she was growing up. Ginny had picked up some basics, but she'd really shone as a cook, hence her skill as a potioneer—cooking, as Ginny saw it, was just potions without the magic.
Further inquiry revealed that the Ministry's potions headquarters was in Diagon Alley, along with some of their other less essential outreaches—including, as it turned out, Hermione's offices, as her goals in magical law enforcement (largely other species' rights) were not what the Ministry deemed "essential." That decided it for Ginny—the opportunity to work down the hall from her new sister-in-law (who happened to be one of her closest friends) while simultaneously doing something she found enjoyable was one she felt she could hardly skip.
Hermione had offered her enthusiastic agreement, and Ginny's reputation combined with a fairly stellar performance during the aptitude test she had to pass for consideration ensured that she was selected over the other applicants. She found quickly that the work was all but made for her. The purpose of her job was to manufacture potions for the Ministry's use, something she felt quite safe doing, considering that her family's old friend Kingsley Shacklebolt now held office as the Minister of Magic and there was little chance her brews would be used for evil.
She rose quickly—some whispered that this was due to favoritism, but Ginny had little trouble ignoring them, especially since she was aware that Master Aegon, who resided over her department, was mostly incompetent, a throwback from the Fudge days. After a year, she put her apprenticeship aside and took the place of the retiring Master Aegon, heading up the small department.
Now that she was in charge, her job allowed for a fair bit of flexibility. She had to be at the offices for a certain amount of time every day, but she usually had a say in when, and she also was largely responsible for deciding how she spent her time—her department had a quota to fill, but she had two apprentices beneath her to whom she could delegate (one of the benefits of being in a position of authority). Therefore, if she wanted to spend days on end brewing delicate potions quietly, away from family and friends, she could, if she wanted to hang out in her office doing paperwork or if she wanted to carry around a portable cauldron while brewing less susceptible potions anywhere in the office, she could do those things as well. It was, she was finding out, shaping up to be an ideal career.
Still, despite the fact that she was certain she was more competent than Master Aegon had been, she was aware that there were large gaps in her knowledge. Therefore, at least once a month, she took a few long lunch breaks, went to the Ministry's expansive (and, importantly, current) library, and read extensively on the subject, brushing up on information that had grown decidedly rusty since her school days. As her abilities grew, these visits to the library shifted. Now, instead of brushing up on old knowledge, she was trying to keep abreast of new theory and using it to develop a few theories of her own.
She was still working her way through last year's journals. It was on one of these occasions that she next saw Malfoy. She didn't see him come in, too absorbed by a new article by a potioneer who proposed that the exact measurement of essence of alihotsy, rather than inducing hysteria, would in fact boost one's energy without any drawbacks or crashes. It was an interesting idea, and potentially worth the risk of accidental overdose—brewing an invigoration draught took an hour; figuring out exactly how much essence was needed for each body type and measuring out a few drops would take seconds.
When she finished the article, she glanced up (she did this periodically, never having quite shaken the habit of minding her surroundings she'd picked up over the years). The look was mostly perfunctory, she didn't expect to really see anything—which is why a flash of silver blonde had her doing a markedly displeased double-take. Just as she suspected, she saw Draco Malfoy, sitting across the room and reading.
Naturally, she glared daggers at him right away. When he failed to look up from the page and notice her displeasure—indeed, he seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they were even sharing the room—she found herself glancing irritably down to the cover of the book he was reading.
Wizarding Wealth, the bimonthly magazine on finance, marketing, investment, and industry in the wizarding world. Ginny huffed in annoyance. So predictable.
Well. If he wasn't disturbing her and was not looking up to witness her annoyance, then she certainly wasn't going to let him disturb her reading time. Still, she yielded to one petty little urge. Discreetly, before returning to her reading, she changed the cover of her Potions periodical to that of Imelda Rickman's sassy self-help book Bugger Off: What to Do When He Just Won't Take a Hint. Satisfied, Ginny settled down to return to her reading.
Ten minutes later, she peeked over the top of her book to see if he was gone. He wasn't. In fact, he looked exactly the same as before, with the exception of his magazine cover, which now read Breathing, Healing, and the Fine Art of Getting Over It by Archibald Pyle.
She frowned. Clearly, this wasn't working. Maybe if she got more personal…
So she chose Boudicca Brook's Royally Destroyed—Spoiled Brats and the Parents Who Ruined Them. When she looked up next, he was gone. She instinctively checked behind her, unwilling to assume that his unexpected disappearance wasn't just a ploy. When a quick scan of her surroundings failed to turn him up, she settled back into her seat, feeling satisfied but a little… perturbed? She told herself that the source of that little feeling of discomfort was the fact that he had given up so easily (suspicious indeed), notremorse for the charm—it was a bloody book cover; I've said far worse things to him throughout our lives—and returned to her reading.
When she returned the next day, though, he was back, and the cover of his magazine this time read Wizarding Thrift, or How to Scrimp When You're Skint by Rubella Hopkins.
Personal, indeed, she thought, storming her way to her usual chair and flopping down. Flipping irritably to the spot where she'd left off last time, she cast a quick charm. The cover of her book now read The Phenomenon of Passive-Aggression by Regulus Radcliffe.
He responded with Self-Righteousness and its Pitfalls by Rafe Warwick, and so it went.
Understanding Snakes: The Sneaky Familiar by Wentworth Underhill was answered by Witches With Trust Issues by Octavius Lloyd.
Schoolyard Bullies: A Novel by Ulysses Wright was countered by The Grudgeholders: A Novel by Akiro Miller.
And, over the course of several days, not once did the pair of the make eye contact or exchange words. The only acknowledgement they made of each other's presence was the consistent alteration of the covers of their periodicals—
Until Friday, when Ginny looked up to find Draco staring at her, again with that impossible crinklearound his eyes. That's enough, she decided, and got up, shoving her things into her bag and storming out. She could handle the back and forth between book covers, but if he planned to start staring at her… well, she could just take her lunch breaks at home.
Two days later, her sense of self was nagging at her. It was repeatedly saying something along these lines (or variations thereof):
Ginny Weasley, you are a little sister. Not only are you a little sister, but you are the youngest of seven, and the other six are boys. You know exactly what it looks like when someone is trying to tease you.
And, completely leaving aside the immensely troubling fact that the person trying to tease her (apparently) was Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater and significant bane of her brother's school years (and, to a lesser but no less annoying extent, her own), her sense of self would continue:
If anyone knows how to handle teasing, it's you. You don't back down or they'll never stop. You stand your ground, smile sweetly, and ignore them… at least until you can't ignore them any longer, because, let's face it, the reason people tease is because they want attention. Then you hex the shit out of them and go about your day. How's that for attention?
While she couldn't well hex someone in the middle of the Ministry Library, Ginny reluctantly had to admit that her sense of self had a point. It had never been her style to wave a white flag, especially not for a non-family member, and especially not for a Malfoy. The very thought rankled her pride. So, rather unwillingly, she decided to go back.
Don't rise to the bait, she told herself as she walked into the library during her next lunch break. Ignore him, stay calm, no more participating in his stupid game. Just remain above it.
Her resolve was perfectly in order—until she walked into the periodicals section and saw the ferret bastard sitting in her chair. That chair was the one she always occupied; there was a warming charm in the cushion and the arms were soft so she could twist and lean against them, which she was apt to do while reading. It was her chair, and the git knew it.
All thoughts of refusing to be baited fled from her mind. She saw red, and right away, she marched up to stand in front of that chair and confront him.
He didn't even look up.
Fighting the temptation to curse him right off, Ginny put her hands on her hips and said, "Just what do you think you're doing, Malfoy?"
He turned a page. "I should think it would be obvious, but given your brother's borderline illiteracy, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you're baffled by the sight of a man reading a book."
"What are you doing in my chair?" she demanded, her voice rising in anger.
"Shhhh," he said, and finally looked up, eyes narrowed in mock disapproval. "Lower your voice, Weasley; we're in a library."
"I know we're in a library," she hissed back. "I know because I come to this library regularly to read during my lunch break—a fact that I'm sure you've noticed. I'm also sure you've noticed that I sit in the same spot every time, so again I ask: what are you doing in my chair?"
Her voice had gotten louder again throughout the brief tirade, and this time, he didn't have to shush her—a few vehement shhhs materialized from the surrounding stacks, and the wrinkled old crone manning the nearest desk gave her a look of beady-eyed menace.
Those damn lines around his eyes were crinkling again, and for a moment, Ginny was paralyzed with fury. The moment was all he needed. Deliberately, he closed his book and nodded at the chair directly beside the one he was currently occupying. "Why don't you have a seat?"
"Short answer? Because you're in my chair."
He examined the contested seat in feigned confusion. "Is it really? Because I'm afraid I don't see your name on it. In fact, I was of the impression that this is the Ministry Library, meaning that all patrons are free to sit wherever they like."
Belatedly, she recalled her earlier strategy. This is not rising to the bait? a voice in her mind asked dryly, and she sighed, realizing that she'd inadvertently dug herself into a hole. She couldn't leave now—that wouldn't be waving a white flag so much as loading one into a cannon and blasting it into his face—and so, with as much dignity as she could muster at the moment (which wasn't much), she dropped into the chair beside him.
"I can see why you like this one," he continued as if they were and always had been having a civil conversation. "It's warm… comfy… gives you a good view of what's happening in most of the rest of the library—"
"Yes, Malfoy, I'm aware of the merits of that particular chair," she said wearily. When he made no reply other than to open his book again, she fixed her eyes on his face and asked, "What do you want?"
"What makes you so sure I want something?" he asked distractedly, ostensibly enthralled by the text in front of him.
"Come off it. You've been antagonizing me here for more than a week, and now you're risking catching poor people germs from a chair you know I habitually occupy."
"Technically, you started the antagonism," he pointed out. When her only reply was an irritated huff, he chuckled briefly and said, "All right, then. I want you to go out with me."
At first, she was certain she'd misheard. "Come again?"
He snapped his book shut abruptly and met her eyes with a sudden intensity. "I want. You. To go out. With me."
For a few seconds, all she could do was stare at him, and he stared back, unblinking and perfectly serene. Oh, to be a Legilimens right now, she thought vaguely. Suddenly, she realized she was in serious danger of admiring the shade of his eyes again, and so she blurted the first question to come to mind: "Have you been Imperiused?"
The corner of his mouth twitched. "No," he replied simply.
In the next instant, she had her wand out, and though his eyes flicked towards it and his hand made an abortive move towards his robes, he otherwise remained still as she said, "Finite Incantatem."
He waited for a few seconds, and then, as she stared at him expectantly, he leaned towards her a bit and said, "Ginny Weasley, will you go out with me?"
"You've gone mad," she said, dazed.
"Merlin's beard, your self-esteem is really in the toilet, isn't it?"
"My self-esteem is just fine, thank you," she snapped.
"Then why do you insist on believing I must be either cursed or mad to want to ask you out?"
"Did you lose a bet?" she asked directly. He snorted, and she continued on. "No? Well, then, let's think about this. You have made it very clear over more than a decade that you despise my family, me included. We fought on opposite sides of the war. You have taken every opportunity you've gotten to try to belittle, intimidate, and otherwise harass me. Your father tried to kill me. Therefore, I reiterate—you must have gone mad."
"So I suppose that it's completely outside of the realm of your comprehension that I've decided to let the past be the past, find you attractive, and simply wish to make an effort to get to know you?"
There were a thousand things she could say to that (a few good quips about how he was never interested in getting to know her before came to mind), but she just said, "I suppose it is."
"So that's a no, then?"
She studied him suspiciously. "This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that I'm Harry Potter's ex, would it?"
This time, the twitch morphed into a smile of genuine (if wry) amusement. Ginny, who'd thought that she could never be stunned again after hearing Draco Malfoy ask her out, was proven wrong. He's smiling, she thought dazedly. When did Malfoy start smiling? Malfoys don't smile, they smirk. What the bloody hell is going on?
"It doesn't," he said deliberately, "though if you thought it might piss him off, I suppose we could chalk that up to being a side benefit for both of us."
"What makes you think it would piss him off to see me out with someone else?" she asked automatically, buying time so she could think. He's up to something. He's got to be up to something, but what?
Malfoy, in the meantime, made a derisive sound. "Well, leaving aside the fact that I imagine it would infuriate your entire social circle if you went out with me, it's obvious that you left him."
"Oh, come on, who would he leave you for, Granger?"
"Hermione's married to my brother," Ginny said, still replying mechanically. Malfoy wants me to go out with him for no apparent reason. This is starting to get genuinely scary.
"Yes, I'm aware of that, Weasley," he said dryly. "My point is simply that Potter has never exactly had the reputation of being a ladies' man, and so I doubt he'd leave someone like you—ergo, you left him, which means you're probably annoyed with him for some reason, so annoying him would be a good thing."
"Sure," she said slowly. There's only one way to get to the bottom of this that I can see. One stupid, awful, incredibly dangerous way.
Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "Are you all right, Weasley? You're starting to look a bit… pale, under all those freckles."
Just like that, she snapped back to the present. Stupid and incredibly dangerous indeed, she thought with a spark of self-loathing—she was a Gryffindor, she couldn't help it; barging headlong into dangerous situations to get to the bottom of them was in her nature. Can't give in too easily or he'll get suspicious, she thought, and asked sharply, "If I say yes, will you give me back my chair?" She thought she saw a faint glimmer of surprise in his eyes, but it was quickly masked with arrogance. Interesting. He didn't expect me to say yes. Not that he should have, but if he was sure his plan would fail, why try it?
"It would be my pleasure," he said sarcastically, the familiar smirk surfacing on his face. Much better. No more disorienting smiles.
"Fine. I'll go out with you, on the condition that I get to choose the place."
He inclined his head modestly. "Of course. Shall we say Friday around seven?"
"Sure," she said shortly. "I'll meet you at the Leaky Cauldron."
"Wonderful," he purred, and stood up, folding his book under his arm. She blinked. She would have thought he would maintain his stranglehold on he chair until she'd followed through with her agreement—but no, he simply nodded arrogantly at her and said, "Friday, then," before turning on his heel and striding quickly out of the library.
It was a good five minutes before Ginny could calm the clamor in her mind long enough to get up and flee back to her office.
Next up- the siblings take a break from Ginny's storytelling to get into more trouble. Ron and Ginny have a private conversation, and then she resumes the story, telling her brothers the story of the first "date."
“So far, so good,” Charlie said, breaking the silence that followed Ginny’s second anecdote with an approving nod. “You saw something suspicious and decided to investigate—typical Gryffindor behavior.”
“Typical Weasley behavior,” said George with an approving nod. “Though we should skin you for daring to venture out with Malfoy without letting someone know what you were up to, in case of the all-too-likely event of your disappearance.”
“I told Luna,” Ginny protested weakly. The alcohol was finally getting to her head—it didn’t manifest in slurring or inhibited speech as much as it made her feel lightheaded and somewhat tired… or maybe that’s the sleepless night on top of the alcohol. The invigoration draught was still holding out, but it was bound to wear off soon, and she didn’t look forward to finding out what might happen when it did.
“Oh, wonderful,” Ron said darkly. “You told Looney Lovegood that you were going out with Malfoy. The only problem is that her mind, that counts as a perfectly ordinary state of events.”
Ginny glared at him. She’d always had an issue with his somewhat dismissive treatment of Luna, though normally, there was an undercurrent of loving that made it bearable. Now, the alcohol had taken that undercurrent away, making him sound less like a person bewildered by his friend’s peculiarities and more like a mean-spirited ass.
Before she could say so, though, Charlie interrupted. “What I want to know is where it all went wrong. You started out fine, Gin, so what’s with the turnaround?”
Percy started as if someone had stuck him with a pin, which had Ginny checking to make sure both of George’s hands were on the table (they were). “I know!” he said excitedly. Ginny raised an eyebrow, and he leaned forward, dropping his voice conspiratorially and forcing all of his siblings to lean in as well. “You still suspect him of some wicked scheme,” he whispered. “You’re pretending to be his girlfriend while you discover what it is and you haven’t told anyone in case they blew your cover.”
Ginny looked around the circle, saw the hopeful looks on every face but Bill’s, and sighed deeply, resting her face in her hands. “Nooooo,” she moaned.
“No?” asked Percy at his normal volume, sounding wretchedly disappointed.
“No,” she confirmed, glancing up. Percy drew back and looked woefully at the drink in his hand a moment before bolting it back. “Sorry to disappoint,” she said wryly as he choked past the firewhiskey.
“Now, there’s a telling statement,” Ron muttered to George.
Ginny glared at them both. “Can we take a short break from the inquisition? I need to go to the loo,” she snapped.
There was a general murmur of agreement as her brothers realized that they’d been drinking for over an hour without any bathroom breaks, and bodies shifted from their seats, filing out into the pub and freeing Ginny for the first time. Fighting the urge to run, just run for it dammit, she went to the loo, scourgifying the toilet before she dared make any form of contact.
When she came back out, she decided she wasn’t ready to resume her narrative just yet. I need to sober up a little, she decided, and so she slipped out the back door into the Snake’s Tooth tiny courtyard. The October air was frigid, but not unbearably so—she could smell the comforting scent of smoke from a dozen chimneys and the air bit her skin pleasantly, and only then did she realize how hot she’d gotten sitting inside the pub.
I’ll just stay out for a little while, she decided, and then she noticed that she wasn’t alone. A form was huddled at the edge of the courtyard, facing the back street, and judging by the light coming from the tavern windows, it was one of her brothers. Three guesses who, she thought wryly, gauging the sulky slant of his shoulders.
After a moment, perhaps encouraged by the amount of alcohol she had imbibed, she decided to go over. Ron had been sullen and furious all night, and she didn’t think he needed to be alone, even if his only company was the sister he currently viewed as a disgrace. Hell, she thought as she began crunching through the frosty grass to join him, at most, we’ll clear the air, and if not, maybe he’ll get so angry that he’ll leave and remove the biggest thundercloud hanging over my head right now.
He didn’t look at her as she reached him and dropped down to sit next to him. For a long minute, the only sound was muffled merriment coming from the pub behind them. Just as Ginny was starting to think about saying something, Ron lifted his head and said, “You know, of all the mad things that you’ve done, there’s on thing that I just can’t understand, no matter how hard I try.”
Ginny sensed that there was more coming, and she didn’t intend to guess what baffled her brother most about her—it seemed she’d never made decisions that he could fully comprehend. After another few seconds, he looked at her.
“Why did you leave Harry?”
Okay, she hadn’t been expecting that one. Given the topic of the night, she’d expected something like “How could you possibly find Ferret-Face Malfoy attractive?” or “What on earth could he have done to convince you he wasn’t out to kill you and all your loved ones?” Still, she supposed it made sense.
And all she could think to say in response was “It’s complicated.” Oh, she had plenty of reasons she could give him. The only problem was that things were already so muddled inside her head, so knotted together that she had difficulty detangling them to offer curious parties a set of organized reasons rather than one huge clump of hurts, misunderstandings, and incompatibilities—and that when she was sober. Still, she started making an effort to sort things out so she could at least try to convince her brother that no, she did not belong with Harry Potter.
It started out so simply. With Ron and Hermione together, Harry inevitably had to look outside of the Trio for a partner, and Ginny was the absolute shortest distance he could go, not so far as to disrupt the unity of the group by bringing in a genuine outsider (though Ginny was an outsider to a certain degree; there was no denying it). Harry got to be a part of the Weasley family, Ron got to stop worrying about who his sister might choose as a boyfriend, Hermione didn’t have to worry about her best friend dating someone with whom she couldn’t connect, and Ginny got to date the boy she’d been crushing on (actively and inactively) and looking up to for years. Everything was perfectly packaged.
So perfect. If those had been the only requirements needed to maintain a lasting relationship, Harry and Ginny would have been together forever. As it happened, Ginny needed more. She needed genuine compatibility, and over time, she realized that she and Harry just… weren’t compatible.
Which was a fact she now tried to explain to Ron through a tired mind muddled with alcohol. “It’s… difficult, you know, realizing you’re not in love with someone you’ve been infatuated with for nearly ten years,” she said. “I suppose the exact opposite thing happened with you, so it’ll be even harder for you to understand.”
“Try me,” he growled, and it was on the tip of her tongue to say to him not with that attitude, but she caught herself before she could speak the thought out loud. He was in pain, and despite the fact that she found this particular pain nonsensical and unnecessary, he was still her beloved brother and it still hurt her to see him hurting. Therefore, she delayed her impatience and the wounded feelings resulting from his behavior all night and tried to help him comprehend the whole thing.
“I wanted Harry for so long that I sort of molded my ideals around him,” she answered simply. “Sure, I ‘moved on’ per Hermione’s suggestion, I dated around a little bit, but Harry was always… it, you know? The end goal. He was the one I wanted to be with. So we got together, and it was great and wonderful and everything I’d always wanted.”
“Exactly,” Ron grumbled.
“Yes, but you’re forgetting that when we first got together, he was sixteen and I was fifteen—not to mention the fact that there had been a war developing for years that was just about to break out. So we’ve got the two of us as teenagers who haven’t quite developed into who we were going to be as adults, we’ve got a constant feeling of imminent danger—which really only fuels hormones and doesn’t do much for helping people make rational, informed decisions—and, in Harry’s case, he had a great purpose, something he was meant to do.
“Fast-forward two years. The war is over. Voldemort is dead, Harry’s purpose has been accomplished, and all we have left is to live out our happy lives together for the next century.”
“Right,” said Ron. “So what went wrong?”
Ginny sighed and rested her chin on her palms. “That’s exactly the point, Ron. Harry’s grown to always be looking for the next problem to fix. He’s a hero. The world needs heroes, but I wouldn’t recommend dating one unless you’re a hero, too. As it stands, Ron, in Harry’s eyes, you three are the heroes, and you’re at the top tier of his concerns and his confidences. Me? I’m… not.”
“You’re—” Ron started to object, but his sister cut him off.
“I was always just a bit detached from the three of you, which has the combined result of putting me on a pedestal above all of the gritty stuff you had to go through and locking me in a box away from you, not to be really trusted. He tries to protect me, Ron, all the time, and when it’s not Voldemort, it’s little things, simpler things—the grocer’s bill, for heaven’s sake. You of all people should know that I can’t stand being treated like a bloody child who needs to be looked after. Not only that, but he doesn’t trust me. I thought, you know… earlier, right after the war ended I thought I’d be okay with it, that I could just be content knowing he loved me. I realized soon that that’s not enough to make a life together.”
“But you loved him,” Ron snapped. “Isn’t that enough?”
Ginny closed her eyes. “I thought it would be. It wasn’t, Ron. Real love… not only loving someone but being in love with them, too, true love… half of it is selflessness. The other part is trust, and there’s a huge overlap between the two. You’ve got to have both for it to last, coming from both sides. I’ll tell you right now that in mine and Harry’s relationship, I trusted him but wasn’t willing to be selfless. He was selfless with me, but he wasn’t willing to trust me. Believe me, that is not the recipe for a lasting relationship.”
“And you’ve got, what, mutual selflessness and trust with Malfoy?” asked Ron bitterly.
Ginny opened her eyes again and looked up at the smoggy sky. “I think,” she said carefully, “that I do.”
The door behind them was thrown open, heightening the sound of the din from inside and making them both snap around to look. Percy was standing in the doorway, looking wild. “Um,” he said. “Help.”
Ron and Ginny exchanged a swift glance, sharing the kind of telepathic communication specifically unique to the two youngest siblings of many—communication that said whatever’s between us can wait; we have to band together to face the imminent threat posed by our older brothers.
As she and Ron rocketed to their feet and hurried back into the pub, Ginny thought some things never change. She pushed past a stunned Percy, only to freeze just over the threshold as she realized what was happening inside.
Charlie was drunk. This much was obvious, as he was standing on a barstool, had a broom in hand, and was smashing the moth-bitten curtains with the end, bellowing, “Doxies! Blasted things—not gonna get away from me…”
George was on the floor, sobbing with laughter. At least, Ginny hoped it was laughter—after all, Charlie was flailing that broomstick around awfully violently, and George might be curled up that way because he’d suffered an injury to the solar plexus. A quick listen reassured her that the source of those awful choking sounds coming out of his mouth was glee, not pain.
She instinctively looked for Bill, and found him sitting resolutely back at their table, drinking butterbeer. He had clearly washed his hands of the whole business, and she didn’t blame him a bit. Still, someone had to fix this. The bartender was clearly of two minds, because on the one hand, that broomstick was getting awfully close to the windowpane (even though broken windows could be mended with a quick spell, it would be bad for business if patrons were injured by the flying glass), and on the other hand, the man wielding it was Charlie Weasley, who could throw a man across the room and into a brick wall as easily as he could sneeze (and had done before).
Before the barkeep could decide to be brave, get injured, and therefore have grounds to throw the entire Weasley family out of the pub, Ginny intervened. She hastened to Charlie’s side, stumbled, just barely managed to duck out of the way as he swung the broomstick back in preparation for another blow to the curtains, and wrapped both hands around his thick wrist, tugging. “Charlie!”
He looked at her, confused for a moment, then his bleary face showed signs of recognition. “’Lo, Ginny,” he rumbled, turning back to the windows. “There are bloody doxies in the curtains, see them? I’m getting ‘m out.”
He moved to swing again, but Ginny pulled on his arm as hard as she could, throwing the blow off. He turned back to her, puzzled, and she desperately said, “You’ll never guess where I took Draco on that first date.”
He blinked at her, as though unsure whether or not this was a trick. “Where?”
He blinked again, and then, slowly, a sly grin spread over his face. “Pull the other one.”
He paused, adjusting his grip on the broomstick. “What did he do?”
“Come back to the table, have another drink with me, and I’ll tell you.”
He considered it for a bleary moment, then stepped down from the stool. Ginny gently removed the broomstick from his slackening fingers and then handed it abruptly to the nearest bar patron, looked at Percy and said “Butterbeer. Now,” and escorted her brother back to the table.
She got him settled in, then took her own seat beside him. “There are doxies, Gin,” he repeated dutifully, then suddenly peered sharply at her. “Where’re the drinks?”
“Coming,” she said, a bit alarmed, but as he wheeled around to look, Ron, Percy, and George returned to the table (the latter still wiping away tears, the former two bearing five butterbeers between them). As Ron began to hand out mugs, Bill leaned over to his sister and murmured, “He’s been sneaking shots while we all were listening to your story. He’s had twice as much as we have by now.”
“Oh,” Ginny whispered, glancing furtively at Charlie, who had seized Ron in a headlock and was holding him there as he downed half of his mug of butterbeer. “That explains… the, ah, the doxies.”
Bill snorted. “With the amount he’s had, I’m surprised he’s not seeing full-fledged vampires creeping out of the curtains,” he confided as Charlie seized another mug and tried to make Ron drink from it while still held captive.
Ginny laughed out loud, but took pity on Ron, whose face was starting to turn purple. She reached over and pinched the outside of Charlie’s elbow as hard as she could. He would have been more pained by a mosquito bite, but the pinch had the desired effect, which was to draw his attention. “Charlie,” she said sweetly as he looked at her, “let Ron go. I want to tell you the story.”
Charlie looked down at the head trapped beneath his arm and appeared shocked. “Bloody hell. Sorry, Ron, I thought you were Perce,” he said, and, ignoring the indignant (if slightly fearful) huff from Percy, he released his captive, who gasped for air.
“Come on, Ginny,” said George, choking back a last few chuckles and wiping his eyes with the backs of his hands. “Tell us about what happened in Muggle London before Charlie gets it in his head to burn the whole place down.”
Five Months Ago
All through the week, Ginny wrestled with herself.
On the one hand, it was clear that Draco Malfoy was Up To No Good, a state of affairs that had caused Ginny and her loved ones considerable irritation (at best) in the past. It was clear, then, that someone should figure out what he was Up To, and Ginny found herself in the unique position of being able to play spy.
On the other hand, she really didn’t want to go.
Back to the first hand—she was a perfectly capable young woman with sharp reflexes and a proclivity for particularly strong offensive spells.
And back to the other hand—how wonderful would it be to stand up Draco Malfoy? The look on his face alone—
First hand chiming in again: if she didn’t show up, she definitely wouldn’t get to see the look on his face, so why would it matter?
Eventually, she came down in favor of following through. So, Friday evening at 7:00 shop, she strode to the Leaky Cauldron under a glamour that turned her hair short and brown and her eyes blue. She didn’t realize that she hadn’t exactly expected him to show up until she spotted his silver-blonde head at one of the tables in the back corner.
His presence made the whole thing a bit too real, and she was struck with the sudden impulse to flee. He hasn’t spotted you yet. You could just nip out, go home, have a quiet night in… but was she a Gryffindor or wasn’t she? The thought grounded her. She took a deep, steadying breath and marched over to his table.
When she came to a stop beside him, he glanced up, looked away again, and then double-took. A look of mild surprise overtook his face. “Bloody hell, Weasley, is that you?”
“A bit louder, if you don’t mind,” she hissed, but a quick glance around proved that no one had taken the slightest notice. When she looked back at him, he had regained his usual arrogant composure, and she gestured impatiently for him to stand. “Come on, up. Let’s go.”
“And where are we going, dare I ask?” he drawled as he obliged her.
“Oh, you’ll see,” she said, and turned abruptly, leading the way into the back courtyard.
“You know,” he said, a bit more quietly now as they passed through the inn, “I’m surprised to see you. I half expected you not to show up.”
“Yeah,” she muttered as they stepped out through the door. “Me, too.”
He didn’t deign to reply to that, instead looking forward to the brick wall that bordered the back courtyard. “Diagon Alley?” he guessed. “How… original.” Ginny gave him a quick, humorless smile.
“Not exactly,” she said, grabbing his hand. There was just enough time for her to see another quick flash of surprise on his face before she disapparated.
They emerged in an alley that she happened to know was a port shielded from Muggle observation. Draco, on the other hand, was looking around in faint bewilderment, and as she released her his hand and scrubbed her palm on her jeans, he said, “Ah… Weasley. Where are we?”
She didn’t answer, occupying herself with the removal of her disguise. “That’s better,” she sighed, shaking her hair back as it resumed its original length and then heading to the edge of the alley. When she reached the street and noticed that she was alone, she glanced over her shoulder to see that he was still looking around with gratifying uncertainty. “Coming?” she snapped, and without waiting for an answer, she left the alley and began moving purposefully down the street.
It didn’t take him long to catch up, though he was initially too preoccupied with eyeballing passing pedestrians to speak. Finally, he recovered himself enough to demand in horror-struck hushed tones, “Weasley—are those Muggles?”
“Your observational skills are truly exceptional,” she remarked, ignoring a sharp look from a particularly mangy passerby.
The realization of where they were rendered Draco silent for a few moments. Finally, still lagging a step or two behind, he hissed, “You could have given me some warning.”
“That would have defeated the purpose,” she replied, unable to keep a touch of smugness from her voice. “Well. Part of it, anyway.”
“Oh, yes? And what’s the other part?” he asked, sounding distracted.
“Being able to move around freely without dreading that someone might recognize us,” she said shortly. And the reassurance that if you whip out your wand and start firing off spells left and right, then the Ministry will be on you in a heartbeat, she thought to herself, but she didn’t bother telling him that. No need to give him ideas.
When he didn’t make the expected snappy comeback, she glanced sideways at him to see that he was checking his clothes with… was that self-consciousness? Feeling the unexpected urge to be merciful to him, she scanned him quickly. Fortunately, the robes he wore were open over black pants and a black-and-silver waistcoat, giving them the effect of looking rather like a long coat. “Don’t worry,” she said unwillingly. “Your clothes are a bit Victorian, but this is London. You’ll fit right in.”
“Oh, that’s a comfort,” he said sarcastically. There’s that comeback I was looking for.
Truth be told, Ginny was rather surprised that he hadn’t disapparated immediately after he realized where they would be spending the evening, and she couldn’t decide quite how much this worried her. If nothing else, he seems to be committed to this “date.”
She was surprised again to realize that once his initial shock passed, he didn’t seem particularly uncomfortable. She’d expected awkwardness and gawking, but instead, he fell into step beside her quite as though he belonged there and refrained from staring unduly at the passing Muggles or the odd shops lining the street. How disappointing, she thought, ignoring the fact that her “disappointment” felt rather more like pleasant surprise.
She took him to a café she had visited with Hermione a few times. There were only a handful of people inside and none on the patio outside, and she signaled for him to wait just inside the doorway, figuring that it would be best to minimize his contact with Muggles as much as possible. She then marched up the counter, where a bored-looking teenager asked for her order. “A large Earl Grey, please,” she said, “and he’ll have—”
“A mocha latte, if it’s not too much trouble,” said a voice too close to her ear, and she turned sharply to see that Draco had stolen up and was standing right behind her. She only realized she was gaping when he reached up and nudged at the underside of her chin with astounding familiarity, prompting her to close her mouth.
“That’ll be six pounds fifty,” said the barista, who clearly couldn’t be less interested in this exchange.
Ginny recovered and paid, and then, as the teenager turned away to concoct the drinks, she seized Draco by the elbow and dragged him away to the nearest stirring station. Clearly anticipating her attack, he struck preemptively. “What, you carry Muggle money now?” he whispered. “You’re really wrecking my plan of impressing you by insisting on paying for everything, you know.”
“I’m far less likely to be impressed when that insistence would doubtless be accompanied by some not-so-subtle jabs about how I couldn’t afford it myself,” she said impatiently, quickly dismissing the fact that he apparently wanted to impress her for some reason. “Never mind that—since when are you familiar with Muggle coffee drinks?”
He widened his eyes innocently. “Since Italy. It’s the only place in Europe where you can get truly great espresso, you know.”
To say that Ginny was stunned would be an understatement. To any onlookers, the scene at the counter would have appeared perfectly ordinary, but for her, it was the first strong indicator that she might just have been wrong about this whole night. First, it implied that while Draco was abroad, he’d spent some time in Muggle areas—perfectly unnecessary, since Europe was quite developed and there were plenty of Wizarding areas to keep him occupied without having to step out into Muggle shops for any reason but that he chose to. This led to the second and rather more significant implication—that the man she was dealing with was a very different Draco Malfoy from the one she had last seen five years ago.
The thought was enough to keep her preoccupied until their drinks were ready, when she managed to suggest that they relocate to the patio. Draco obligingly led the way, and by the time they sat down, she had regained at least the appearance of composure. She noticed then that Draco had been watching her the entire time with an insufferably knowing smirk, saying nothing.
Belaboring the issue would simply draw more attention to the fact that he had taken her by surprise, so she changed the subject. “How long have you been back?” she asked distractedly, reminding herself that she had a very firm, very simple plan for the night: find out what he’s up to. Never mind the fact that she was suddenly getting the forbidding feeling that she might not want to know anymore.
“The night you bumped into me with your friend—the odd one—was actually the first night I’d been back,” he said easily, quite as if he’d expected the question.
“You spent five years abroad?” she asked, lifting one eyebrow incredulously.
“More or less,” he replied with a shrug, prying the lid from his styrafoam cup and blowing on the steaming latte. “I’d come home for a month or two now and again, but I mostly kept my head down.”
“I can’t imagine why,” she muttered sarcastically.
“Can’t you?” he asked, looking her square in the eye. She hadn’t expected him to acknowledge his family’s disgrace following the war, however obliquely, and she was startled to find that she felt a stirring of embarrassment. She glanced down at her cup instinctively, and Draco moved on smoothly before she could think of something to say. “I spent some time in Norway as well, studying, because—well, I suppose you know I never finished my final year at Hogwarts.”
“I didn’t think you needed to,” she said, still feeling unpleasantly off-balance. This was not what I was expecting. Rallying her spirits, she refocused her endeavors. “So you’re away for five years, going to school, enjoying Europe, visiting Muggle cafes in Italy…” She glanced up to see that, aside from a slightly lifted eyebrow and that unfamiliar amusement in his eyes, Draco apparently had no intention of responding. He was also staring at her again, which made his unwillingness to converse much more eerie. She sat up a bit straighter, and, more forcefully, she asked, “Why did you come back?”
As if snapping out of a daydream, he shrugged, cleared his throat, and took a sip from his drink. “How long can a person run?”
“You tell me,” she challenged.
The corner of his mouth twitched again. “Five years, apparently.”
There it was again, that unexpected sense of humor. Ginny couldn’t imagine where he’d gotten it, and she couldn’t comprehend why on earth her mouth was twitching now. Don’t you dare smile, she told herself, and as she focused on wiping her face of any signs of amusement, Draco saw an opportunity and leaned forward, going on the offense.
“Tell me, Weasley, have you been spending an inordinate amount of time around Granger?”
Aha, the suspicious part of her mind crowed. The temptation to smile abruptly melted away. Instead, she asked warily, “Why do you want to know about Hermione?”
“I don’t,” he answered simply. “I simply want to know if you’ve been spending too much time with her, because if I recall correctly, she’s the one lacking a sense of humor, not you. Hell,” he said, suddenly looking a bit rueful, “anyone who decides that making their enemies’ bogeys fly out and attack them is a good idea has to have one.”
There were any number of things Ginny could have said to that, but frankly, she was getting tired of dancing around the real subject at hand. Abandoning the cup she’d been nursing, she leaned forward, trying not to be disconcerted by the fact that he mirrored her right away, as if by instinct.
“Okay, Malfoy,” she said levelly, “you’re right. Normally, this situation would strike me as totally absurd, which would definitely appeal to my sense of humor.” She paused, noticing suddenly that they both had their hands flat on the table in front of them in a sort of truce stance, resulting in less than an inch of tablecloth space between their fingertips. He had nice hands, too, Ginny noticed, long and white and well-shaped, clean but not feminine.
“But?” he prompted, making her glance up from their hands into his eyes again. Not that this provided any relief—his eyes seemed to reflect the light, making them appear to be a fascinating shade of silver.
“But,” she continued, reminding herself that no matter how much he may have physically changed, deep down he was the same rotten little ferret as always (wasn’t he?), sense of humor or no, “it’s hard to find any situation funny when it means that the people I love could get hurt.”
“Ah,” he said, and leaned back, hands slipping off the table and away from hers. She watched him carefully as he picked up his cup of coffee, took a sip, and stared across the street, looking suddenly as though he was miles away. Just as abruptly, though, he looked back at her, maintaining his rather unnerving penchant for making direct eye contact. “Weasley, I’ve been back for about a month. Most people have the tact to wait to discuss my family’s choices those years ago until I’ve left the room, but I have been confronted by a healthy number of shockingly ill-bred people—journalists, faceless former schoolmates who think they are allowed to assume some familiarity with me, people who have lost friends and family to Death Eaters and believe they have the right. These people always want to know why I’m back, and regardless of whether they’re shockingly rude or unbearably polite in the asking, I always tell them the same thing: bugger off.”
Ginny released a short, angry breath. “You asked me here,” she reminded him.
“I did,” he agreed with a simple nod. “Which is why I intend—as much as is possible—to suspend my normal role of sarcastic asshole long enough to speak openly with you… within reason, of course, but I don’t imagine that you’ll want to know any more than I’m willing to tell you.”
“That’s ominous,” Ginny remarked under her breath before she could help it.
Draco looked sharply up at her, that eyebrow shooting up again. “I could always re-commence with the sarcastic asshole protocol.”
She didn’t dignify that with response, instead moving on to more pressing issues. “Why did you come back?”
“I told you. There’s only so long you can hide.”
“That was Sarcastic Asshole talking,” she objected.
“Yes, but it also happened to be the truth.”
She shook her head irritably. Not important. “All right, fine. What are you up to?”
“I’m wounded,” he said, placing one of those damn long-fingered hands over his chest. “Who says I’m up to anything?”
“I thought you said you were dispensing with Sarcastic Asshole.”
“I can’t stop completely,” he said. “If I ever do, you’ll know I’m dead.”
She recited a few of her favorite curses under her breath and said, “I’ve been over the long—long—list of reasons why you shouldn’t be asking me out back in the library. Do you really want me to reiterate them, or are you going to cut the shit and just tell me why you asked me here?”
“You mean you want me to tell you in more detail than I already have?” When her only response was to glare at him, he added quickly, “That wasn’t sarcasm, but I’ll take your stony silence as a yes. Well…” For a split second, his self-assurance faltered, and through the crack in his composure, she could see actual self-consciousness.
So he is human, she thought, trying vainly not to smile. Draco looked up, saw the expression on her face, and immediately snapped out of it. Straightening up, he said loftily, “If you must know, I carried quite the torch for you, from the end of my fifth year and all through the sixth.”
Her eyes widened. Whatever she’d been expecting, it wasn’t that. “S—sixth…?”
His temporary discomfort was nothing but a faint memory now—if anything, he seemed delighted by her complete bewilderment. “I know, I know—that was the year you first got with Potter, too. It was bad. Even some of my fellow Slytherins noticed.”
“Of course, I played it off as mere… aesthetic appreciation. It was out of the question at the time. You were a blood traitor—” and she didn’t miss the way his tone turned ever-so-slightly derisive at the term, though she would have difficulty saying whether the contempt was directed towards the idea or the slur itself—“and I wasn’t. Even if everyone around me had been completely supportive, I wouldn’t have been able to get past my own issues. Fortunately, I was… incredibly preoccupied throughout that year. I was busy enough that the crush faded into a minor inconvenience.”
Ginny cleared her throat. Draco watched her patiently for a moment, giving her a few seconds in which to interject, but for the first time that night, she felt totally incapable of speaking. Once he realized she wasn’t going to say anything, he shrugged and moved on. “Anyway. Six years later, who should be the first familiar face I see but the girl I spent the better part of a year convincing myself I wasn’t attracted to? Even then, I wasn’t going to pursue the matter, but then I saw you at the library. I decided to go ahead, ask you out, and get rejected, just to get it all over with.”
“If you thought I was going to reject you, why’d you even bother?” she asked, totally mystified.
“Because I have discovered throughout the past five years that testing fate is unwise,” he said, mouth twisting wryly.
Well. That explanation made enough sense—that is, if Ginny chose to believe him, which, at the moment, she certainly had not. He seemed aware of it, too, because he set down his cup, cleared his throat, and said, “But you don’t have to take my word for it. I don’t blame you in the slightest for being mistrustful. I do hope, though, that if, at the end of the night, you’ve reached a somewhat neutral stance, you might consent to a second date.”
“This isn’t a date,” she objected automatically.
He frowned, and she less than pleased to discover that she wasn’t shocked that his expression looked more playful than anything else. “Of course it is. You’re interrogating me. That’s usually how first dates go.”
She snorted. “Who’ve you been dating?”
“And,” he continued, giving her a stern look, again with the unfamiliar playfulness, “since I expect you intend to spend the rest of the night continuing to interrogate me, a second date is really necessary. You’ll find out the facts tonight, and next time, you’ll find out if you actually like spending time with me.”
“It’s unlikely,” she interjected, trying to maintain a hold on this immensely disconcerting conversation.
He shrugged. “How will you know unless you try?”
She stopped and stared at him, and finally, a genuine smile slipped past her defenses. Oh, she wasn’t buying his story, not at all—but she was surprised to find that despite that, she was rather enjoying this altered version of Draco Malfoy. While she certainly intended on keeping at this mystery until it was solved, really solved, she was beginning to realize that she might actually enjoy the process.
So, her tone incrementally warmer than before (or at least a bit more relaxed), she said, “Maybe stop trying to push for a second date until the first one’s ended.”
“So you admit it’s a date?” he replied without missing a beat.
Ginny shook her head. “Settle down, Malfoy. I’ve still got plenty of questions for you, and by the time I’m finished, you might have reconsidered wanting to see me again.”
Thanks to Harry Lloyd's face for giving me Draco inspiration during the "date" scene. Seriously, first-class smirks.
Next up, Ginny details the first of two instances that began to convince her of Draco's sincerity.
Ginny paused and took stock of her brothers. She seemed to have lost Charlie, who was staring deep into his mug of butterbeer, and unless she was mistaken, Bill was only paying attention out of politeness—but Ron, George, and Percy were all staring at her expectantly.
As she looked at them, Ron made an impatient gesture. “And?”
“And what?” Ginny asked, brow crinkling. Maybe she was drunker than she thought if they’d asked her a question and she couldn’t remember what it was.
“Bloody hell, Ginny. What questions did you ask him?”
“More importantly,” Percy interjected, “what answers did he give you that assured you his intentions were—hic—good?”
“You know,” Ginny said reluctantly. “The usual stuff.” She didn’t want to admit, especially not while she knew she was inebriated, that she had perhaps allowed herself to be distracted with verbal banter more and more frequently as the night went on. She definitely didn’t want to confess to the fact that by the time he got around to asking her out again, only half of the reason she agreed was because she still suspected him and wanted to keep close watch on him (which she did). The other half might have had something to do with cheekbones, and also the fact that he was proving to be very adept at making her laugh. “And I was not assured that his intentions were good,” she added, glaring daggers at Percy.
“Ginny, you’re drunk,” said Charlie. No one bothered responding to him.
“So, what did you ask him specifically?” George said. “Did you find out if he was spending time around Muggles?”
“I did, and he was,” she replied, keeping an eye on Charlie, whose face was drifting dangerously close to the mouth of his mug. “Not… you know, not a lot of time, but it turned out that he was stepping out among them every now and again.”
“Short answer is because he had grown slowly aware of the fact that his side had lost—and not only that, but he’d been rooting against it (more or less) for at least a year before that last battle. He figured if he was wrong about that, then how much more of his ideology was deeply flawed? It helped that he left all of his influences behind right after that, his parents, fellow Slytherins…”
“Fellow Death Eaters,” Ron mumbled to George. Ginny gave him a sharp look.
“He decided to explore it while he was abroad and no one could hold it against him,” she said pointedly, “and he realized that Muggles weren’t quite as awful as he’d been raised to believe. I mean, sure, he’s not going to be best buddies with any of them, but he’s found one or two things about them that he can appreciate.”
“Did you know you get r’lly eloquent when you’re drunk?” Charlie mumbled, lowering his face onto his mug. His face was broad and the level of liquid in his cup was low enough so that nothing was submerged, but he’d have a hell of a ring emblazoned on his face in the morning if he didn’t move.
“So, what?” asked Ron, bitterness creeping into his tone again. “He tells you he used to be a bigot but he’s all better now, you accept it, and everything’s nice and simple?”
Ginny, who was leaning forward and coaxing Charlie’s face off of the mug so that she could interpose a napkin in-between, paused and shot her brother a poisonous look. “You know, there’s no shock ending coming, Ron. Not a single thing about this relationship has been just nice and simple, but despite that, you know how this story I’m telling you is going to end. When I came here tonight, I thought that you all wanted to know exactly why I started going out with him and how it evolved to the point it’s reached today, but if all you wanted to do was just bully me and talk down to me, you can leave now, because I’ve had just about enough of you.”
Ron’s ears began to turn red, and Ginny swore that any second he was going to stand up and stomp out of the pub, but Bill, as always, intervened. “What made you decide you could trust him, Gin?”
Ginny and Ron had another one of their stare-offs, but this one didn’t last very long, and Ginny exhaled slowly and turned her attention towards her eldest brother. Maybe he really had been paying attention. “Two incidents, actually,” she said quietly. “One was a month after that first night and the second one was a month after that. After the second one… that was when it got serious—for me. Knowing what I know now, I think he’d been taking it seriously from the start.”
She expected another mutinous mutter from Ron, a snort or something, and she clenched her wand beneath her robes, ready to attack if he so much as whispered another condescending word. However, perhaps sensing the warning vibes she was sending out, he said nothing, seeming content to finish his butterbeer.
“Tell us about the first one,” Bill said.
Four Months Ago
“Ginny. Ginny! Ginny—are you even listening to me?”
Ginny hadn’t been, but there was a very particular tone her sister-in-law used when someone was about to be in trouble, and the warning bells went off in her head the moment she registered it, causing her to tear her gaze away from the window she’d been staring absent-mindedly out of and focus on Hermione. “Um… no, sorry.”
Hermione exhaled sharply and dropped into the chair opposite Ginny’s desk. “See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. You’re distracted, you suddenly seem completely indifferent to your work—you messed up two batches of draught of living death in a row. Can you imagine what might have happened if you hadn’t realized in time?”
“But I did realize,” Ginny replied patiently.
“This time,” Hermione said. “You’ve been distracted for weeks. What’s going on?”
Ginny sighed, because, of course, Hermione was right. She had been distracted for weeks—three weeks, to be precise, and the start of that distraction just so happened to coincide with her date with Draco Malfoy in Muggle London. She definitely couldn’t tell Hermione that, though, for the same reason that she couldn’t tell her she’d gone out with him twice more and was seeing him again that very night—because, aside from nursing a healthy grudge against Malfoy herself, Hermione was married to Ron, leader of the unofficial League of Malfoy-Haters, and could not be expected to keep secrets from him.
If not for that little detail, Ginny actually wouldn’t mind telling her sister-in-law, because it would be nice to have someone other than Luna (who, Ginny suspected, didn’t quite grasp the significance of the whole situation) with whom she could discuss it. As it was, she just shrugged and said lamely, “Nothing.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes. “I don’t believe you.”
“Of course you don’t. You’re too clever.”
Hermione looked vaguely gratified, but she masked the glimmer in her eyes with a frown, sternly shaking her finger at her sister. “Don't think you can flatter your way out of this. Something's wrong.”
“Something's not wrong,” Ginny said, though she had no way to be sure that that was the truth. “Something's just different, and I'd really like to ask that you respect my decision not to talk about it just yet.”
Hermione hesitated, and Ginny could see the conflict playing out behind her eyes. On the one hand, Hermione strongly believed that she had the right to the knowledge of truth, all truth—she wasn't on great terms with secrets; they conflicted with her no-nonsense nature, though she could keep them better than most people when called upon. On the other hand, though, Hermione and Ginny had a strong bond. They'd been close for years and often enjoyed female solidarity when Ron and Harry were being abominable or secretive or clueless. They loved, respected and protected one another, and that meant something.
Finally, Hermione nodded tersely. “Very well, then. Keep your secret. Just don't keep it too long. Your work is suffering.” After saying her piece, she got up and left the office abruptly.
Ginny settled back in her chair and looked discontentedly at the grandmother clock in the corner. Quarter to five. Fifteen minutes before she could go home and start getting ready.
Of course, Hermione had been the one to notice while everyone else remained clueless that something was amiss. Though she tried not to show it, Ginny had been unduly distracted. She had gone out with Draco three times now, and each time, it was getting harder to convince herself that she was continuing on with it just because she was suspicious that he was up to something.
She was starting to notice things about him, little things, things that she had trouble believing were forged. Malfoy had never been what she would call opaque—still, she always reminded herself, five years is a long time for someone to learn to change.
However, she was uncomfortably aware that that reminder could work both ways—he could change for worse, but he could also change for better.
He used that shining new (and unfortunately funny) sense of humor to avoid talking about the past. Whenever the conversation drew too near the mention of his exploits in the last few years of school, he'd get her laughing about something related-but-not-quite-on-point and he would then move on. She'd feel better about that little habit if she knew exactly why he didn't want to talk openly about it—if it was because he didn't want to think about it or because he didn't want her thinking about it, and if the latter, was it because he was ashamed or because he didn't want her to be suspicious?
There were too many variables.
She was starting to take notice of his physical habits, too, and what they meant. He scratched his nose when he found something funny but thought it would be too ill-bred to laugh (apparently, he'd gained a conscience regarding these things, even if said conscience was a bit… limited). He tended to sit a bit slouched in his chair with his legs open—like a whore, she'd told him, and he laughed but neither contradicted her nor changed the way he sat. He never seemed to touch his hair, but it always looked so casually and perfectly rumpled, not to Harry Potter extremes, but...
He didn't blink when he stared at her (which he did unnervingly often). She told him it was creepy (bad idea) and so now she was certain he was doing it on purpose.
And sometimes… sometimes, when he was distracted or lost in thought, he would clasp his right hand over the sleeve of his left arm. Ginny had never seen that arm further than the wrist, and this particular habit was, perhaps, the most disturbing—not necessarily because she knew what must be underneath the sleeve, but because it counteracted all of her most suspicious theories. If he was so careful to steer her attention away from the past, then surely he'd be aware that he was undoing all that work with one simple, oft-repeated gesture.
If it was all a plot to get to her loved ones, she found it difficult to believe that he'd be doing anything unintentionally, let alone constantly touching the reminder of his shady past. If, however, he was just going out with her because, as he claimed, he was interested in her, then he might be wary about discussing their history but not stiffly averse to reminding her of it… it was all possible.
He was also disturbingly unbothered by the idea that they might be seen together by someone who would recognize one or both of them, which left Ginny working twice as hard to make sure their tracks were covered. Once, he asked her why she cared so much (after casually noting that it wouldn't exactly harm her social status to be seen out with a Malfoy).
Giving him a look that said our idea of social status is very different, she asked, “Do you have any idea what my brothers would do to you if they even suspected that there was something going on between us?”
He shrugged. “Show up on my doorstep, menace me, end the whole encounter by threatening me with castration if I hurt you—isn't that the usual procedure for overprotective brothers?”
“From what I hear, yes.”
“From what you hear?”
“Well, I wouldn't know. My brothers think that other brothers are too much bark and not nearly enough bite—so no, no elaborate-and-totally-unlikely threats. Just the very real castration.”
Draco studied her, trying to decide whether or not to believe her. “And you know this because...?”
“Because after Harry and I split up, I dated a fellow named Richard Riggins for a week.”
“A week’s all we had before my brothers found out. St. Mungo's managed to regrow all the… missing parts, but Richard wasn't so keen on seeing me again after that.” She watched as Draco winced and finally closed his damn legs. “I think they were just extra-angry because they wanted me to get back with Harry and Richard was the first indication that I was really moving on, but if anything was going to spur them to that sort of violence again, it would be you.”
Draco cleared his throat, shifted a little in his seat, and asked, “So you admit that there's something going on between us?”
Of course he'd focus on that part. Ginny rolled her eyes. “I admit nothing. My brothers just jump to conclusions as a rule.”
“But you are concerned about what they might do to me, hence the glamours and ducking about Muggle London to avoid anyone who might tell them.”
Ginny glanced at him. “I am not. You'd just be the beginning. After they finished with you, they'd come after me.”
“Ah, I see. So it's self-preservation?”
“And you can knock that smug smile off of your face before I do it for you.”
The most unnerving thing of all, though, was not this cluster of small but significant changes in Malfoy’s as much as it was Ginny’s reaction to those changes. On the first “date,” she began to entertain the possibility that time spent around him might not be as torturous as it had been in their school days. On the second date, she begrudgingly admitted to herself that she found his sense of humor engaging, his person attractive, and his tendency to start meaningless squabbles… surprisingly diverting, a refreshing change from previous boyfriends who seemed to regard any form of argument as a terrifying prospect (and then she scolded herself for comparing him to previous boyfriends in any capacity).
The third outing, though… that was when she really began to get worried. That was when she realized her attraction to him was growing beyond I suppose I can tolerate him as I try to discover his secret to I think he might actually like me and Merlin’s beard I think I might actually like him too. This realization frightened her, especially since she was still far from sure that his motives were good. Even so, ever the Gryffindor, she’d consented to this fourth date.
Speaking of… she looked again at the clock and found that she’d been lost in time for a perfectly adequate amount of time. It was after five, and time to go home. She took a breath, called out a goodbye to Hermione, and apparated to her flat.
There was one more thing bothering her, and she thought about it as she began to get ready for her evening. Draco hadn’t made any physical advances towards her throughout the past three dates, and she wasn’t sure why. At the very beginning, she’d have easily chalked it up to the idea that he wasn’t genuinely attracted to her, but every time she looked up and caught him staring at her—and it was starting to happen more and more often—it was getting harder to persuade herself that lack of attraction was the cause of it.
Ginny wasn’t a vain woman, but she’d have to be deprived of at least four of her five senses to be unaware that there was some serious chemistry between herself and Draco, and that chemistry was far from one-sided. The only time he’d touched her for any prolonged amount of time and in a less-than-neutral spot, he’d put his hand on the small of her back to keep track of her in the middle of a crowd of Muggles.
As much as she resisted the idea, telling herself that it was too cliché and that such things only happened in trashy romance novels (like the ones written by Cordelia Celestia that her mother read voraciously), she eventually had to admit to herself that the touch sent chills up her spine and raised goosebumps all over her skin. When he lifted his hands mere seconds later, she could still feel where each finger had lain as acutely as if it still rested there, and after they parted ways, she kept rubbing the spot, wondering if perhaps he’d placed some charm that made her notice and remember it so vividly.
Aside from that one fairly innocent touch, though, there had been… nothing. It was starting to worry her. It was also starting to frustrate the hell out of her, because there was a part of her that suspected that he was aware that she was starting to pick up on and return those feelings of attraction and had decided to wait it out, to let her make a move. Now, Ginny was not averse to making the first move, but she got a little more anxious about the idea when she suspected that some scheme or powerplay was depending on it.
They were at a standstill, because she didn’t trust him and because he wouldn’t act on anything those long, uninhibited stares were promising… and it was so frustrating.
By the time she finished getting ready, it was six o’clock, nearly time to go. They were, for once, going to a wizarding event, and Ginny prepared accordingly, glamouring her hair brown and straight and her eyes blue, adding a pair of black spectacles to the mix. She was especially careful because tonight, they were going to the London Wizarding Symphony, where the Malfoys had a box. Now the Malfoys were hardly regarded as glamorous bastions of society the way they had been before, but if a journo could get (or invent) a scandalous story about them… the papers would eat it up. It was a sort of belated backlash against the whole they’re evil but they’ve still got money thing that still drew the jealousy and ire of the wizarding community—and, more importantly to the papers, their interest.
As a result, Draco had played starring roles in the tabloids since his return and Ginny didn’t exactly intend to join him there, especially given that she was dating him for the strict purpose of finding his game (no matter how much she was questioning her own motives these days). Apparently, though, he wasn’t in it to improve his social standing by loudly dating a Weasley—no, when he had invited her along tonight and she’d raised the condition that she must be under heavy glamour, he agreed wryly and mentioned in passing that his parents would probably lose it if they knew a Weasley had been in their precious symphony box.
Interesting, Ginny thought; for all his carelessness, he doesn’t seem to want his parents to know.
At any rate, he knew where she lived (everyone knew where she lived, what with her being The Boy Who Lived’s evil ex), but she’d made it clear that he shouldn’t ever actually go there, what with the chances of him running into someone who knew him. Ginny preferred to go out and meet him. So, a little after six o’clock, after checking one last time to make sure the glamours were in place, she disappeared.
She arrived in a little park a block away from the symphony hall, where they’d agreed to meet. It didn’t take her long to find him; he was the only six-foot white-blond adult in dress robes in the small space. He was sitting on the bench, looking out over the pond at the multi-colored ducks.
Despite herself, Ginny felt a smile inching onto her face. She felt like she should find something menacing in the fact that he was always on time, but looking at him just then, she could only feel amused. He was the most punctual man she’d ever met. She walked to him, and as usual, he double-took before he realized. “Bloody hell,” he said wryly. “You couldn’t at least use the same glamours each time?”
She frowned in lieu of answering, distracted immediately by his appearance. His face looked—well, there was no other word for it: haggard. He was paler than usual, all the lines of his face stood out sharply, and there were deep blue-gray bags beneath his eyes. Startled (he always looked so composed), she blurted, “Are you all right?”
The corners of his mouth quirked in a smile that didn’t even come close to reaching his eyes. “Perfectly all right, and you?”
“You look tired.”
“I am tired.” For a moment, she was afraid he’d leave it at that or make some sort of joke, and she could see the wheels turning in his head as he plotted out a way to spin it, but he met her eyes briefly and his shoulders slumped just a bit in resignation instead. “Sleepless night, Weasley. I’m sure you’re not a stranger to the occasional bad dream.” His tone turned mocking at the end, warning her against any demonstration of sympathy.
She looked at the ducks, feeling the old suspicions well up—surely there were many far less benign reasons for a Malfoy to be up all night—accompanied by, unsurprisingly at this point, a desire to just give him the benefit of the doubt. Partially to distract herself, partially to distract him, she asked with false lightness, “So you’re seeking therapy in duckies?”
“Foul creatures,” he said, sounding curiously indifferent and neglecting to even give her the disapproving look she expected in response to the diminutive term.
Voice suddenly soft, she said, “We don’t have to go, you know.”
“Nonsense,” he said, standing abruptly. “Come on, then, Weasley; they’ll have started by now. We won’t have to dodge any… old acquaintances.”
Suddenly somber, she just nodded silently and allowed him to lead the way. She made no attempt to walk beside him and he made no attempt to slow his pace and draw her up; they just proceeded silently down the darkening street towards the symphony.
His hands were stiff at his sides, and Ginny caught herself wanting to take hold of one. She scolded herself immediately. For one thing, his body language didn’t indicate that he would welcome contact of any sort, and for another, she would not be the one making overtures. You are not going to be tricked into falling for a man who, for all intents and purposes, has some evil scheme reliant on you doing that very thing, she told herself firmly. You are not going to behave like a silly little girl. You do not need to touch him.
The atmosphere between them was all but frigid by the time they entered the hall, dodged a few lingering symphony-goers, and made their way to the Malfoy box. Despite the cool silence, he took her cloak before she sat, and as his hands brushed against her bare shoulders, she could have sworn she felt his warm thumbs brushing lightly against her skin, rubbing against her for a split second in a way she would have found comforting had she not refused to allow herself.
Just settle down, she thought as she took her seat, him following suit a moment later. Just ignore him for now. Maybe after you feel a bit calmer, you can come up with a way to get the truth out of him.
However, no sooner had she looked down at the orchestra than all thoughts using this time to plot fled. They were here to see Bastion Billings, a sensation in the wizarding world. She had heard of him, but had never seen him in person, which was perhaps the reason why she was so immediately enthralled by his performance.
He was, quite literally, a one-man orchestra, performing the duties of conductor and players all at once. The instruments were all set up in their normal places, yes, but there were no humans there to wield them, only Bastion with his wand at the conductor’s post. He started out simply enough, enchanting the violins to play, but soon, he started the violas, the cellos, percussion, woodwinds, piano, all playing their parts perfectly and with perfect timing.
The result was electric, and Bastion was no less so—his movements were frenzied an energetic, his passion for the task etched in every line of his face. Ginny was completely absorbed.
Finally, though, as Bastion guided the orchestra seamlessly into an andante movement, the effect wore off enough for her to look around the concert hall a bit. Her mouth twisted wryly as she spotted more than one pair of eyes darting towards the Malfoy box—no, she wouldn’t be surprised at all if, in the morning, the tabloids were full of photos of Malfoy and his mystery date.
Half-forgetting the chilly air between them, she glanced at Draco to see how he was taking all this, only to find that his eyes were closed and his chest was moving steadily. Asleep. She wasn’t sure whether she should feel indignant that he was missing it all, relieved that he didn’t have to deal with him immediately, or… pleased that he was catching up on his rest. To her displeasure, she found that she was leaning towards the latter.
She shook her head briskly, dismissing the thought, and then realized that while his right arm was crossed securely across his stomach, his left arm was lying loose, palm up, on the arm rest. She felt a little lurch in her stomach as she realized that the sleeve had ridden up slightly past his wrist and she could see… something marring the flesh on his forearm.
She looked around guiltily, simultaneously aware of what she was definitely going to do and angry with herself that there was no doubt in her mind about whether or not to do it. He was asleep; there was a certain level of trust that came with sleeping near someone. Was she really going to abuse it?
You bet I am, she thought angrily, reminding herself that opportunities like this one were the reason she was out with him now to begin with. She wasn’t sure what she expected to find—Voldemort was dead, truly dead, and even if Malfoy had the Dark Mark it wouldn’t necessarily mean anything now.
Still, there had to be a reason he kept it covered up all the time, and so, suppressing her guilt, she leaned over and gently touched the hem of his sleeve.
She glanced quickly at his face, but there was no change. Holding her breath, tucking her hair back, and praying that the andante held and no crashing percussion would awaken him, she very gently started working his sleeve up his arm.
She didn’t get far before she saw the start of some unusual markings—but she’d seen a Dark Mark or two, and she’d seen pictures of faded marks, and this… this didn’t look like either. Faded marks were light, pinkish-white, like little raised scars. What she was looking at certainly appeared to be a scar, but the mass was too big, and it looked too new.
Predictably, she got caught up looking, and she didn’t notice the change in Malfoy until it was too late. One second, his arm was resting beneath her light fingertips; the next and it twisted away from her lightning fast, flipping around on her as his hand locked around her wrist in a grip so hard it hurt.
She looked at his face and at first, she saw a man still half-asleep, completely unaware of anything but that he had been pulled out of sleep by a touch that he shouldn’t be feeling. Then, recognition flared, and his fingers loosened on her wrist as he realized what she’d been doing. For a second, she thought she saw something like surprise in his expression, and then, as she watched, he put it away. He just pulled back any evidence of feeling, within seconds she was staring into nothing but a blank mask, which was… a little intimidating, to say the least.
His grip tightened again, not quite to the painful extremes it had reached upon his waking, and he stood up abruptly. “Come on,” he said, grabbing her cloak with his free hand and thrusting it at her.
Ginny couldn’t decide if his totally dispassionate tone frightened her or not. She couldn’t read him at all, couldn’t tell if he was angry or disappointed or hurt or… and she knew it was a stupid idea, letting this man lead her out of the crowded, well-lit hall to Merlin-knew-where after she’d just got caught doing something she knew she shouldn’t have. Still, something in her came alive now, flaring up in response to the challenge.
Finally, a little voice in the back of her mind said, he’s showing his true colors. This I can handle. I know how to fight this. So she just grasped her cloak, wrapped it around her arm to free up her hand in preparation for needing her wand, and followed him without argument, down the stairs and out to the street.
Once they reached the road, he didn’t something she didn’t entirely expect (but probably should have). He looked around, and then stepped close to her, his shoulder obscuring her vision as he suddenly wrapped both arms around her. As she realized what he intended to do, she made a muffled sound of protest and got her hands between them, but even as she moved to shove him, there was a loud crack as he disapparated, taking them both away.
As the ground materialized beneath their feet a second later, she immediately followed through with the push, and his arms came free and they stumbled away from each other. Ginny staggered backwards and came to a painful stop as the back of her legs hit something hard. She reached behind her, scrabbling at the surface of whatever had stopped her to get her balance and drawing her wand with her spare hand.
Malfoy collided with a wall and raised his hands slowly. Registering that he wasn’t an immediate threat, Ginny looked around quickly, taking in her surroundings. He had brought them indoors somewhere, a decently-sized room, a living area of some sort, furnished minimally with hardwood floors, high ceilings and a fireplace burning at the far end. If there was a bright spot to this whole forced relocation thing, it was that she was fairly sure they weren’t in Malfoy Manor. She’d never been to the Manor herself, but old, massive houses had a smell to them, a chill and a sort of darkness that weren’t present in this room.
Momentarily reassured that she was not going to have to deal with the elder set of Malfoys (and therefore it was less likely that he had brought her to some pre-planned post-Death Eater ritual), she returned her attention to Malfoy, who hadn’t moved. “What are we doing here?” she asked levelly.
Now that she was looking at him again, he lowered his hands a fraction. His tone and expression remained completely unreadable as he said, “You seemed curious. I thought I’d oblige you.”
Ginny wasn’t sure what he was playing at, but the entire thing was pulling at some instinct of hers, some understanding cultivated through years of being a little sister. Something about his voice reminded her of Percy, which in turn cued the question—is this a guilt trip? Instinct took over, and before she could quite thing it through, she was challenging him the way she would challenge her brothers, daring him to just try and make her feel ashamed. “Come on, then,” she said carelessly, lowering her wand but not putting it away. “Oblige me.”
He smiled again, but it was another one of those horrible, humorless smiles that left his eyes chilly. Under her watchful stare, he reached deliberately over and neatly rolled his left sleeve all the way up to his elbow, then extended the arm out to her.
She couldn’t see; the room was dim and they were on opposite sides. She glanced warily up at him, but his eyes were too hooded, guarded, offering her nothing. If she was going to get a good look, she would have to cross the room.
So she did, step by step, wand at the ready in case he made any moves—which he didn’t, holding perfectly, almost unnaturally still, his eyes fixed unblinkingly on her. Finally, she got within a foot of him, and though she was near enough to see, the light was still insufficient. Impatiently, she muttered “Lumos” and the end of her wand lit up and exposed the entire underside of Malfoy’s left underarm to her.
She’d been right—there were scars, and not of the Dark Mark variety. Instead of the six-inch snake shape, she saw a mass of long, twisted scar tissue, still angry pink, extending from just under his wrist all the way down to his elbow. Just looking at her made her left arm twinge in sympathy pain.
She didn’t know what they meant—or rather, she was incapable of trying to imagine at that point. She took a slow, quietly gasping breath, and then looked up at him, lips parted slightly as she tried to think of a coherent question.
He was still watching her intently, and when she looked at him, as if it had been a signal he was waiting for, he started talking abruptly and with a brutal casualness that probably revealed more than he intended. “It was a mark of shame. I was about twenty-one, I’d grown up enough to recognize it as such and I felt like it was driving me literally mad. It just wouldn’t—” He gave a short, abrupt sort of hiccough, and she caught a flash of very real pain crossing his face before he cleared his throat and collected himself. “It wouldn’t fade, no matter how long it had been since he died. I finally decided that the only way to get rid of it was to—to cut it out. So one night, I got incredibly drunk, and… I tried.”
He was no longer looking at her, instead regarding the scars with a parody of a smile completely belied by the total anguish in his eyes. “The landlady found me; they took me to a hospital but I wouldn’t let them… remove the scars, because I knew what was underneath. I knew I would rather have these than… it. Hell, these wretched things are bloody gorgeous in comparison.”
He paused, possibly waiting for her to interject, but she was still incapable of saying anything intelligent, so he went on. “Sometimes, it still itches. It’s the worst at night, when I’m asleep—it stirs up nightmares.” He cleared his throat and abruptly rolled his sleeve back down, removing the scars from her sight. “So, there you are, Weasley. That’s what I’ve kept hidden, and that’s why I look like a wreck today. Questions, comments?”
His expression had assumed careless defiance, but as she stared at him, Ginny could only see a weak defense erected to try and withstand scorn and horror. Suddenly, everything became very plain to her. She and her friends and family had gotten so caught up with the black and white task of identifying who was an enemy and who wasn’t that they hadn’t had the time or the energy to deal with understanding those that fell into that frustrating shades of grey category. The war was over now, though, and it was time for her to take a good, hard look.
Draco Malfoy may have gone into the Death Eaters willingly, but somewhere along the line (realistically quite early on) Voldemort became quite as much a source of terror for him as for everyone who opposed the Dark Lord, if not more so, since Draco had to deal with him regularly face-to-face. Actions that had once been motivated by petty malevolence and a thoroughly misguided sense of superiority were suddenly being pushed to deadly extremes by his leader and fellow followers, and instead of enjoying the turmoil and death, he was finding that it made him ill. For his own life and those of his parents, out of a sense of terror and self-preservation, he continued to act despite his change in feeling. There was no honor in it, and perhaps it made him a cowardly, self-serving little weasel, but…
But. He was a boy of seventeen, and here they were, five years later, and he was the one still tormented by nightmares and his past, while Ginny… Ginny slept like a baby. All in all, it seemed that Malfoy was doing a fantastic job of flagellating himself, and Ginny suddenly found that she had no desire to add to his punishment.
Quite the opposite, really.
The new surge of empathy drowned out quite a few of her former resolutions and stubborn ideas, and she raised blazing eyes to his, finding him watching her with that same pitiful facsimile of carelessness. It was too late. He’d shown her too much now to fool her with it.
Her wand clattered to the floor, and she felt the shift in his mood, the ripple of surprise as she slid one warm hand up and around the back of his neck, her other hand ever so gently coming to rest against the long line of his jaw. He didn’t initially react as she stretched up and lightly but firmly pressed her soft lips against his, remaining frozen until she leaned back and said, lightly, “If you’re going to start flashing your scars at me, Malfoy, you may as well call me Ginny.”
He opened his mouth, probably to respond to this with some knee-jerk piece of smart-assery, but she took delighted advantage of this, reaching up and hijacking his mouth, making a richly-pleased little noise in the back of her throat as she did. The noise finished off his protests.
She found him responding with extremely pleasing enthusiasm, years of suppressed lusts making themselves evident as his hands first gripped her waist and then slipped lower, lifting her well off the ground and into him. She obligingly fit her long legs around his slim torso as her hand slid up from his face to rumple that annoyingly perfect hair, and she pulled herself flush with him, feeling the pulse in his throat quicken as things rapidly began to intensify—
And of course, Ginny stopped well before that part of the story, because it was one thing to tell Luna Lovegood that Draco Malfoy had kissed her so well and so thoroughly that she saw stars, and quite another thing to share that little detail with her brothers.
Only one chapter left, but it's gonna be a doozy. In the finale, Ginny tells her brothers about the incident that helped her definitively decide to move forward with the relationship- and then Draco shows up in search of his girlfriend (probably a little worried that she's died of alcohol poisoning).
There was a moment’s silence as she stopped, during which Ginny assessed the situation. Charlie had slipped off of his mug and was now lying facedown on the table, and at some point, they’d lost Percy. Bill, George, and Ron were still present and (from the looks of it) mostly attentive, though she couldn’t tell if the redness of the latter’s face was due to anger or alcohol or some terrifying combination of the two.
“I remember that bruise on your wrist,” he said abruptly. “I said it looked like fingers. Didn’t I say it looked like fingers, George?”
Ginny sighed in exasperation. She might have known that out of all the details in that story, he would focus on that one. “He’d just woken up to someone touching a spot on his arm that he was pretty keen to keep hidden and untouched. As soon as he realized it was me, he loosened his hold—and aren’t you focusing on the wrong thing, Ronald?”
“You’re right,” he agreed unexpectedly. “I always knew he was an abusive git, so maybe I should focus on the fact that my sister is not only dating that git but is also making excuses for his abusive behavior.”
“He tried to cut the mark out of his own arm,” she said, perhaps a little shrilly. “Does that mean nothing to you?”
“It means he tried to hide the evidence that he was a Death Eater,” Ron snapped. “I wouldn’t be surprised if others did the same—apparently, it’s a great way to earn the trust of gullible bleeding hearts.”
“It nearly killed him, Ron!”
“It would have been better for all of us if it had,” he growled.
Ginny saw red. Reaching for her wand would have taken precious seconds, seconds that she could be using to bludgeon her brother’s face in, so she forewent magic and lunched across the table to beat that sullenness out of her brother’s stupid head—
—and was caught halfway across by Bill, who got her around the waist and gently but very firmly forced his sister back down into her seat. “Now, now,” he said, sounding a little strained, “there’s no need for any of that.”
“Oh, I’d say there’s a very real need for it,” she snarled, trying to pry his hands away and giving Ron a death glare that promised copious amounts of pain in his near future.
“Come on, Gin,” George said consolingly, “we’ve all been drinking, and Ron’s prone to saying thoughtless things even when he’s sober.”
“Shove off,” Ron growled, returning Ginny’s glare with equal intensity. He and his sister hadn’t come to actual blows for many years, but she had no doubt that if not for the brothers playing referee, they would have little trouble tearing up the entire pub just then.
“Just settle down,” said Bill gently.
Ginny was breathing heavily, and in a Herculean effort to regain control of herself, she looked around and snapped, “Where’s Percy?”
George snickered. “If you’re planning on making him your punching bag instead, you’re out of luck. He turned green about halfway through your story and staggered off to the loo, so he’s probably puking his guts out. He and alcohol clearly aren’t the best of friends.”
Ginny was in no mood to laugh. She straightened her clothes and nodded sullenly at Bill instead. “You can let go of me now.”
“Are you sure?” he asked lightly. She glared at him, and he shrugged. “All right, but if you have another go at him, I’ll consider it permission to freeze you.”
“Oh, yeah? And what if he has another go at me?”
“Silencing charm,” George said gamely. “In fact, I’d be happy to do one of those now if you’d like.”
Ginny nodded savagely as Ron began to spit protests, but Bill raised a placating hand. “Let’s give him one more chance, yeah?”
“Fine,” she said reluctantly, “but one more ill-advised comment—”
“Fair enough,” Bill said. “Right, Ron?”
Ron folded his arms angrily, but they’d come this far, and he was clearly morbidly curious about the conclusion of Ginny’s story, so he gave a reluctant nod. Bill didn’t wait for him to open his mouth and screw everything up again.
“Now,” Bill said easily, “I believe you said there were two incidents that made you trust him. The revelation of the scar was the first. What was the second?”
Ginny glared at Ron. This last part of the story was infinitely the most personal, and she wasn’t keen on giving Ron any more ammunition to twist and turn against Draco—but it was also the most important, the most likely to convince her brothers that Draco’s intentions were not evil. After a moment, she took a trembling sip of butterbeer and then began to tell them the end of her tale..
Three Months Ago
Ginny’s hands were shaking.
She was sitting quietly in her flat, eyes fixed on the clock, and her hands were shaking.
The incident with the scar had gone a long way in convincing her that Draco was honest in his pursuit of her, but she still had lingering doubts, built-up suspicions left over from years of enmity, and they were harder to dispel than she would have liked. It was too easy to come up with more suspicions, reasons why he would have shown her the scar and told her what he did, vaguely-shaped plots that he might be involved in, and this last month had only made the schism in her thinking more obvious.
On the one hand, she was growing very aware that her partiality to Draco was increasing to dangerous levels. He was clever, funny, charming, and the way he kissed her… her stomach leaped whenever she thought about it, and that excitement didn’t seem to be fading no matter how often she saw him. She didn’t want to entertain the notion for long, but she was aware that on some level, she was in very real danger of falling for him.
However. That annoying, nagging little however that still had her keeping him at emotional arm’s length, preventing them from setting their heels in and making a solid decision about them one way or another, the equivalent of Draco’s tendency to turn potentially serious topics into jokes. She still couldn’t quite get her head around the idea that Draco, in his right mind and without any ulterior motives, would want to date her. It wasn’t a self-esteem issue, as he’d jokingly suggested that first day. It was the past, shoving its way between them like a nosy, unwanted great aunt. There were so many years of hurt, prejudice, and resentment dividing them that she had serious trouble believing he’d genuinely see her as an appealing partner even now, let alone in his sixth year.
It would take a genuine miracle to have changed his ideology that much, and while it was true that his altered personality, his newfound tolerance for Muggles, half-bloods, and Muggle-borns, and the scars all indicated that it was possible that such a miracle could have taken place. Still, it would have to be drastic indeed, and Ginny had to admit that the likelihood was less than that of Draco’s plotting something evil.
Therefore, after some time she allotted herself to think about it and considerable planning, she had come up with today’s scheme, the one that she felt would either lay those fears in their graves or validate them completely. It had taken her some time to convince herself that she could lay aside her fears about ethics, because if her fears were true and if he had plans against her, then she was allowed to defend herself by any means.
This was just a pre-emptive defense.
There was a knock on the door, startling her from her internal wrestlings, and she started, then scolded herself for how neurotic she’d behaved over the last few months. It’ll all be over soon, she told herself, and called out, “Come in!”
“I’m disappointed in you,” Draco drawled as he entered her flat. “What if I’d been a vampire?”
She raised an eyebrow and lifted her wand. “Wooden. Magical. I’m not averse to staking a vampire with magic if it was trying to kill me, you know.”
He snorted, closing the door behind him and crossing the room towards her. “Frankly, I’d be surprised if you were averse to doing anything in defense of your own life.”
“No, wait—that’s wrong. You’re the Slytherin, remember?” she teased as he reached her, and instead of standing, she put her arms around his waist, resting her cheek against his stomach, and he draped an arm over her shoulders and bent to kiss her head. Maybe we can just stay locked like this. Then there’d be no need for me to do what I have to do.
He snorted as he straightened up again. “Please. We’re debating fierceness, not survival instinct.”
“I’m trying to figure out if that was a compliment or not.”
“Be nice to me. My teeth are right next to your navel.”
“I must say, that is a curious threat,” he told her, and got a finger beneath her chin, gently lifting her face and then leaning down to engage her lips in a belated hello kiss.
Their positioning wasn’t exactly ideal for the depths of passion, and so Ginny started to rise to get a more advantageous reach, but before she could get up all the way Draco broke the kiss and took a swift step backward, slipping his hand out from under her chin to wag a stern finger. “Ah, ah, no—we’ve got to get moving. We’ve just enough time for tea if we want to get to the theater on time.”
“What if we skipped the tea?” Ginny asked, silencing the mental howl of disapproval rising from her rational brain. At least this way he’s got a fair chance.
Draco appeared to be deliberating, but after a second or two, shook his head. “Absolutely not, because then I’ll have a hungry Ginny whining at me halfway through and that’s no fun for anyone.”
Ginny huffed and sat back down on the couch, arms folded and ignoring that jab about her being a terror when she was hungry (because it was totally and completely true). “You are such a bore.”
He looked at her with mock indignation. “Excuse me, but I’ll have you know that I was not the one who insisted on going to see a Muggle play. I was thoroughly comfortable with the idea of staying in or going somewhere where we didn’t need to be on time, but noooooo, Ginny’s got to traipse all the way to Muggle London to see Romeo and Juliet—”
She smirked suddenly at the reminder. “You’ll understand why about two minutes in,” she promised him. “It’s hilarious.”
“I usually find Muggle shows hilarious, but not for the same reasons as you, I imagine.”
“You’re such a brat,” she grumbled. “Look, see, you’ve thoroughly killed the mood.”
“And though I have no doubt that I could resurrect it if I chose, I’m not going to. You were the one determined to see this show, and we’re going to see it. No dallying about for you.”
“And for being a brat, you’re kind of a disciplinarian,” she muttered, rising from the couch and stalking past him into the kitchen, yelping when he swatted her bum as she passed. “Oh, no you don’t! If you’re going to be General Bossypants then you do not get to touch my bum!”
He followed her into the kitchen, and she chose to ignore the face he was making (and the fact that he was mouthing “General Bossypants” with apparent distaste). “Fish and chips are in the oven keeping warm—if you’ll get them out and take them to the table I’ll be just behind you with the tea,” she directed him. As he moved obligingly, she took the teapot from where she’d left it cooling from boiling hot to just right and poured two cups for them. She prepared hers the way she liked it, with milk and sugar and stirred the scant half-teaspoon of sugar Draco preferred into his before letting out a nearly-silent, trembling sigh and glancing over her shoulder. He had just gotten the tray together and was leaving the kitchen to do as she’d asked, and she single-mindedly tamped her guilt down and reached swiftly into the cabinet just by her head, removing the small vial of veritaserum from the batch she had been brewing carefully over the last month.
Moving quickly, she put a healthy dose into his tea and replaced the vial, not bothering to stir the drops in, as the tea was still spinning lazily from her stirring the sugar. Ignoring the qualms she felt, she picked up the saucers and took the tea into the dining room where he awaited her.
Fortunately for her growing neuroticism, she didn’t have much time to fill with slightly nervous chatter. Within moments, he’d consumed a satisfactory amount of tea and his jaw slackened and his eyes glazed over. Ginny took a deep breath, set down her own drink, and leaned forward to finally ask him her questions.
“Is your name Draco Malfoy?”
“Are you under the Imperius Curse?”
“Do you have any intentions of harming me or anyone I know in any way?”
“Do your friends, family, or anyone you know have any intentions of harming me or anyone I know in any way?”
She let out a deep, relieved breath and slowly sat back. That was it, then. There were ways to avoid answering truthfully while in the thrall of veritaserum, but Occlumency was incredibly obvious and prepping with an antidote was only slightly less so—a genuine veritaserum thrall was pretty easy to spot.
Technically, she could stop right now, but Ginny was very human, and she was suddenly very aware that for the next minute or two, her would-be boyfriend could not lie to her. There was a part of her, a very respectably-sized part, for that matter, that understood fully that any question she asked from this point on would be taking a completely unfair advantage of him—it would be somewhat equivalent to snooping in his desk while he slept, but perhaps worse. However, Ginny was a youngest child, and she was perhaps a little too used to getting what she wanted eventually. She maintained her stranglehold on her guilt, then, and leaned forward once more.
“Why did you want to go out with me?”
“Because after I noticed you in fifth year I started to think you were beautiful.”
“At what point in your fifth year?”
“When you sent a bat-bogey hex after me,” he answered mechanically.
Ginny covered her mouth to cut off a forming giggle. “Oh, yeah,” she murmured, and picked up again. “All right, fine, you crushed on me in school, but it’s been five years. Why now?”
“Because you’re still beautiful. Because you laugh a lot. Because I knew there were people around you who have done terrible things and you still love them—and because you have a fantastic ass.”
Ginny nearly gave a George-worthy cackle at that one, but time was running out, and so instead she asked, “What are your intentions?”
“I plan to stick around for as long as you’ll let me, under whatever conditions you have.”
“And, just for the hell of it, how do you feel about Harry Potter these days?”
“Can’t stand the git,” he said, sounding a lot more like the usual Draco at his most abrupt.
She knew she was done then, and leaned back slowly as he blinked away the delirium and fixed his eyes on her. After a moment, he glanced down at his cup, and a sort of resigned understanding dawned on his face. He looked up at her and asked, “Veritaserum?”
Ginny didn’t see the point in denying it, nor did she want to. Quietly, she replied, “Yes.”
“Hm,” he said, looking down at the inside up his cup, and then he picked it up and rose, going slowly into the kitchen. Ginny just waited, listening to him dump the tea, then rinse the inside of the cup with tap water. If Ginny was perhaps a bit unskilled at denying her curiosity, she was fairly good at awaiting potential punishment bravely and taking what she deserved. Therefore, she sat with a strange calm as he prepared himself some more tea and then returned to his seat opposite her, lowering himself into it with a sigh.
He placed his cup back on the saucer and then eyed her. “So,” he said abruptly, reaching forward for a chip, “find anything interesting?”
She watched him warily, thoroughly aware that he might just be barely holding off a raging temper. Partly to offset her fear, her tone was brisk as she said, “You still hate Harry Potter, and apparently you rather like my ass.”
“Hate is a strong word,” he said mildly. “After all, he did save my life. Twice. Let’s just say I think he’s a git and leave it at that. And you do have a marvelous ass.”
“Thank you. I noticed you looking that first night when I was out with Luna.”
He shot her a grin and ate his chip, and Ginny double-took. If she wasn’t mistaken… that was real, totally genuine humor she was seeing, with nothing malevolent lurking beneath the surface. Could it possibly be that—maybe he wasn’t quite as angry with her as she’d anticipated?
He said, “I’m an Occlumens, Ginny. Not only that, but I happen to be rather good at potions myself. Let me just say that the thought that you would likely eventually use veritaserum has crossed my mind, and I had ample time to prepare if I so chose. I didn’t. I chose to trust you to use that potion because I knew it was likely the only way you would get any peace of mind—and also because I believed that once you’d used it and hopefully gotten satisfactory answers, we might be able to quit dancing around one another like we have in the last two months.
“So. In hopes that you did get satisfactory answers—and judging by the fact that you haven’t asked me to leave yet, I’d say you probably did—let me say that you got this one time, repercussion-free. This, I believe, has put us on fair ground, and with any luck, it soothed any… admittedly understandable fears you might have had. But from now on, we talk openly. No more of this tiptoeing around. I’m tired of hiding things, Ginny, and I’m willing to bet you’re tired of trying to discover what I’ve hidden. So, with your permission, I’d like to start fresh, on a foundation of trust—like two normal people.”
Ginny watched him in silence for a moment, and then she said, “You do realize it’s impossible for either of us to behave like normal people, right?”
He rolled his eyes and took some more chips. She continued mercilessly. “No, I mean it—and anyway, I’m not so sure normal people begin relationships on foundations of trust, anyway. Lies told to make themselves look better, I think, and mutual delusion, but certainly not trust.”
“Are you calling what we have a relationship?”
They stared at one another for a moment before he snorted and looked away. Ginny grinned triumphantly, got up, and deposited herself in his lap, putting her arms around his neck. “You’re going to actively be the death of me, aren’t you, woman?” he asked, looking down at her.
“I was just thinking that only children and youngest children have a lot in common.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Yes, we’re both stubborn, used to getting our way, tougher and more desensitized than our peer groups, and relentless brats, but I’d say that stubborn part is probably wrong.”
“You looked away from a staring contest first. No self-respecting youngest child would do that, beaten or not.”
“Who’s saying I’d been beaten?”
“Well, are we together or are we not?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to get some more veritaserum before asking me that question?”
“Draco Malfoy! You said there’d be no repercussions for that!”
“Repercussions means me doing something similar to you for the sake of revenge. Merciless teasing does not fall under the umbrella of repercussions.”
“Bloody hell,” she muttered, “I knew I was going to regret that. It’s not nice to tease, Draco.”
The smile faded from his face, and his hands went to her waist, thumbs lightly and hypnotically stroking her hipbones, each touch sending little jolts of electricity out to her fingertips and down to her toes. He leaned her back, bending slowly over her and inching closer, breathing heavier, and, inches from her lips, he said, “Ginny.”
She still hadn’t gotten used to the sound of her name from his mouth. It had an… extremely unsettling effect. “What?” she mumbled, getting the horrible feeling that she knew where this was going but unable to help herself from letting him touch her, hover mere centimeters away.
“…what was that you were saying about teasing?”
“Suck my broomstick, Malfoy,” she said, sitting up abruptly and struggling away from him, but he had a hold on her waist and pulled her back down firmly in his lap, cutting off her sudden unwilling laugh with a very pointed kiss. She imagined it meant something like see, I’m not as cruel as you are, look at me go, defying your expectations—
—until she tried to reach up to him and he broke away abruptly with a mock frown. “Wait, you thought this was—no, Ginny, how many times do I have to tell you, we have to make it to the theater on time—”
And she gave a howl of not entirely humorless frustration, finally broke free from his grip, and retreated to the other side of the table to eat in unmolested peace and reflect on two concurrent facts. First, she apparently had an official boyfriend now. Second, everyone in her life (except for Luna, who already knew and didn’t disapprove—though she probably didn’t approve either, but Ginny would take what she could get) was going to have her head for this one when they inevitably found out.
And despite the fact that she was in for a hell of a time and despite the fact that that smarmy, smirking Malfoy didn’t deserve any evidence of her approval right now, she could not seem to stop smiling.
Ginny finished her story with an air of mingled finality and relief, once again omitting all of the parts that involved anything less chaste than hand-holding. Once done, she leaned back, folded her arms, and scowled around the table at her brothers, simultaneously broadcasting I’m quite pleased to have got that off my chest and if you dare ask me to repeat any of that I will force-feed you your own hair.
Fortunately, none of them looked like they needed her to clarify anything. Charlie was still passed out and Percy was still gone. Bill was studying his drink thoughtfully, and George was pulling a familiar face, one that said okay, sounds sketchy, but you can’t learn anything if you don’t take chances so we’ll give it a shot—usually applied to joke experimentation and often followed by disaster, so being relieved by the sight of it was a new sensation for Ginny. Ron was turning redder, but he was silent, and she couldn’t help but imagine that he was trying (and failing) to find flaw in her stunt with the veritaserum.
The moment of peace broke soon enough, though, as Ron looked around and realized that no one else was raising an objection. Despite the nearly foolproof measures Ginny had taken, he was obviously still reluctant to accept that Malfoy might not have wicked intentions, and he clearly wanted to make it known. “I don’t believe thi—” he began to growl, and was cut off abruptly as George got him round the neck in a headlock.
“Settle down, little brother,” he drawled. “Worse things have happened.”
“How can you say that?” asked Ron, grunts interspersing the question as he tried to push and pull himself free of his brother’s grip.
“Because they have. The war is over now. Sure, Malfoy was a right git in his school days—”
“A murderous bigot!” howled Ron. “He made Hermione’s life hell!”
“And Hermione has forgiven him,” Ginny interjected. “As have nearly all of the injured parties, and if I remember right, Ron, all he ever did to you was tease you for being poor and enjoying the company of non-purebloods—which he did to all of us, if you’ll recall. If I can get past that, then I have a feeling you can, too.”
At the conclusion of her scolding, George let Ron go, and he shot back against his seat, looking totally rumpled. He straightened his clothes and looked angrily around at his brothers, seeking some support. As George was clearly too amused by this whole situation to be of any help, he pleaded his case to Bill, who was looking neutral enough. “Bill, come on. He’s a Death Eater!”
“Ex,” Ginny reminded him sharply.
Bill cleared his throat. “Snape was an ex Death Eater, too. He ended up becoming our strongest ally. Without him, there’s no way we would have won the war.”
“And as far as Malfoy goes, none of us saw him more than Harry did in that period when he was with the Death Eaters, and… well, you know what Harry said. Malfoy was just a scared little kid. He wouldn’t kill Dumbledore, and later, when he could have identified Harry for Bellatrix Lestrange—”
“Oh, so because he decided not to kill in those two instances, we should just welcome him into the family?”
“Not necessarily,” Bill said quietly. “But I think Ginny had a point about self-fulfilling prophecies. The more Malfoy is treated like an evil wretch, the more he’s going to believe that’s all he can be. Maybe… maybe this is what he need. Access to good people, to an alternative life from the one he was intended to live.”
Ron opened is mouth, then closed it and breathed heavily from his nose as he glanced around at the siblings that were still conscious, realizing that he was improbably outnumbered and clearly needed to take a different approach. After thinking hard for a few seconds, he spoke again, clearly trying for the level-headed, even-tempered approach. “I’ve no objection to Malfoy reforming, or whatever. If he wants to become the next Severus Snape, that’s his business. What I object to is that he apparently needs our sister in order to play good guy; doesn’t that bother you?!”
“Well, actually, out of all the women I know, Ginny’d be the one I’d most trust to date someone shady,” Bill replied breezily, and this time, Ginny joined Ron in gaping at him.
“Yeah,” George joined in. “She certainly has a mum-like scowl that inspires unholy terror in lesser men—yeah, Ginny, that’s it exactly!” he added enthusiastically as she turned her glare on him. “It should do to keep the ferret in line, and if it doesn’t… well. There are five of us, six if you count Ginny, and only one of him,” he finished simply.
Ron looked vaguely gratified, but only vaguely. Before he could start arguing, Bill cut smoothly in again. “Look, Ron, as displeased as we might be about it, Ginny’s an adult now. We can’t just keep her locked up in a closet all day.”
“We can try,” growled Ron, eyeballing his sister.
“You can lose some fingers,” she growled back, looking at him with equal disfavor.
“And, from the story she’s told us,” continued Bill, “she took some very clever precautions and made sure that she’d be safe before committing to anything. Ginny’s a pretty good judge of character, we all know it.”
Ginny thought that this was a touching show of loyalty and good faith from her eldest brother, and she rewarded him by putting her head on his shoulder. Also, she wasn’t sure, but she thought the invigoration draught was wearing off—at least, Bill’s bony shoulder seemed to be a suddenly ridiculously inviting headrest.
George leaned over to Ron. “Come on, mate,” he said cajolingly. “After all, it’s not as if we’ve ever really approved of who our baby sister chooses to date, so not much is new here, except that this time, if the slightest thing goes wrong, we’ll actually kill him.”
“You’d better not,” mumbled Ginny.
Ron looked around at them all again, appearing just a trifle frantic this time, and at length, he appeared to reach a decision. “Bloody hell,” he growled, reaching for the bottle, “you’re all a bunch of apologists. Well, fine, Ginny, come on then.”
Ginny’s eyes, which had been drifting shut, snapped open again. “Come on, what?”
He stared at her as if she’d gone dim. “I need to get ragingly drunk so I can forget how angry this whole situation makes me, and since you’re the one perpetuating this situation, you’re going to match me, shot for shot.”
Charlie suddenly bolted upright, badly startling all of his siblings except for Bill, who looked as if he’d rather expected it. Blearily looking around, a red mark on his forehead from where it had been resting against the table, he asked plainly, “Did somebody say shot?”
About an hour before the sky began to lighten in anticipation of sunrise, Draco Malfoy checked his watch, rallied his spirits, and set off to go find his girlfriend and bring her home. Quite cleverly, he thought, he’d gotten the location of the pub where they’d be from Granger before he’d left Ginny’s office earlier that day, and so he flooed over, hoping that they hadn’t gotten themselves booted out already.
As he stepped from the fireplace into the commotion, though, he reflected wryly that perhaps it would have been better if they had, for he believed he’d probably have a fairer chance of finding Ginny among the maze of dark alleyways outside than hunting her down amidst this throng of redheads.
Just look for the pretty one, he told himself, and began looking from face to face in search of her.
The huge dragon-loving one and the twin were closest, and the former had his arm over the latter’s shoulder as they treated the pub to a rather tuneless rendition of The Ballad of Beedle the Bard. They each had a massive mug in hand and didn’t appear to notice him as he passed.
As he went past the loo, he spotted the curly-haired, slightly spotty brother—the one who had been the Minister’s toady for a while, if he remembered correctly. He was curled up on the floor outside of the door, looking green and miserable.
Ron was fighting drunkenly near the bar, and from the look on the bartender’s face, he was about thirty seconds from getting forcibly expelled. Draco ignored him as he finally spotted Ginny. She was sitting at a table with her older brother, the one Draco knew almost nothing about (except that he’d married that part-Veela French girl who’d competed in the Triwizard tournament,and also that he'd been a victim in the Battle of the Astronomy Tower, which could make things awkward), and so he approached them warily indeed, unsure if he was about to have to dodge curses and fists. The brother just looked calmly at him, though, and as recognition registered on his face, he gave Draco a slight nod—it wasn’t exactly friendly, but it wasn’t quite evil Death Eater git trying to get into my sister’s pants die die die, either.
Reassured, Draco drew close and looked down at Ginny. It appeared that either alcohol had gotten the best of her or the invigoration draught had worn off, maybe both, because she was bent over with her cheek on the table and her eyes tightly closed.
Draco checked for drool. When he didn’t find any, he briefly considered conjuring some fake drool so he could tease her about it, but quickly dismissed the idea as undignified, settling for reaching over and shaking her shoulder. “Ginny.”
No response. The shaking turned to poking. “Ginny. Ginny. Ginny.”
Finally, she stirred, moaned unpleasantly, and turned her head away without opening her eyes, lifting her hand to show him her middle finger. “Why, Ginny Weasley, I never. What would your mother think?”
“She’d think you can piss off, Malfoy,” slurred Ginny, and then seemed to finally realize who she was talking to and shot up, blinking heavily. “Draco?”
“In the flesh,” he said with a sight bow.
“You can’t be here,” she said plaintively. “They’ll kill you.”
Draco studied her, a smile creeping over his face. “You are… extremely drunk.”
“Piss off. I mean it,” she snapped. “Ron’s been out for blood all night.”
Draco glanced up as, as if on cue, Ron and the fellow with whom he had been fighting were forcibly ejected from the establishment, the cheery ring of the bell hovering over the door signifying their departure. “I’m somehow… not so worried about that.”
Ginny was staring up at him, brown eyes bright and somewhat hazy, and she reached out and grabbed the edge of his robes, pulling him close, so she didn’t have to stand up to put her arms around him. “I’ve been talking about you all night.”
“Have you?” he asked distractedly, leaning down to kiss her on the forehead—judging from the disappointed sound she made, she’d been expecting more, but he exactly wasn’t about to stick his tongue down her throat, not with her brother sitting right there, cool earring and casual semi-accepting nod or not. “Good things, I hope.”
She buried her face in his stomach, but he still heard her when she muttered, “All terrible things.”
He smirked, instinctively glanced at Ginny’s cool brother (who was shaking his head inscrutably), then stepped back, eliciting a groan of protest and a glare from her. “No, none of that,” he said sternly. “You had no sleep last night, and that invigoration draught Granger fed you has clearly worn off. You need to get home and in bed, and fast, because I’m not keen on the idea of carrying you once you really crash.”
Ginny let him draw her up from her seat, and as she stumbled, immediately off-balance, she complained, “She’s not Granger anymore.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” Draco said easily, putting one of her arms over his shoulder and putting his arm around her waist, “but there are so many of you. For the sake of clarity, she’s Granger.”
“And heaven forbid you just call her by—y’know—her name.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that. That would go against a dozen years of perfectly good tradition. The only reason I call you anything other than Weasley is that we’re dating,” he said, absently collecting her scarf from the seat and winding it around her neck so they wouldn’t lose track of it and checking the table to make sure she wasn’t leaving anything she would miss.
“Well, don’t I feel flattered,” she grumbled, and then groaned and pitched forward.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, now,” he cautioned her, catching her before she could get very far and tilting her upright again. “All right, now, come on. We’re going to get you in bed.”
“You sure you’re up to it?” the cool brother asked quietly. Draco glanced at him, and saw that the man was looking at him with… well, it wasn’t quite cool menace, but whatever it was, it was disconcerting. Sort of a you should think twice before walking out of here with my drunken little sister because if anything bad happens to her then you’re assuming full responsibility and I will have no trouble in completely ending you.
Draco was beginning to think twice about his assessment of this brother as being pretty laid-back, but Ginny appeared to have it in hand, suddenly raising her head and slurring, “Oh, I see, Bill. You were saving all of your big-brotherly disapproval until Draco got here, is that it?”
“Maybe,” Bill said carefully, eyes still fixed on Draco. “Or maybe a brother just isn’t comfortable sending his exhausted, drunk sister home alone with some guy.”
To that, Ginny offered the stunning rejoinder, “I’m not drunk, you’re drunk!”
“Um, Ginny,” Draco said, shifting her slightly away from her brother as he felt that she wasn’t helping their case as much as trampling all over it. “It’s… it’s all right, really. Um.” He looked at her brother, whose expression hadn’t warned a jot. Bloody hell, he thought, I absolutely despise doing this sort of thing. Still, he knew full well he wasn’t getting Ginny out of here until he’d convinced this brother of hers that he genuinely meant her no harm, and so with a sigh he said, “Er—Bill, right?”
“That’s right,” said the cool brother with a slight nod.
“We haven’t met. I’m Draco,” Draco said, offering his hand.
“Yes,” said Bill wryly. For a moment, Draco didn’t think he would actually do it, but after a second he reached forward and shook Draco’s hand. This gesture of good form, though, was somewhat diminished when he added, “I know all about you.”
Draco didn’t falter. He just glanced at Ginny and said, “If that’s the case, then I’m sure she’s told you about the numerous times she’s beaten me up.”
Bill merely blinked as Ginny said eloquently, “That’s horse shit.”
“No, it’s true,” Draco assured him. “I’m actually worried that the relationship is turning abusive. I mean—how many times is too many? I’m starting to get tired of making apologies for you, Ginny, I really am—”
“Draco,” she said in a sudden burst of clarity, “I swear, I’m tired and my head hurts and I just want to go to bed. If you insist on playing who’s got the bigger broomstick with my brother right now, be my guest, but I am leaving.”
“Point taken. I’ll make it quick,” he said, and turned his attention to Bill again. “Anyway. I’m not just some guy. I’m Ginny’s boyfriend, and I’m quite keen on seeing her safe and happy, just like you. I’m not going to let anything happen to her, and just in case you needed some proof of that aside from my good word and presumably hers—” Here, Bill and Ginny let out a simultaneous, curiously identical snort, and Draco looked between them with a furrowed brow for a split second before shaking it off, thinking siblings with the mingled derision and vague curiosity of an only child, and went on. “—I’m a Slytherin, and therefore fully aware of my best interests. You know my name. You know my history. You know how to find me. You and your family outnumber me, and you and your family are… politically influential. This isn’t a case of mutually assured destruction so much as me simply getting obliterated if she gets hurt in any way.”
Bill lifted his mug to his mouth, studying Draco over the rim, and Draco definitely got the feeling that at some point they’d switched gears and were talking about more than just getting Ginny home safely. After a moment, though, Bill dropped his eyes and took a drink. Maybe it was Draco’s assurance that he wouldn’t do anything so foolhardy as to hurt Ginny when the odds were so stacked against him, maybe it was the almost instinctive moves he was making to care for her in her drunken, sorry state, but it appeared that Bill had decided that he wasn’t a genuine threat. “Don’t let anything happen to her, then,” he said simply, and gave a slightly dismissive nod.
Draco was rather fascinated by this display of oldest-sibling authority, so strange to him, and he might have stayed and poked at it if he didn’t have a drunken girlfriend lolling on his arm and a gauntlet of brothers still ahead of him. “Well, then,” he said with a tone of false cheerfulness, “good night!”
“About time,” mumbled Ginny, and Draco secured his grip on her and began making his way through the labyrinthine pub to the fireplace.
They made it without incident, but just as they were stepping into the green flames, the bell above the door rang again, and Draco looked up, only to find himself locking eyes with Ron Weasley—not exactly the person he wanted to chat with at the moment, at least not until Weasley had gotten used to the idea of Draco dating his sister.
Ron’s eyes were bloodshot and his jaw was hanging open belligerently, and it took him a moment to realize what he was looking at, but understanding flared soon enough and he lifted one quavering finger fiercely and howled, “YOU!”
Draco was not in the mood for a fight. He quickly dashed some powder into the flames and recited Ginny’s address, and the last sight he had before the pub whirled out of his vision was Ron launching himself towards the fireplace, his massive dragon-loving brother moving to intercept as if in slow motion. Then, the sight disappeared, replaced by grate after grate as they were swept to Ginny’s home.
When they arrived, stumbling out of the fireplace, Ginny was coughing, and Draco moved fast to clear her hair out of her face, worried that she might be about to retch. He found instead that she was laughing, and as he looked down at her in bewilderment, she choked, “Did you—did you see—his face?”
“I did,” he remarked dryly, setting her down with a thump on the couch. “And I’m counting on Testosterone Factory—”
“—Charlie to stop him from following us here and trying to end my life and therefore the problem of our relationship,” he said wryly, stooping down to loosen the laces on her boots.
Ginny unwound her scarf from her neck, watching him with a strange expression as she did. Draco felt slightly uncomfortable with the role of caregiver (or, more accurately, he felt slightly uncomfortable with the fact that he didn’t feel uncomfortable taking care of her, partially because she didn’t need it very often and partially because he felt a strange pleasure in being the one to do these things for her), and so, as usual, he teased her. “Merlin’s Beard, Ginny, your feet are rank,” he told her as he removed her boots. “What, did you rub them down in pickle brine?”
“Makes a great moisturizer,” she shot back, not missing a beat despite her level of inebriation, and then she was leaning forward again. Draco thought she was losing her balance again, and so immediately snapped up to steady her, but it became clear as she put her hands on his shoulders that she’d intended the movement. “You might as well start calling my brothers by their names, Draco,” she told him with the almost amusing solemnity of the very drunk.
He reached up and covered her hands with his—hers were cold, so he closed his fingers tightly around them as he said, knowing how it felt to be patronized and so treating her with according seriousness, "I know. I'm just warning you, though, it will take time—and I imagine it will take them some time to warm up to me, if they ever do-- and they have every right to hate me forever, as well you know."
She snorted and dropped her head. "You're right about that," she muttered. "I don't think Ron will ever get used to us."
“Big surprise there,” he said gently, reaching over and nicking the bottom of her chin with his fingertip to get her to look up again. “And the others? What did they think?” He wasn’t asking because he was concerned—Draco personally couldn’t care less if he had their approval. However, he was well aware that a decent response from her brothers could make this whole thing easier, and could therefore make their relationship stronger in the end, and so he was genuinely curious to find out how the night had gone.
Ginny thought about it for a moment. “George seemed all right, though I sort of think that’s because he’s planning to use this to do horrible things to you.”
“Percy was disapproving as usual, but I’m pretty sure that in a short while he’ll start thinking of all the possibilities an alliance between our families could afford, so… I don’t think he’ll be much of a problem. Charlie just seemed… bemused by the whole thing. Bemused and amused. I don’t know, he and Bill are kind of blank slate because they didn’t go to school with you and… well. Bill mentioned that Snape had the same kind of history and ended up being a hero. So.”
“Ah, yes, Bill,” said Draco dryly. “He was chilly, wasn’t he.”
"To you," she said, slipping away from him and falling onto her back on the couch. "And considering the fact that he's permanently scarred because of the Astronomy night and Fenrir Grey—" She thought twice before finishing that sentence, and Draco found that he appreciated it despite the fact that he knew full well what he had done and how much of Bill's loathing he deserved for it. "He was actually probably my strongest ally throughout the night."
“Really? That’s surprising.”
“Not… not really. I think… he knows how it feels, to an extent.”
“When he first started dating Fleur, I can’t say he got… a lot of support. Even from me.” She snorted. “Especially from me. So, because Bill is Bill and he’s an impossibly good man, instead of seeing this as an opportunity for revenge, he saw this as a chance to save me from experiencing the same trouble he did—at least, as much as he could. Doesn’t mean he approves, but he’s… supportive.”
“He looked like he was fully prepared to eat me alive.”
“Making up for more or less coming down on your side is all. No, Bill’s not one to run headlong into a bloodbath. He’d rather take care of his business privately.”
Draco didn’t remark on how mental that was. Instead, he stood up and poked her on the shoulder. “Don’t get comfortable. You sleep on this couch, you’ll wake up with a bad back tomorrow.”
“Ugh,” she said, twisting over and burying her face in the couch pillow. “You are so annoying.”
“See what I get for trying to be nice to you.”
“You’re like my mother,” she said, but he could hear the smile in her voice. Still, that slight couldn’t go unpunished, so he shrugged.
“Well, since you’re not going anywhere soon,” he said, turned around, and sat on her.
She shrieked. “Malfoy, get off of me!”
“What was that you were saying about calling people by their first names?” he asked smugly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You’re—ungh—sitting on my—oof—back,” she declared as she tried to writhe out from underneath him to very little success. After a few short seconds, she collapsed, panting. “I think ‘Malfoy’ is perfectly appropriate, given our current situation.”
“Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug. “If I get off of you, will you go to bed?”
“Fine,” she growled into the pillow, and gracefully, he stood and turned around, offering her his hand. She mock-glared at him, stood up free of assistance, and stormed to her bedroom. He followed, smirking.
He didn’t expect for her to forgive him anytime soon, and so he was surprised when, just before they reached the doorway, she flipped around and took him by the lapels—he thought it might just be an attack and was lifting his hands to defend himself, but she surprised him by reaching up and giving him a long, surprisingly vehement kiss, one which he had very few qualms about returning, though halfway through he had to grab her waist to steady her.
After a moment, she pulled away, looked up at him, and simply said, “I’m glad you’re in my life.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Even with the kidnapping and interrogation you’ve just undergone?”
“Even so.” She stood on tiptoe, pecked him again, and then lost her balance, and he caught her, snickering.
“All right, now,” he said, nudging her towards the room. “In bed.”
With the refreshing lack of self-consciousness he’d come to associate with her (or maybe it was just the alcohol), she stripped off her cloak and coat, leaving her dress on, and he let her, figuring that discarded shoes and cloak were good enough. By the time he made sure she was lying on her side and that her blankets were fixed with a warming charm, she’d fallen asleep, the crash in full effect.
Draco looked down at her, and a strange, rarely-seen expression crossed his face. The smirks and smugness were gone, his forehead smooth and his eyelids half-lowered. He looked like a man at peace, and as he reached down and brushed a bright strand of hair away from her mouth, he certainly felt like one. Oh, tomorrow, when she rolled out of bed with a pounding head and in a foul mood, he would tease her mercilessly about her disorderly behavior tonight, maybe to the point where she actually threw him out of her flat, but for now, he would let her finally catch up on her rest.
Drawing his wand to extinguish her lamp, he turned on his heel and left her in peace, heading off to brew up a potion to relieve the inevitable hangover she’d be suffering from tomorrow. Merlin knew, after the night she’d just had, she would need it.
Although this particular tale is over, I definitely am not ruling out perhaps returning to this... universe, so to speak, since there's a lot I can still do with it, not the least of which is examining the reactions of Draco's family and friends, taking a more detailed look at the development of Draco and Ginny's relationship to this point, following them from this point forward... I don't know, we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I hope this little romp proved sufficient to satisfy your Draco-Ginny cravings; I know I had a lot of fun writing it. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read, and I hope you enjoyed it.