It does follow canon through Book 7 (minus epilogue), and there are a few allusions to events in the books. Also, one or two swear words.Author’s Notes:
Thanks so much for the lovely prompt, recipient! I tried to stay as true to the prompt as I could, and I really enjoyed writing this fic. I hope there’s enough angst in the beginning – usually that’s not a problem for me, but this fic insisted on being funny!Summary:
Ginny Weasley has a habit of getting into trouble, and for reasons she doesn’t know, Draco Malfoy has a habit of getting her out
of trouble. When Ginny finds herself desperate to spend the holidays away from her family, it seems she might just have a chance to discover those reasons for herself. * * *
When Draco got to the entrance hall to let in Ginny Weasley, he was all set up to tell her to go away. He had not invited her, whatever crazy notion Pansy had come up with, and he did not care if she was trying to avoid Potter. (Well. He didn’t really care about that, anyway, as he reminded himself again and again). He was not in the mood for any visitors. His dinner was burning in the kitchen, the drawing room was a mess, and he was fairly certain he was getting a cold.
But when he opened the door, before he could get a single word out, a distraught, wild-eyed Ginny Weasley held up both her hands before him and wailed, “I Splinched myself!”
Draco stared at her dumbly. His head felt as though it were stuffed full of wool. He had to blink several times before he processed this statement, and realized what he was looking at. She had Splinched herself, and now she was missing every single nail from every single finger. Draco looked at her flatly. “Really, Weasley?” He sniffled, stifling a sneeze.
Weasley glared at him. “Malfoy, will you please just let me in and help me?”
Draco leaned on the doorframe a little. “But I thought you didn’t want my help, Weasley,” he said snidely. “And I don’t know what you’re doing here, anyway. I didn’t invite you.”
“And I didn’t want to come here!” she snapped. “Why do you think I Splinched myself, you stupid prat! But—but I did come here, and now…” She gestured helplessly with her nail-less hands. “Malfoy, please just let me in! Just for a few minutes?”
He noted, then, that she seemed to be fighting tears, a faint, telltale glistening in her dark eyes the giveaway hint. Draco was suddenly torn between annoyance and the horrible urge to open his door wide for her. It wasn’t natural, this penchant he had for coming to her aide; he wasn’t some bloody stupid Gryffindor, going around saving people all the time.
But he could not help what he felt, when he saw her in trouble.
“Oh, fine,” Draco grumbled. “Come in, then.”
He’d barely opened the door an inch wider when she pushed past him, coming into the entrance hall. For a moment, he was overtaken by the scent of her hair, some kind of floral scent. Then he blinked and closed the door, before turning to face her. “There is a fairly simple charm to grow your nails, you know,” he said dryly.
“I know,” Weasley said, a defensive note to her voice. “But I—well, I panicked, and I—” She sighed with exasperation. “And I’m just not very good at that charm, all right? I always overdo it.”
Draco smirked. “You overdo a lot of things, I’ve noticed.” Before Weasley could come up with a response, he said, “We should apply some dittany first anyway, to stop the bleeding.” He’d half-turned to call for his butler when he remembered, with some irritation, that the butler wasn’t there. No one was. “Hang on,” he said, sighing. “I’ll be right back.”
He left too quickly for Ginny to say anything, but when he finally returned with the dittany and some bandages several minutes later, he found her frowning, looking around the entrance hall. “Malfoy,” she said, “don’t you have servants?” For a ridiculously poor person who most certainly did not have servants, Draco found her tone annoyingly condescending.
“Of course,” Draco said sharply. He jerked his head, indicating she should follow him into the drawing room. The lighting in the entrance hall was too dim to see properly. “But I sent them all home.” He could not suppress the resigned note in his voice. That had been one mistake of many, in the past couple of weeks.
“Erm—why?” Weasley asked, as Draco lit the lights in the drawing room with his wand.
“Because it’s Christmas, Weasley!” he snapped. “Why do you think?”
“Oh,” was all she said. She did not know, of course, that usually at least one or two of the servants would stay through Christmas. Someone had to make Christmas dinner, someone had to set up all the decorations and keep the house clean.
Unfortunately, this year, that someone was Draco. Which was more than evident by the state of the drawing room. Draco felt his cheeks growing warm as Weasley looked around the room, her eyes narrowed but curious. The usually immaculate room was quite a mess. A large evergreen tree took up a space by the fireplace, but it was still bare, even now, on Christmas Eve. Several boxes of ornaments were littered around the tree, half-open, and another couple of boxes with other decorations.
“Will you sit down already?” Draco snapped, trying to draw Weasley’s attention from the mess. He pointed demandingly at a chair at the drawing table. Once she was seated, he took the chair beside her and held his hand out impatiently for hers. She didn’t flinch or make a sound as he carefully dropped dittany onto each bleeding finger, even though it usually stung. Draco lost himself in the quiet of the next several minutes, bending his head over her hands as he wrapped small bandages around each finger.
“You should keep the bandages on for a few minutes at least,” he said, as he finished with the last one, “before we grow them back. I don’t—” He broke off as he glanced up, startled. Ginny’s head was bent close over her hands too, and when he lifted his head, he found his face mere inches from hers. A tiny intake of breath on her lips was the only sign that she was startled, too. Draco found his gaze lingering on those full, pink lips. He was suddenly aware of the warmth and softness of her small hand in his.
Then she drew back sharply, and Draco dropped her hand in the next instant. “Thank you,” Ginny said. She looked a bit pink in the warm glow of the lamp light, her freckles more apparent than ever. “Erm—I should go. I can manage the charm myself—”
“You already said you can’t,” Draco said crossly. “Just stay a few more minutes and—” He broke off, a horrible reminder dawning on him. “A few more minutes! Fuck!” He dashed out of the drawing room, ignoring Weasley’s confused call after him.
When he made it to the kitchen, it was too late. A steady stream of dark gray smoke issued forth from the oven, and when he yanked it open, more smoke billowed out, right into his face. Draco drew back, coughing and gasping. The smoke stung his eyes, and only made the steady ache growing in his temples worse.
“I think,” a voice said from the doorway, “that you’ve burnt your turkey.”
Draco spun around and glared at Ginny through the haze of smoke. “What a brilliant deduction, Weasley. I’m so glad you were here to tell me. Otherwise, I might never have figured out why my oven was smoking!” He meant to say more, but he started coughing again, and this time, he couldn’t stop.
“Oh, move over, Malfoy.” Weasley pushed him out of the way, and he was too wracked with spasms to stop her. She drew her wand out from her coat pocket and quickly Vanished most of the smoke. Then she took the oven mitts he’d left on the counter, pulled them on over her bandaged fingers, and carefully removed the turkey from the oven. Ginny shut the oven door, removed the mitts, and stepped back, surveying the turkey. Its outside skin was entirely black. Draco finally managed to get control of himself and stopped coughing, inhaling deeply. A moment of silence followed, as they both looked on at the ruined turkey.
“Well,” Ginny finally said, breaking the silence, “it was nice of you to send your staff home, but you probably should have kept your cook on.”
“No, really?” Draco snapped. His nose suddenly began to itch again, and this time, he could not suppress a sneeze. He was beginning to feel as though he could not breathe, and his head felt heavier than ever, like lead.
Ginny turned to face him, her eyes narrowed. “Are you sick?”
“No,” Draco shot back. He removed his handkerchief from his pocket to blow his nose. He was not sick. He refused to be sick on Christmas. Bad enough that his turkey was burnt, bad enough that he hadn’t gotten any decorations up yet, bad enough that his mother had left him, and now he was alone—
Draco felt a terrible twinge of loneliness, loneliness he had desperately been trying to suppress. He felt suddenly hollow, and tired, so very tired. He leaned back against the wall, shutting his eyes. He waited for Weasley to make another annoying comment, but she didn’t. When Draco opened his eyes a moment later, it was to find her standing only a foot from him, her arms crossed, her head cocked to one side as she looked at him. She looked a little confused, as though he were a puzzle she wanted to solve.
“Why did you come here, anyway?” Draco asked abruptly. “If you weren’t going to, then why did you?”
Ginny looked startled. She opened her mouth, but then shut it a moment later. Draco wasn’t sure if she didn’t know what to say, or if she did know but didn’t want to say it. Then she sighed. “I didn’t want to face Harry,” she said grumpily.
Draco raised an eyebrow. A familiar sense of jealousy and resentment warred with a surge of hope within him. A stupid hope. “Ah, right,” he said. He struggled to keep his voice even. “You dumped Potter.”
“I didn’t dump
him,” Weasley snapped. “Look, if you’re going to make some snide comment about it, just get it over with, Malfoy. I’m really not in the mood. In fact, instead of discussing Harry, why don’t you tell me why it is you’re spending Christmas alone? Parkinson mentioned something about you being a git, as I recall.”
Something inside of Draco snapped. “Yes, I was a git, all right? My mum wanted to go on holiday over Christmas and I didn’t want to and I threw a big fit about it so she went without me! And I sent all the servants home because I didn’t want to be alone with them on Christmas, only now I actually am alone and my turkey is burnt and my Christmas tree is bare and I’m—I—ah—” He broke off and turned his head just as he sneezed again.
“And you’re sick,” Ginny supplied helpfully.
“I am not sick!” Draco protested, though his congested voice said otherwise. He pulled his handkerchief out again and blew his nose. “Not on Christmas!”
He closed his eyes again, and this time, when he leaned back against the wall, he slid down it, until he was sitting on the kitchen floor. He felt like a fool, but he was too tired to stand. Merlin, had he actually just blurted all that out? To Weasley, of all people? What was wrong with him? It was his damn head, pounding away. He couldn’t think straight. He moaned a little, rubbing his eyes.
Malfoy blinked his eyes open, startled by the closeness of Ginny’s voice. She crouched down before him, looking him in the eye. So close. He was abruptly reminded of another time he’d looked her in the eye like this, another time when she’d seen him with his guard down. She had been in a similar state at the time, frightened and tearful and gasping, so it hadn’t been so bad then.
Draco looked her in the eye now, and it all came rushing back at him. All the feelings he’d been burying for the past year and a half, ever since the war had ended and Ginny had gone off to live her happily ever after with Potter. She didn’t know it, but she had been his refuge, once. A single bright spot in two years of darkness and terror. There was a time when his rare, brief moments with Ginny Weasley were the only moments when he did not feel so lost.
When he did not feel so alone.
He suddenly realized she had said something. “What?” he asked thickly.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and get into bed?” she repeated. “I can see myself out.”
“No!” Draco swallowed. Ginny looked surprised and puzzled by his response, and he evaded her gaze. “It’s Christmas Eve, and I am not just going up to bed, with my tree still bare and my dinner burnt—”
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Malfoy.” Ginny sighed in exasperation. “Look, I know you don’t want to be sick on Christmas—”
“I don’t want to miss Christmas.” He sounded petulant and childish; he knew he did. But this was the whole reason why he had stayed at the manor to begin with. To have Christmas, like they always used to, here at home.
Ginny rolled her eyes, but she paused, as though thinking it over. Then she said, “Well, why don’t you go change clothes at least. Your clothes are all smoky. I’ll see what I can salvage from the turkey, meanwhile. All right?”
Draco was not entirely sure why, but he did as she said. Perhaps he was just too tired and too ill to argue. He supposed he should change, anyway. As he trudged up the stairs, he ran a hand through his hair, and it came back dirty with smoke. He would take a shower too, he decided.
The hot water of his shower helped clear his mind a little. What on earth was he doing with Weasley, anyway? He hadn’t invited her. How stupid was she, getting herself Splinched and losing all her fingernails?
He would send her packing, Draco decided, as he toweled off. He found a Pepper-up Potion in his cabinet and took it quickly, before changing into clean trousers and a clean black sweater. He was feeling a little bit better as he headed to the drawing room—better, but also more tired. Well, no matter. He would tell Weasley to get out, and then he could go back to having his own Christmas. By himself. He pushed open the door to the drawing room. “Weasley,” he said, “you have to—”
He broke off, forgetting entirely what he was going to say. He blinked in the glow of sparkling lights and gaped at the room before him.
The tree was no longer bare. It was a real Christmas tree now, strung with colorful lights and ornaments in red, gold, silver, and green. There was even a star on top, big and gold and glittery. What was more, garland and holly had been hung along the mantelpiece beside the fire, and draped along the coffee table and the card table.
“I have to what, Malfoy?”
Draco looked around. He had been so taken aback by the decorated room that he had not even noticed Weasley. She was sitting in one of the armchairs by the fire, looking quite comfortable. Her coat hung over the back of the chair, her handbag on the floor beside her. Draco crossed the room and stopped in front of her.
“I was going to go,” she said, before he could say anything, “but you haven’t grown my nails back yet.”
“Oh.” Draco had nearly forgotten all about that. “Right.” She had already removed the bandages. He took his wand out and carefully grew back each nail. When he was done, Ginny held her hands up and looked at them critically.
“They’re a little long,” she noted, “but I can clip them down. Thanks, Malfoy.”
Draco said, “You don’t have to go.”
Ginny blinked, dropping her hands. “What?”
He didn’t know why he’d said it, but the words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself, and he couldn’t take them back. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. He looked at her, with the Christmas tree she’d decorated a backdrop behind her. He couldn’t name the feeling inside of him, but it was familiar. Choking up his throat, churning in his stomach. It was like seventh year all over again.
“You could stay.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, if you want to. You did come here, after all. To avoid Potter. And I’m not rubbing it in or gloating or—or anything,” he added hastily, when her eyes narrowed. “I’m just saying—you can stay. If you want.”
Ginny stared at him. He could not fathom the look in her brown eyes as she considered his words. All he knew was it felt like an eternity before she finally said, “All right.”
Fifteen minutes later, they were sitting in both armchairs by the fire in the drawing room, plates of turkey and parsnips on their laps. “The turkey is dry,” Draco complained.
“That’s what happens when you burn it,” Ginny said flatly. “Just be grateful I managed to scrape off the black bits.”
Draco stifled a rather un
grateful reply and stuffed another forkful of turkey into his mouth.
They ate in silence, which was all right since they were eating, but once they were both done, the silence became a little awkward. Weasley sat cross-legged in her armchair, looking like an urchin in her oversized red sweater. “So,” she said, breaking the interminable silence, “what else do you usually do on Christmas Eve?”
Draco set his plate aside. “Well,” he said slowly. He felt a little odd about sharing this with her, the Christmases he usually spent with his parents. But he was the one that told her to stay, so he forced himself not to shut her out now. “Usually we all open one present. Just one, and the rest we do Christmas morning.”
He felt stupid as soon as he said it. He didn’t have a present for Weasley, and she obviously didn’t have one for him, either. But Weasley looked thoughtful, mulling this idea over. Suddenly, she brightened, a mischievous gleam in her eyes. “Well, good then,” she said pleasantly. “Because I have a present for you.”
Draco eyed her suspiciously. “You do?” He watched through narrowed eyes as she lifted her handbag into her lap and rooted through it. A moment later, she did indeed pull out a small box, wrapped in red-and-gold paper. She held it out to Draco, who rose from his chair to take it warily.
“What is it?” he asked dubiously. That impish expression on Weasley’s face was making him nervous.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “You have to open it to find out, you twat,” she said. “Or do you do presents differently in your family?”
Draco frowned at the small gift box. He thought it odd that she had brought a gift for him, but then, she had come here to celebrate Christmas, hadn’t she? Maybe it wasn’t so odd that she’d brought him something. Still, that only made it worse that he did not have anything for her. Not that he should have gotten her something, given that she had shown up uninvited. Still. He didn’t want to open the present if she didn’t have something, too.
Clearing his throat, Draco reached under the Christmas tree and deliberately selected a small box from the pile of presents he already had there. The box was wrapped in gold paper, with a silver bow on top. He had to get down on his knees to find it. He’d had one of the servants wrap it a couple of weeks ago, though he’d forgotten to send it off. He turned, holding the box out to Ginny. “Here.”
Ginny climbed out of the armchair, coming to join him on the floor beside the Christmas tree. “This is for me?” Her eyes were confused now.
“Yes.” Draco evaded her gaze, and set to opening his own present.
Ginny turned the small gift box over in her hands. “Malfoy,” she said, her voice a mixture of surprise and indignation, “there’s a tag on this that says ‘To Mum, From Draco.’”
“So?” Draco said indifferently, looking up from his present.
“Malfoy.” Ginny looked at him with exasperation. “You can’t give me your mother’s present!”
“Why not?” Draco shrugged. “You’re here. She’s not.”
Her reply was cut off as Draco finished unwrapping his present. Beneath the paper was a small black case, and inside the black case was a watch. Draco opened the case in surprise. It was a nice watch—not designer label, he could tell, but not an inexpensive watch, either. The band was silver links, and the delicate hands within shining brass. “You really got this for me?” Draco said, stunned.
Ginny coughed uncomfortably. “Oh, well—” She quickly dropped her gaze and began tearing the paper off her own present. For some reason, her cheeks had gone pink.
Draco looked from her to the watch in suspicion. He took the watch out of the case. When he flipped it over to unfasten it and try it on, he noticed a delicate engraving on the back. He held the watch up close to his eyes and peered at the words inscribed there. “Weasley,” he said flatly, “why does my watch say ‘For my dearest brother?
“Sweet Circe,” Ginny breathed. This seemed an odd answer to his question, so Draco glanced up. Ginny wasn’t paying attention to him at all. She had opened the gift Draco had given her, which was a delicate pair of silver earrings—solid silver, each with a tiny, inset emerald. “Malfoy,” Ginny said hoarsely, “you can’t give me these!”
“I already did,” Draco said irritably. “Weasley, why does my watch say, ‘For my dearest brother?
“What? Oh.” Weasley tore her gaze from the earrings and blushed again. “Well—I was going to give it to Ron—”
“To the Weasel King!”
“—I dropped off all my gifts for my family before I came here,” she said. She cleared her throat, dropping her gaze. “But I forgot that one was in my handbag. So.” A defensive expression came over her face. “Anyway, you gave me the present you meant to give to your mum!”
“They don’t have an engraving on them,” Draco pointed out snidely.
“You can get the engraving redone,” Ginny snapped. She leaned forward, reaching her hand out towards him. “Anyway, if you don’t want it—”
“Don’t be stupid.” Draco snatched the watch out of her reach in a flash. Quickly, he set about to fastening it over his wrist. “Of course I want it. It’s mine now.”
Ginny rolled her eyes and sat back. Her attention returned to the earrings in her lap, and she swallowed. “Malfoy,” she said, “really, though. How much did these cost?”
“It’s rude to ask how much a gift cost, Weasley,” Draco scoffed. “Merlin, didn’t your mother teach you anything?”
“But—” She glanced up hesitantly, and for a moment, her gaze lingered on the watch on his wrist. Then she cleared her throat and said quietly, “Well, thank you.” She held the earrings up close to her eyes. “I thought they were just done in a sort of swirl design,” she said, “but they’re actually snakes, aren’t they?”
Draco nodded. They were large studs in the shape of serpents, with the green gem in each the serpent’s eye. He watched silently as Ginny removed the simple gold studs she wore and replaced them with the new earrings. Once they were both in, she smiled and looked at him. “Well?” she said expectantly. “How do I look?”
Draco tried to answer, but the words got stuck in his throat. It wasn’t that the earrings made her look extra pretty or anything. She was already pretty, and Draco thought her simple studs suited her better, somehow. But there was something about seeing her wearing his
earrings, the ones he’d bought, the ones he’d given to her.
When he didn’t answer right away, Ginny frowned at him. Draco hastily drew up a familiar sneer and said, “Like a dog dancing on its hind legs.”
Ginny threw him a look of deep disgust. “I can’t believe I gave you that watch.”
“Well, you did,” he said smugly.
She sighed and scooted around sideways on the floor, until she faced the sparkling Christmas tree. Then she lay flat on her back, her knees bent, her feet flat on the floor. She sighed again, this time with contentment, and folded her arms beneath her head as she gazed up at the tree.
“What are you doing?” Draco asked, wondering if she’d gone mental.
She patted the ground next to her. “Come see.”
“See what? The tree? I can see it from right here.”
Ginny turned her head to look at him. “You have to see it like this,” she said impatiently.
“Malfoys don’t lie on the floor.”
“Just do it,” she snapped. “Trust me.”
With a long-suffering sigh, Draco got up and joined her. He sat beside her and lowered himself back carefully. This was weird, and unnatural, lying back on the floor like this. But once he did, he saw at once what Weasley found so appealing. From this vantage point below the tree, gazing up at it, the lights and the glittering ornaments seemed somehow more dazzling. The tree filled his vision, and the glow of the lights seemed to envelope him, enclosing him in their warmth and brightness. As the minutes ticked by and he and Ginny stared up at the tree, Draco felt, for a brief moment, ridiculously happy. He didn’t think he’d felt that way since he’d celebrated Christmas as a boy. The tree seemed to encompass everything Christmas
, and even though he was sharing this moment with Ginny Weasley, and not his family, he felt very much at home. And there was comfort in that.
They passed several long, silent minutes. Then Ginny said softly, “See?”
Draco swallowed. “Yes,” he said hoarsely. “Yes, I see.”
The silence that followed then was peaceful, and not uncomfortable. Draco gazed up at the lights until he felt like he was going blind. Even though the turkey had been dry, he felt comfortably full, and warm beside the fire. The pain in his head had retreated to a dull, small ache, one he barely noticed now. As he began to close his eyes, Ginny said, “Malfoy?”
“Why didn’t you go on holiday with your mum for Christmas?”
Draco’s eyes flew open. “What?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ginny roll onto her side. She propped her elbow up and rested her head in her hand, and looked at him. “You said your mum wanted to go on holiday and you didn’t want to go. Why? I expect she went somewhere nice.”
“The south of France,” Draco muttered. He wasn’t sure he wanted to discuss this with her.
“That sounds nice.”
“Well, it’s not,” he snapped. He stared up at the ceiling to avoid looking at her. “Because it’s not home.” He paused, wondering if he should say anything more. When Ginny said nothing in reply, he sighed and went on, “She wanted to go because… because my father is in prison.” He said this part quickly, as though if he got it out fast enough, he could pretend he hadn’t said it. “This isn’t the first Christmas we’ve spent without him—we did sixth year. And she hated it. Last year, we had to stay here because I was—because I had to stay here.” He stumbled a little over those words. Because he had still been under house arrest, on probation. Weasley had to know that. But he felt embarrassed, all the same, saying it aloud. “This year, she wanted to get out. I guess being here without him, on Christmas…she doesn’t like it.”
“I can understand that,” Ginny murmured. “But you didn’t want to go?”
“No,” Draco said sharply. “I can’t just—just go on holiday, and pretend like my father isn’t part of our family anymore. Doing Christmas here, together—we always did that. I just—I didn’t want to leave my father behind,” he said quietly. It sounded stupid, now that he said it out loud, but he didn’t know how else to put his feelings into words.
For what seemed a long time, Ginny was quiet. Draco didn’t dare look at her. Instead, he closed his eyes.
But then she spoke. “Can you go visit him tomorrow?” she asked.
“Yeah.” Draco shifted a little. “I’m going to.”
“It’s different for everybody,” Ginny said unexpectedly. Draco didn’t understand what she was referring to until she went on, “And it’s hard no matter what you do. Last year—last year was our first Christmas without my brother Fred.” Her voice sounded thick. “I didn’t know what to do. None of us did. It seemed almost easier to try and just pretend nothing was wrong—but that felt horrible, too. Like you said—we couldn’t just forget him, pretend he’d never lived.”
Draco glanced aside at her. She lay flat on her back and stared straight up at the ceiling, but as he watched, a single tear slid down the side of her face. It vanished into her hair, but it left its tracks behind, a damp spot on her temple.
Seeing that tear made Draco feel shaky and unstable. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, trying to regain control of himself. It didn’t matter what he did, he realized. It was always going to be different now. His Christmases would never be like they were, when he was a child, when both of his parents were here. Even once his father got out of prison, it wouldn’t be the same. Because nothing was the same anymore. Not after the war.
He didn’t want to think about it anymore, about his mother, his father. He felt exhausted, thinking about them. He cleared his throat and asked, “So why did you break up with Potter?”
“What?” Ginny sounded startled.
“I thought he was your bloody dream come true,” Draco said. He tried to inject some snark into his words, but they sounded hollow to his ears. “I’d never have thought you’d dump him.”
She didn’t answer right away, and Draco waited for her to blow up at him, as he was sure she would. But surprisingly, she only sighed and said, “Neither did I.”
“So why did you then?”
“It’s just—being with him—I don’t know.” There was a helpless tone to her voice. “It wasn’t like I thought it would be, I guess.”
Draco smirked, and it felt good. “Disappointing in the sack, was he?”
“No, he was not—! I mean, that’s none of your business!” Ginny rolled onto her side and smacked his arm. Draco glanced aside at her and found her scowling fiercely, which amused him, for some reason. “That’s not what I meant,” she grumbled. “I just meant…” She trailed off, and her eyes pinched with frustration. “I’d had a crush on Harry since I was a little girl.”
“I remember,” Draco said sourly. Oh, how he remembered. The first time he’d seen her, when she’d stood up to him for Potter in Flourish and Blott’s. And that stupid Valentine she’d sent him second year.
“It’s just—I guess I built him up too much in my head,” she mused. “Or, well—that’s not quite it. I mean, I know Harry really well. I don’t feel like I had unrealistic expectations or anything. And I was happy with him at school, at the end of our fifth year, and even seventh year, though that was long-distance…” She trailed off, and shrugged. “But after I graduated—I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. I got…bored.” She threw a hand over her eyes and groaned. “Oh, Merlin. There. I said it. I said it, and it sounds as horrible as I thought it would.”
“It’s not horrible,” Draco said reasonably. He’d dropped his head to one side to look at her, but he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. “It’s his fault if can’t keep you entertained.”
“I told you that’s not what I meant!” Ginny snapped, dropping her hand from her face to glare at him. “It’s just…I don’t know.” She sighed. “It’s not like I was happy to end it. I wanted to be happy with him, and I hate that I couldn’t be. Does that make sense?”
“Hmm,” Draco agreed vaguely. His eyes had fallen shut, and sleep was quickly overtaking him, drowning her voice out. He thought he’d fallen asleep when he heard her speak again, and he wondered if he was dreaming.
“It’s just,” she said quietly, her voice little more than a whisper, “sometimes I think it’s because I—because…”
Draco tried to open his eyes. He barely managed it, Ginny’s hazy form swimming before his tired gaze. “Because what?” he asked drowsily.
“Because…” She bit her lip, and looked at him. “Because I couldn’t stop thinking about someone else.”
Draco felt a small jolt of surprise at these words, but he couldn’t say why. He tried to form a response, but if he did, he didn’t remember it. He wasn’t even sure, as he drifted off to sleep, that he wasn’t already dreaming, and hadn’t dreamed those last words of hers.
He slept well, better than he had all week, dreaming pleasant dreams that he couldn’t quite recall in the morning. But he woke with a vague sense of warmth, and contentment, and happiness. It was surprising really, how well he’d slept, given that he’d apparently spent the entire night on the floor of the drawing room, beneath the Christmas tree.
It was the sight of the Christmas tree, twinkling down at him, that brought it all flooding back. Ginny. She was gone now, but she’d been here last night, he remembered. It all seemed like some weird dream, and for a moment, he wondered if it had been. The thought brought a sense of panic, for some reason.
But when he forced himself to his feet and made his way to the kitchen, he found it clean and tidy. The remains of his burnt turkey were in the fridge. And, sitting on the counter, was a large plate that did not belong to him. It was filled with food—turkey, not burnt like his, mashed potatoes, greens, stuffing, pudding. And beside it was a small scrap of parchment—a note. Draco picked it up and read:Malfoy,
I decided I should face my family for lunch today, since you’re going to see your father anyway. Here’s a plate of food from my mum’s—the turkey’s not burnt like ours was. Thank you for the earrings, and I hope you have a good Christmas.
P.S. What are you doing for New Year’s?PART TWO: COUNTDOWN TO MIDNIGHT
Draco shoved his hands in his pockets as he followed Ginny up the walkway to the red-brick house before them. It was a large house, though not nearly so large as the manor, with a short flight of stairs that led up to the front door. It was also in the middle of nowhere. In other words, just the sort of house a bunch of ex-Hogwarts students would throw a New Year’s Eve bash in.
“Whose party is this again?” Draco asked, as they mounted the steps to the front door.
“Michael Corner’s,” Ginny said. She looked quite pretty tonight, Draco thought, in a shimmering green top and a pair of black jeans with just a hint of silver glitter running down the front of them. She wore her bright red hair down around her shoulders, but the earrings she wore—the earrings Draco had given her—were quite visible anyway. Draco had noticed she was wearing the earrings, but hadn’t said anything about them. He wore the watch she’d given him too, but if she’d noticed, she hadn’t said anything either.
She had already had quite enough to say about what he was wearing, as far as he was concerned. She’d met up with him at the manor before bringing him here, and immediately made him change out of his black slacks into a pair of khaki pants. She made him remove his tie too, and made him unbutton his dark blue oxford shirt, revealing the plain, black t-shirt he wore beneath. That was as far as she got with him.
“It’s not a fancy party, Malfoy,” she’d told him snootily. “You’ll look like a prat, going like that.” Draco rather thought he looked like a prat now, like he was from some Muggle boy band or something. Ginny, unfortunately, disagreed.
“Who’s Michael Corner?” Draco asked, as Ginny rang the bell.
Ginny looked around at him incredulously. “Really? He was in your year at school, Malfoy.”
“Don’t know him,” Draco said dismissively.
“I used to date him,” Ginny said casually.
“From what I remember, you used to date half the school.”
Ginny glared at him. “I dated three boys. Three boys! Merlin, you sound like my brothers.” She rang the doorbell again, a little impatiently.
Draco could faintly make out the sound of loud music from inside. “Maybe we should just go in,” he suggested, but no sooner were the words out of his mouth than the door swung open.
The faint noise of loud music swelled into a raucous crescendo as the door opened. The small entrance hall was packed with people, chatting, chugging drinks, horsing around. Draco’s attention, though, was fixed on the girl that had opened the door to them. She wore a skin-tight, gold mini dress that exposed quite a bit of leg, gold heels to match, and a sparkling choker at her throat. Draco recognized her, of course, but for about half a second he didn’t even care that she was a Mudblood.
“Whoa,” he said, taking her in.
“Hermione!” Ginny cried. “You look fantastic!”
“Erm—thanks.” Granger spared a quick, half-smile for Ginny before turning her attention to Draco. Her expression was quizzical. “Erm—you brought Malfoy?”
“I thought you said this wasn’t a fancy party,” Draco said, smirking at Granger. “What happened, Granger? Having some trouble keeping the Weasel King’s attention? Thought you’d spice things up for him?”
Ginny smacked him in the arm—quite hard, in fact. Granger only gave him a disparaging look before turning her gaze on Ginny. “You brought Malfoy,” she repeated, her tone flat.
“Yes, well—he didn’t have any other plans.” Ginny grabbed Draco by the arm and dragged him inside, forcing Granger back several steps to make room for them. As Ginny shut the door behind them, Draco looked around. He peered up the staircase on his left, and down the short corridor before them. Everywhere was packed with people, all around their age. Draco recognized a lot of them from Hogwarts, even those he didn’t know by name.
Absolutely none of them were from Slytherin House.
“Weasley,” he said, more than a little irritated, “what did you bring me here for?”
“That’s what I was wondering,” Granger said dryly, crossing her arms over her chest.
Ginny rolled her eyes at Draco. “Are you going to be this anti-social the whole night?”
“Ginny,” Granger said, her eyes narrowed. “Could I talk to you for a moment—alone?”
“Oh, don’t worry, Granger,” Draco said, still craning his neck to look around. “You can say whatever you need to say in front of me. I promise you won’t hurt my feelings.”
“All right, then,” Granger said, her words clipped. She looked from Draco to Ginny, and her gaze softened into a concerned frown. “Ginny, you know Harry is here, don’t you?”
“What? No!” Ginny shook her head, dismay in her big brown eyes. “I thought he was out of town for that Quidditch match in Bulgaria—”
“No, he decided not to go,” Granger said. “He’s here. So is Ron, for that matter,” she added, with a pointed look at Draco.
“Well, I figured he would be,” Ginny said crossly. “Look, Hermione, I’d rather not see Harry at the moment, you know that. But I can’t just avoid him forever, and I really don’t care what either he or Ron thinks about me bringing Malfoy.”
Granger eyed Draco dubiously. “Is he, like…did you bring him as a date?”
“What?” Draco and Ginny exclaimed simultaneously.
“No, no, it’s not like that,” Ginny said hastily. “I just…we’re…friends?” She raised an eyebrow at Draco, as though looking for his confirmation.
Draco returned her gaze stonily. “We are not friends.”
“Whatever.” Ginny sighed, turning back to Granger. “Look, can we just put all this school stuff behind us, please? Ron and Harry probably won’t even notice we’re here. This party’s, er, rather bigger than I thought it would be,” she added, looking around. “Which is fine. We probably won’t even run into Harry and Ron.”
Somehow, Draco thought that was probably too good a hope to come true.