Author's Note: Written for the DG Forum's 2014 Summer Challenge over on FFN. The prompts used were "A series of accidental dates" and the quote "My reputation grows with every failure" by George Bernard Shaw. This story won an award for Best Response to Prompt 2 for the G.B.S. quote prompt.
For anyone who read this during the challenge, I tweaked the title a teensy bit. Rating is really for some swears. Reviews appreciated!
You Can't Fake Happiness (But You Can Buy Ice Cream)
Failure tasted salty, stripping her danish (and, let's face it—life) of its sweetness. She should have put the pastry away and saved it for later, but, as usual, Ginny didn't know when to quit. She shoved it in her mouth as she cried, presenting a pathetic display in the middle of a public park. The people walking past her bench either stared or rushed away quickly without making eye contact. Only the pigeons dared to get close to her, but they pecked at the ground around her feet for the danish crumbs that fell from her mouth with none of the grace her mother taught her.
Even though she was creating a scene, Ginny couldn't go home. She didn't know what she would find. Missing picture frames, a half-empty closet, a clean floor? It would probably be worse if everything remained exactly the same, as if nothing had changed, as if her life wasn't spiraling out of control.
She choked down her danish in between sobs, but a huge lump got stuck in her throat, lodging there the same way Harry had lodged himself into Ginny's heart. She'd done that, too, hadn't she? She'd scarfed him down with a desperate frenzy, as if the idea of eating anything other than that particular danish was so despicable, she'd rather choke than wait for something better. But she'd only been a girl when she'd set her sights on Harry. Only ten years old. He'd been too sweet for her. Sweets always gave her a stomachache.
"Merlin, Weasley. Is this proper behavior for a woman your age?"
Ginny's head snapped up, and her face flushed redder than it already was. Several feet away from her and dressed in a three-piece Muggle suit stood Draco Malfoy, the corners of his lips turned down and his nose scrunched in distaste.
Part of Ginny wanted the ground beneath her to open up and suck her and the bench down into its fiery depths, never to be seen or heard from again, but the rest of her just couldn't care. She'd cared about Harry so much and he'd broken her heart. What could Malfoy possibly do to make her feel worse?
Looking wary, he took a cautious step closer to her, his hand reaching inside his jacket and pulling out a handkerchief. He offered it to her, arching his body as if a chasm in the ground separated the two of them, and she took it from him, her hand shaking. As Ginny blew her nose into it, Malfoy flinched, and then he gestured for her to keep the scrap of cloth when she offered it back to him.
She dabbed at her eyes and hiccupped, but at least she could breathe now, her sobs a little less violent than they were before.
"There. Better?" he asked.
She nodded, sniffling hard.
"Great. I'm leaving now," he said, and then continued on his merry way, for which Ginny was thankful. She didn't care what Malfoy thought of her, no… but she was glad to see him gone all the same. She probably looked a frightful mess. The black tear stains on the handkerchief were evidence enough that her makeup had traveled from the original places she had applied it. She could only imagine how pitiful she looked.
Malfoy didn't stay gone, though. She watched him as he stopped, his shoulders rising and falling as if he had sighed, and then he turned around and marched back.
"Oh, no, please leave," Ginny choked out.
"I can't," he replied.
"Why not? I'm miserable enough as it is. You don't have to rub it in!"
"It's not that," he said through a clenched jaw. He took a seat on the opposite end of the bench, a good foot of space between them. "Those ladies over there think I made you cry."
"What ladies?" she asked as she scanned the surrounding park.
Malfoy scooched a little closer to her and nodded in the direction in which he'd originally been walking. "Those ladies."
There were two women standing in the grass, one with a dog pulling at its leash, its eyes fastened on a frisbee a group of people were throwing several feet away, and the other with a toddler sitting on the ground, mindlessly gnawing at its own leash.
Malfoy inclined his head toward Ginny, and she leaned in to hear what he had to say. "They were staring at me and whispering. I heard one say, 'Oh, that poor girl.' They think I'm the reason you're crying."
Ginny snorted, and she should have been embarrassed when snot came out of her nose, but she was suddenly laughing too hard to even care. She wiped at her nose with Malfoy's handkerchief, her stomach aching from her earlier sobs and her new guffaws.
"Oh, dear Merlin," she said a few moments later when she'd regained control of herself, though her shoulders still shook with giggles every now and then.
"What's so funny?" Malfoy asked in a voice laced with venom.
Her smile grew wider as she observed the stern crease in his brown and the way his lips turned down in displeasure.
"It was just the idea that you could have been the reason I was upset—am upset. Damn. It feels good to laugh, but it doesn't fix my problems."
"What kind of problems? Having trouble in paradise? I can't imagine your life with Potter being anything but blissful." His expression of displeasure became more pronounced, if that was possible. Malfoy had a way of spitting out Harry's name as if the mere taste of it in his mouth was poison, which was sad, really, since Ginny knew that Harry didn't talk about Malfoy the same way. In fact, Harry always talked about his school nemesis as if he was in desperate need of everyone's pity, but his style of dress today—immaculate and tailored in the finest materials, even if they were Muggle—suggested that he was doing just fine on his own.
Besides, his flippant comment stung, so pity was the last thing she felt for him at the moment.
"Since you're going to find out anyway, you might as well hear the truth from me," she said through clenched teeth, her head turned away as her cheeks burned. Her eyes were stinging, too, and the last thing she wanted was for Draco Malfoy to see her cry. Again. "Harry broke up with me. We are no longer together—the dream unrealized—a lifetime of loneliness and uncertainty ahead of me. Feel free to gloat now, but just remember that I'll hex you if you do."
He didn't gloat, but he did snort. Ginny's head whipped back around just to witness it. Certainly he was much too dignified for that!
"What?" she snapped, her irritation growing. She crossed her arms to hold herself together.
"You? A lifetime of loneliness?" he said, one eyebrow cocked in skeptical disbelief. "You're even more popular than you were back at Hogwarts. I'd say there are loads of men who have been waiting for the day you and Potter would break up. Hoping and praying for it, actually."
"How would you know that?" she asked as her eyes narrowed at him with suspicion. "Are you one of them?"
He held up his hands in a defensive gesture. "Fuck no. What would I want with Potter's sloppy seconds?" The way he eyed her reminded Ginny that her makeup was smeared all over her face, and he'd caught her crying without shame in public. Sloppy, indeed.
Before she could respond to his insult, he continued, "I was just trying to say that this isn't the end of the world. You never know, dumping Potter could be the best thing that's ever happened to you. It's sure to lead to bigger and better things."
He stood up and smoothed out his suit. Ginny couldn't stop her eyes from drinking him in. He looked annoyingly handsome in the Muggle ensemble, and she wondered why he was wearing it.
"But he dumped me," she replied.
Malfoy shrugged. "Seems to me that you came out the winner, so does it really matter who dumped who?"
How could there be anyone better than Harry? she wondered. Harry Potter was one of the most famous wizards in the United Kingdom—he'd saved the wizarding world on several occasions, all before the age of eighteen, and he continued to do the same now in his work as an Auror. How could there be better than Harry Potter?
"Look, the gossips are gone. Now's my chance to get away," Malfoy said. The two women from before had vacated their spot on the grass and taken their pets with them, probably to continue their stroll along the park's walking path.
Ginny found herself a little disappointed to see Malfoy go—how strange was that? But she couldn't think of any reason to make him stay, never mind that she shouldn't have wanted him to stay.
"Thank you," she said with heartfelt sincerity. "You are the last person I ever expected to try to make me feel better about this."
"I didn't do it for you," he replied as he adjusted his tie. "I've got a reputation to uphold. Now that I'm doing business in the Muggle world, I can't have word getting out that Draco Malfoy makes women cry in public parks."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "All the same. Thank you. Hey, you want an ice cream? Let me buy you an ice cream."
Malfoy froze and made a face as if Ginny had just suggested that he start dating Harry now.
She shot up from the bench and dragged him to an ice cream cart, where she purchased a vanilla cone for him and a strawberry cone for herself. While he resisted, he didn't put up enough of a fight to deter her.
"What if I'd wanted strawberry?" he asked.
She held her ice cream out to him after she'd already licked it, but he made a face and turned back to his own, using a spoon to eat it before he nibbled delicately around the edges of the waffle cone. She was surprised that he'd stuck around, as if she was someone worth spending time with. Maybe he had changed since Hogwarts. Maybe she had?
She didn't worry about the mess she'd left at home, about whether or not Harry would be there, or if he'd already moved out and taken his belongings with him. She didn't think about Harry at all.
The Leaky Cauldron was packed with Quidditch fans discussing loudly over their mugs the match that had been played earlier that day. Every table was occupied and overflowing with people—all except for one.
Draco didn't need to see her face to recognize Ginny Weasley with her head down on a table in the booth at the back of the pub. The aura of defeat gave her away immediately.
He wound his way through the crowd to her table, slipping into the seat across from her.
"Cheer up. It's not all bad, is it, Weasley?"
She slowly lifted her head and stared at him with dead eyes. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
Draco shrugged. "Same as everyone else, I suppose. Came in for a drink and the latest news about the Cup."
"You've heard, then," she grumbled, her eyes falling to the table.
"Everyone's heard. It's just a game, though."
"Easy for you to say," she scoffed, pushing a folded up newspaper over to his side of the table.
"Weasley Ruins England's World Cup Chances" was the headline, and underneath was a picture of Ginny throwing a Quaffle into her own team's hoop.
"Oh," Draco said non-solicitously, "that is pretty bad."
"That's not all," she said just as she hiccuped. "Turn to page two."
He eyed her as he opened the Prophet to the second page, and noticed that her eyes weren't really dead—they were glassy, and what he'd mistaken for embarrassment was actually an inability to focus for long lengths of time. She was drunk.
There was a large spread on page two titled "The Boy-Who-Lived Finds Love Again!" with a picture of Potter and a woman Draco didn't know with their arms wrapped around each other, smiling as if nothing in the world mattered except for the person next to them. Draco frowned at the ghastly display. Both the photograph and the article were tacky and insensitive, but he figured such joyous news as Potter's engagement and wedding announcement were impossible to keep secret.
"It's been two months since we broke up, Malfoy. Two. Either he moves fast or he—he was seeing her while he was with me."
Draco was horrified to see tears well up and spill from her eyes. As if she needed to repeat the park incident from two months ago! Especially while Draco was around. How did he always find himself in these situations?
"Is this why you lost the match?" he asked. Her hair rustled against the tabletop, and he took that as a yes.
"He told me right before the game," she said, her voice muffled. "He wanted me to hear it from him and not from the paper or someone else."
Blood rushed straight to Draco's head in anger, and his mouth opened and closed wordlessly as he digested what she'd said. "You mean, he told you that he was planning to get married right before England played Russia for a spot in the World Cup. He gave you this news, which he knew you wouldn't take well, just before one of the most important matches of your Quidditch career?"
Her hair released a sniffle, followed by a weak affirmation.
"Why aren't you angry?" he asked. He slammed his fist on the tabletop, startling her into raising her head again. "Why aren't you cursing his name?"
She grabbed the empty glass in front of her and lifted it to her mouth. Then she turned it upside down and shook it with a forlorn frown. "What's the point?" she said. "You know, when Harry broke up with me after Dumbledore was brutally murdered, I understood, you know? He has a saving people thing, and I knew he needed to go off and be the hero, and part of that was protecting me by not being with me. I knew that. I figured once the war was over, maybe we would get back together. I used to dream about it, that he'd see everything I'd done while he was gone and see that I didn't need protecting. We could just be equals.
"Then afterwards we started dating again, and I thought we were finally on the same page. He'd already saved the world. He didn't have to sacrifice our happiness for anyone else ever again, but then he became an Auror."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Does this story have a point?"
She pointed the mug at him. Her eyes tried to glare into his, but they kept crossing and getting distracted by other things. "Yes, Malfoy. It does. The point is I sacrificed my happiness for Harry and he didn't even have the courtesy to stay with me and be unhappy, too."
Draco frowned. "If you weren't happy, why are you taking this so hard?"
"Because he was the dream. My mum is still so disappointed. I don't even know how to face her now that Harry is engaged. Where's the bartender when you need 'im?"
She tried to climb out of the booth and stumbled when she went to steady herself with the hand that was still clinging to the mug. Draco slid out of his booth and put a steadying arm around her.
"I think you've had enough."
"Nooooo," she whined.
"Come on. We're getting some fresh air."
Draco was surprised that no one tried to stop him as he made his way out with a clearly very inebriated woman, especially the darling of wizarding London. But as he looked around the pub, his eyes were only met with glares, and he could tell not all of them were aimed at him. He scowled at the fickleness of people, but he wasn't surprised by it. When it came to love and Quidditch, no one would be spared from the adoring public's wrath, not even Ginny Weasley.
They made it a few feet out the door before Draco regretted his hasty decision. Weasley didn't need fresh air; she needed to drink water and sober up. He couldn't very well take her back inside the pub, where the customers were already riled up and angry about the match, so he struggled on, Weasley making it all the more difficult.
He threw one of her arms around his neck and slid his own arm around her waist. Instinctively, she locked her hands together over his shoulder, but then her legs seemed to stop holding her weight.
"Come on, Weasley. I'm not going to carry you."
She buried her nose into his chest, and Draco froze in the middle of the street, his heart suddenly racing.
"Stop that," he groused.
She did it again, burrowing her face as close to him as possible as she sighed and released a contented sound. All Draco could do was tighten his grip on her waist, which subsequently pressed her body against his even more.
Irritated by his body's reaction to her—and by her shameless touching of his person—Draco huffed. He should never have approached her, not in the Leaky Cauldron tonight and not on that park bench two months ago, either. Her eyes were closed and she was snoring softly.
"You've got to be kidding me."
Despite telling her that he wouldn't carry her, he lifted her into his arms and trudged on. Luckily, Diagon Alley was practically deserted, so he didn't have to fight any crowds either on the street or to get a table at the Greek restaurant on the other side of Florean Fortescue's. He took a seat at a table outside, and when the waiter arrived, he ordered two of the first item listed on the menu, not even paying attention to what it was.
He couldn't believe he was buying her dinner after all the trouble she'd put him through, but perhaps this made them even for the ice cream in the park.
Weasley was still snoring, her head in her arms on the table across from him. When the waiter brought their drinks, Draco pulled out his wand and ennervated his dinner companion. She sat up as if someone had dumped a bucket of water on her head, her eyes wide and darting.
"Drink," Draco commanded, and, surprisingly, she obliged. Each time she reached the bottom of her glass, he refilled it with a non-verbal Aguamenti until her eyes were focused and alert once more.
"I didn't want to be sober," she grumbled as gyros and potatoes were served to both of them.
"Yes you did, or you wouldn't have drunk the water."
"I thought it was vodka."
"Are you always this whiny?" he asked as he speared a potato.
She crossed her arms like a petulant child. "Only when royal gits ruin my buzz."
"At least I'm royal, then. You better eat up or your hangover will be worse than what the Prophet is saying about you."
She made a big show of picking up her gyro and biting into it, chewing in an exaggerated manner before audibly gulping her food down. Draco couldn't believe this was the same woman whose proximity to him had caused his heart to palpitate like a pubescent boy. Now he was annoyed, and he wished he could leave her there to throw her solo pity party, but something held him back.
He put down his utensils and sat back in his chair, eyeing her as she gave up her farce and ate her food with true gusto. She must not have eaten since before the match earlier that day.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"No," she said without meeting his eyes. "I think I've said enough."
"Good," he replied. "If I had to sit here and listen to you whine about Potter, I'd probably off myself."
As he took a sip of his water, she looked down at her food to try and hide the smile that spread across her lips.
"I really don't want to talk about him, either," she admitted. "We weren't right for each other. It just hurts to be rejected, you know?"
Now she looked up at him with desperate eyes, and he realized why he'd approached her in the park two months ago and in the Leaky Cauldron just over half an hour ago. He had never seen Ginny Weasley look so defeated. At first, he had wanted to give her a hard time about it, but ultimately, the sights of her crying on a public bench and so drunk she couldn't keep her head up were so against what he knew about Ginny Weasley from school that he couldn't find it in himself to poke her further. He remembered being at his lowest low, crying to a ghost in a girl's toilet, and what had happened when he'd thought Potter was trying to pour salt in his wounds? Draco had nearly died.
Not that he thought Weasley would attack him for witnessing her despair, like Draco had done to Potter. He just… sympathized. Frankly, it was horrifying to witness someone so bull-headed and strong spiral into an abyss of anguish, and it angered him that someone as overglorified as Harry Potter could bring her to this level so easily, without any damage to his own self esteem. That was the problem with people like Potter. They thought the world revolved around them and didn't care what kind of havoc they wrought on anyone else.
"Yes, I know," he finally replied.
She smiled and finished the last bite of her gyro, while Draco's still sat on his plate, virtually untouched. Draco's stupid heart warmed—Yes, it actually warmed! He had a warm, fuzzy feeling in his chest that sent shooting pains down to his stomach like heartburn—at the sight of her smile, the melancholy finally retreating from her eyes. He hated himself for thinking it, but he wasn't ready to see her go. If she went home now, she might devolve back into thoughts of Potter, and the idea of her mourning that git in any way made him furious. She deserved better than him. Or maybe Potter deserved less than her.
He nodded to the building behind her. "Fancy some ice cream?"
Draco knew it was a Quidditch match, so peace and quiet were the last things he would find at the World Cup in a stadium seating 100,000 people. However, there was cheering and there was obnoxious cheering.
"OH COME ON, VETROVA! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? HE WAS FEINTING. FEINTING! DON'T LET THE AMERICANS WIN, FOR CIRCE'S FUCKING SAKE."
The screaming had gone on since the beginning of the match and Draco's nerves were shot, his jaw aching from clenching it for the last half hour. He'd finally had enough and turned around to address the idiot fan. "Do you mind?"
He shouldn't have been surprised that Ginny Weasley was the one doing all the yelling, and yet he was. She was sitting—well, standing—a few rows back, decked out in the Russian colors of red and blue. As soon as she saw him, her mouth fell open and she threw a hand up, beckoning him to stay.
Draco watched her shove through the row, almost knocking people over in the process, as she climbed out of the stands to the stairs. He glanced back at the match before turning away to meet her at the end of his row.
She was smiling when he reached her, and his heart did that annoying thing where it beat really hard against his ribcage even though she wasn't even touching him this time.
"Terrible match, right? I can't believe Russia is going to muck it all up after beating us last month," she said.
Draco had no response about the game. With her cheering distracting him the whole match, he hardly knew what was going on on the pitch.
"You… look well," he said instead. Her face flushed and her eyes darted away, for which Draco was thankful because he could feel the heat rising in his cheeks as well.
"Thank you. I've been doing well. Surprisingly well," she replied.
He could see it, not just in her face, but also in her posture and her obvious enthusiasm for the match. She was back to her old, Wildfire Whiz-bang-like self.
"I decided to take a break from Quidditch," she continued, her words running together in her hurry to release them. "I was under a lot of pressure, and it was all building up into this negative thing. For a while after the preliminary match, just the idea of Quidditch made me sick, so I'm taking a break. I'm going to try to get my head in a better place."
"That's, er, responsible of you." Draco winced. Back at Hogwarts, he hadn't had much of an interest in girls, instead preferring to be idolized and adored by everyone. Now it seemed as if his awkwardness was blooming late, which was just perfect for a man in his twenties.
"Yeah, it is," she replied with a grin. "I'm trying this new thing where I don't embarrass myself in public and spill my emotions where people don't need to see them."
"Spilling them in private is pretty pathetic, though," he said, and when she laughed, his lips curled up as well.
"Yeah, well, somehow you were always there when I was breaking down. I figured I needed to learn to fix myself back up before I became a burden to you."
"Oh, you were a burden from the moment I gave you my handkerchief in the park."
Her fist collided with his shoulder and she laughed. Draco had the thought that they shouldn't have been doing this—this laughing, joking, awkward thing they were doing. It didn't make any sense. Why was it happening?
"But you didn't make me feel worse than I already did. In fact, you tried to help. Which is weird, right? Please tell me that it was weird."
"Yes, it was," he agreed as he stepped out of the way of a nachos-wielding fan returning to his seat from a trip to the concessions stand.
"Mind telling me why you did it?"
"As a matter of fact, I do mind."
His reticence didn't even faze her. "Do you want to get out of here?" she asked. "This game is such a disappointment."
They made their way down the stairs and out of the stadium, which was situated just outside a small, French wizarding village. They strolled onto the main street, their pace leisurely as they breathed in the fresh autumn air. Humidity was low up in the Alps, and the night was chilly.
"Harry married her," she said after their first lap around the town square.
Draco frowned. "So soon?"
Her shoulder lifted in a sincerely casual shrug. "They eloped. I can't blame them. There was so much attention on their engagement—I wouldn't want that much drama over my wedding."
"Yes, you would," he disagreed. "That's why you were with him in the first place. What would be the point in marrying him if no one knew about it?"
Her nose wrinkled in distaste. "Shhhh. We're pretending I wasn't crazy enough to stay in a relationship with a man I didn't really love just because he was famous."
Draco shoved his hands in his pockets and he arched his eyebrow when he looked at her. "Well, when you put it that way, it does sound crazy. I bet the press went ballistic over that one."
"They did, and they still managed to blame it on me. 'Jealous Weasley Prompts Potter Elopement'—that was the nicest headline."
He smirked. "Your reputation grows with every failure."
She stopped and spun on her heel to face him, prompting Draco to stop in his tracks as well. "Another reason why I needed a break from Quidditch. It might be a good idea to get out of the public eye for a little bit. Erase my reputation in the press."
His smirk turned into a frown, and his brows met above his nose with a disapproving wrinkle. "You shouldn't make yourself smaller on Potter's behalf. That won't fix anything. That's just letting him win."
She shook her head and her lips were curled up in a small smile. "It's not like that. He was too much in my thoughts. It was affecting everything I did, not just Quidditch. I needed time for myself, away from the pressures of the media and the public and my family. By the way, my mum was furious with Harry for getting engaged less than two months after breaking up with me. And then she was furious with me for not getting angry with him."
Draco's arms jerked in a See? I told you so! gesture of frustration that only made her smile wider.
"There was no point being angry. Like I said, we weren't right for each other. He wanted to take care of me, and as a result, I was coddled. I don't want someone to coddle me. I want someone to call me out when I'm being a stubborn idiot. I want someone who will say 'That's enough' when I'm behaving like a child, not someone who lets me get away with it for the sake of peace. I want someone who sees me suffering and actually cares, who isn't afraid to ask me what the hell is wrong with me."
Her eyes were blazing, and Draco could feel his pulse racing in his throat. His whole body felt warm despite the cool breeze, and when she advanced on him, minimizing the space between them, he stood his ground.
"I want someone who tries even though dealing with people is difficult and bothersome, even when emotions make him uncomfortable."
"I'm nothing like Potter," he said.
"I know," she replied. "You're better."
Draco closed his eyes to let those words sink in. Draco Malfoy better than Harry Potter. Had Ginny Weasley really just said that?
She inserted a hand in his, and, despite her confidence, suddenly Draco knew exactly how much effort it took for her to say these things to him. Gooseflesh popped up all over her arms, but her palms were clammy. Her eyes bored into his face, waiting, but she thought she was waiting for a rejection.
"Could you accept Harry's sloppy seconds?" she asked.
"Ugh, well, when you put it like that…."
Her expression froze and even though her features hadn't changed, she was suddenly closed to him. He leaned down, his free hand rising to rest on the side of her face, his thumb grazing her lip. "I was joking. Please don't ever refer to yourself as Potter's anything. Not in front of me."
"They were your words," she said.
"Hmmm, no, I don't recall ever calling you that."
Her lips twitched and she pulled him down to meet her hesitant kiss. For a moment, he let her lead, but the uncertainty didn't vanish, so he drew her closer to him until no space existed between their bodies. Then his lips took control and he showed her exactly how he felt about sloppy seconds.
He couldn't let go of her, nor she of him, as their lips parted, their panting breaths creating puffs of cloud in the cool air between them.
"You know," she said with a wicked smile, "I could really go for some ice cream."