Author's Note: This story was written for writerdragonfly in the DG Forum's Summer 2013 Fic Exchange, and it won the award for Best Prose. :) Beta-ed by Aerileigh and my friend D. The prompt will follow at the end of the story. Reviews appreciated!


Warmth


When snow fell, old memories of her plagued Draco like the ghosts of his past, present, and future. At the first sign of snow, he built up a fire to drive the cold away, but it lingered, just as it always lingered. He remembered the day the cold entered his body, seeping down into his skin and attaching to the very marrow of his bones. Since then, he had carried it with him everywhere he'd gone, and it made itself most apparent in the numbness he felt in his fingers and toes, the tip of his nose, his ears, and even his heart.

He hadn't felt warm in years, but he could still remember the first and last times his body had been consumed in flame. After all, snow destroyed any semblance of heat in his home, his body, and his life, but it couldn't drive away his memories of what it felt like to burn.

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Sometimes when he made hot chocolate, he became hypnotized by the milk and powder mixture as he stirred it in a pot on the stove. Watching the milk gradually turn from white to a rich brown, following the turn of the spoon with his eyes, and seeing the whirlpool created in the middle of the pot captured his fascination in a way that little else could. It was trivial, but there was something relaxing in the process, and he usually enjoyed it more than drinking the final product.

Her eyes were just as hypnotizing. When he looked into their fathomless, chocolate depths, he felt himself relax and become transfixed. From their first meeting, she entranced him, and such a lack of control on his part was dangerous for both of them.

They'd been together for four months, and it was strange how fast the time passed, especially because Draco hadn't been invested from the beginning. His life depended on ruining hers, and with the threat of Blaise's retribution hanging over his head, Draco couldn't even think what it would be like to feel something for her. Such an action would be too risky. If his life was on the line, then he could feign interest in hers; it wasn't the worst thing that had ever been expected of him.

"Draco," she whispered.

He'd rolled over and closed his eyes as soon as he'd reached completion, hoping she'd think he'd fallen asleep and either leave him alone or go home.

"Draco," she said again, one of her fingers drawing a complicated design on his back. It hadn't taken long for the heat from their exertions to leach out of him. Where her fingers danced along his skin, gooseflesh appeared, and part of him wanted to roll over again and pull her into his arms, just for her warmth.

He didn't have to move at all because she moved for him. Her leg hooked around one of his, and then she pulled him onto his back again.

Their eyes met, and she said, "Draco, I'm not done."

He'd already been lost before she'd spoken. He couldn't pull his gaze away from hers, and he tried. Oh, he tried.

When the leg she'd hooked over his moved even farther and she climbed on top to straddle him, he suddenly couldn't fathom sleep, even for pretend. The gooseflesh was quickly banished as she warmed him back up, and his eyes looked elsewhere only when she closed hers in pleasure. Then he had the pleasure of listening to her panting breaths, feeling her bouncing breasts, and watching in amazement as her skin flushed red with heat.

Somehow, whenever he looked into her eyes, he lost the tight control he had on himself and that frightened him more than he could say. If he began to care, how would he find the strength to follow through with his manipulation? If he failed, what would Blaise do to both of them? He could feel her seeping into him, under his skin, behind his ribcage, and it didn't matter how tightly he tried to reign himself in, to keep her out. She was always there, setting him on fire—but while he was burning, he didn't seem to mind.

This wasn't his first or last memory of warmth, but all the memories seemed to blur together. She had a way of pulling him towards her with very little effort, and even though he was reluctant, he couldn't resist.

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It had been a rainy October, but the first day the sun came out she showed up at his door with a picnic basket hanging from the crook of her arm and the happiest smile on her face. He hadn't been in the mood for her. Bad timing.

"Come on, it's so nice out!" she said, reaching for his hand and pulling on it to draw him outside.

Blaise had just left, but Draco still had a sour taste in his mouth and jittery hands. That was the effect the man always had on Draco, ever since the war.

He'd tried to forget the memory, but the horror of what he'd witnessed at the Battle of Hogwarts wouldn't leave him. The Zabinis had claimed to be neutral during the war. While none of them had been Death Eaters, and Blaise had showed a lack of interest in the war while they were at Hogwarts, his actions at the battle proved that he hadn't been as neutral as he'd appeared. That night, Draco had seen what the Zabinis were capable of accomplishing, and he'd never forgotten it. Blaise was a time-bomb that didn't tick. No one could tell when he would next explode. Worse yet, no one knew he was capable of exploding. He hid it too well.

"Don't be ridiculous," Draco snapped at Ginny. "I haven't got time for you today."

The smile fell off her face, and only in hindsight did Draco regret his harsh words.

"Haven't got time for me? Do you pencil everyone into your calendar now?"

"Not everyone," he sneered, "just frivolous people. I have an empire to run. If I want to live the way I do, I have to actually do some work."

Her hand met his cheek with a loud crack that echoed throughout the foyer. Then she shoved the picnic basket into his arms, turned on her heel, and Apparated away.

He'd dealt her a nearly physical blow with his words. He knew exactly why she'd left her job, why she didn't work, and he'd used it against her because of his own emotional weakness. She was the strongest person he knew, and he couldn't stand that he could never be as strong as her.

Inside the picnic basket: a home-baked loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a jar of peach preserves he knew she'd canned herself. All signs of her one-sided love gathered into a flimsy container.

Kind of like their relationship.

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She never appeared at the Manor again, and when he tried to contact her—via Floo at first and then owl—his attempts were rebuffed. Her fireplace was closed to him, and his letters were returned unopened. Finally, he mustered the courage to go to her flat, but Lovegood answered the door and refused to let him see her.

He would have ambushed her at work if she'd had a job.

One frigid night in Hogsmeade, when the wind was blowing so hard that it howled against the Three Broomsticks like a raging beast, he caught a glimpse of her outside the foggy window, bowed into the wind and clutching her cloak around her. She entered the pub, and Draco stood up to meet her, but without ever seeing him, she turned away, walking straight into the arms of another man.

At that moment, the cozy, almost stifling heat of the pub drained right out of his body, and the cold sensed the absence and made its home there. Watching her from the shadows of his corner booth, seeing her smile sadly and laugh reluctantly, he realized what he had failed to recognize until this moment.

He loved her. And at one time, she had loved him so much that nothing, not even tragic loss, could drive her from his doorstep. When she'd been in pain, he had been the person she'd sought out for comfort, even though he was to blame for her suffering. He'd twisted her pain around and instead of protecting her from it, he'd used it as a knife against her, and this was the result.

He told himself that this was what he'd wanted from the beginning. To use her, make her fall in love with him, bring her joy and gain her trust, and then break her into pieces. A months-old memory of Blaise standing before a trembling Pansy Parkinson swam in front of his vision. "A cut for every failure," he'd said just before slicing Pansy open from rib to shoulder. Her cry filled Draco's ears as Blaise continued to make smaller cuts all over Pansy's body. Draco didn't know how she had failed Blaise's task—all he knew was what he saw before him. If Draco failed his own task, he and Ginny would both suffer. So by pushing her away, he had saved both of their lives. That knowledge did not make it any easier to see her with another man, and it did not ease Draco's own pain knowing how he loved her but could never have her.

He stood up abruptly, his hands shaking in fear and disgust. As he left the pub, Ginny's eyes were glued to the man she'd embraced. When Draco stepped back onto the snow-filled street, he didn't notice the change in temperature, and he never would again.

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Snow always brought his worst memories to the surface first, the ones at the beginning and the end of their relationship, but after he relived those, he recalled their happier days. Days he'd taken for granted. If he could go back... No. Those thoughts could only drive a man to madness, so he remembered, never allowing himself to dream.

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"I have a notion," Blaise said, swirling his brandy around in one of the Malfoys' finest glass tumblers.

Draco hadn't seen the man in some years, not since the war, probably, and this gathering was in essence a welcome back party, even though no one was sure that Blaise had even left the country in the first place.

The smile that widened his lips should have set Draco at ease. Instead, his stomach clenched, and he remembered what he'd seen during the final battle of the war. The image of Blaise Zabini with blood smeared over his mouth, coating his teeth, was one Draco had tried to banish any number of ways, but all it took was one look at the Zabini heir to bring the memory back.

"What's that?" Theodore Nott asked from the armchair near the fire.

The Malfoys' parlor was the most comfortable of all their friends, and gatherings like these were not uncommon. A well-stoked fire warmed their bodies from the draftiness of the rest of the manor, and if the cold still managed to seep in, a well-stocked bar effectively provided heat.

"It's been years since the war, and each of your crimes have been forgotten. You have respect, influence, and, most importantly, trust."

"What of it?" Pansy asked between puffs on her cigarette.

"We've got a little space to have some fun," Blaise answered as he stepped away from the painting he'd been eying before he'd spoken.

The words filled Draco with dread, but he saw a sickening light enter Theodore, Pansy, Goyle, and Millicent's eyes. All of them looked at Blaise with interest, but whatever he was up to, Draco wanted no part in it. Someone who reveled in death as much as Blaise did could not be trusted, and Draco had had enough of egomaniacs for a lifetime. The Dark Lord had almost torn his family apart, but Blaise... he would succeed.

"We can't jeopardize what we have for fun," Draco said with as much disgust as he could muster to hide his fear. He was disgusted. His parents had not suffered for him to throw away the safety and power he'd acquired over the years. Most of all, he didn't want to fall into something too big for him to escape, and if the smile on Blaise's face was anything to go by, this could be big.

"What's wrong, Draco?" Blaise drawled. "Afraid you'll get thrown into Azkaban like your father?"

Draco didn't even feel any anger at those words. He was afraid to go to Azkaban, but he was also afraid of Blaise. It wasn't just what he'd seen at Hogwarts those years ago; despite their absence from society, there were whispers among the wizarding elite of the Zabinis' unusual tastes, a shiver that passed through anyone who spoke of Blaise or his mother. The Zabinis were full of calculation and apathy, the likes of which might have been overlooked as a symptom of their class, but servants talked, and they spun tales too atrocious to be believed.

Draco believed them, so he didn't say anything else as plans were made.

When Blaise gave him a task, he thought he'd half-heartedly follow through and ultimately claim failure. Given Draco's track record, failure was something Blaise and the others could expect from him.

"Ruin Ginny Weasley. Make her regret existing. It's the very least she deserves."

Even at the time, he'd thought it was easier said than done, which made his impending failure a certainty. What he hadn't expected was how much his fear of Blaise would grow in the next several months. In a few short weeks, failure would not be an option—not if Draco wanted to live.

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He approached Ginny Weasley for the first time a few days later, while she was walking through Hogsmeade with one of her teammates on each arm. He remembered being aware of his breath coming out in white puffs that briefly obscured his view of her face before dissipating. Because of his attention to his own breath, he couldn't remember how he was received, what kind of expression she made, but he remembered the color of her eyes. They'd caught him instantly, and they hadn't let him go since then.

"That was some impressive flying yesterday," he said.

"You saw the game?" she asked. "All the way in Holyhead?"

"What can I say?" he replied. "I'm fond of women in leather."

Her teammates had rolled their eyes at that and tugged on her arms, pulling her away from him and out of the cold.

But she'd smiled; he'd seen the wrinkles around her eyes. Something drew them towards each other.

He should have known failing would be impossible when a beautiful woman was involved. He didn't even think of Blaise as he flirted with her; he just enjoyed the chase for what it was.

He'd never thought to ask or even wonder what Ginny Weasley had done to Blaise Zabini to make him crave vengeance so. Draco just did as he was told, and the world had changed so much since the war that Ginny Weasley allowed him to chase her.

It didn't take long for him to catch her, either.

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In hindsight, the best days of Draco's life followed, but he wouldn't know that until the flame was extinguished. A shadow always hovered overhead, making even the brightest light look dark, the warmest fire feel cold.

x
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"Where are we going?" Draco asked, irritated that she'd interrupted him while he was working just to cater to her fancies.

"Almost there," she said with an impish smile. A picnic basket swung gently in the crook of her arm. Her other arm was hooked in Draco's.

It had been an average winter, but spring had been meek so summer had arrived early. The heat was nearly unbearable on this day in May, and Draco could feel perspiration beading down his back and forming under his arms. The sweat only contributed to his irritation.

At the crest of the hill, they stopped. Down below lay the Muggle village of Ottery St. Catchpole, which looked like a doll set from their vantage point. Up here there was a breeze that dried and cooled the sweat on Draco's back and brow. The wind gently pulled his hair out of its tight coiffure, and it tickled his ears.

"This was my favorite place growing up," she said with a smile. Then she pulled a blanket out of the picnic basket and spread it out on the ground. She sat down and looked up at him, and that was all the persuasion Draco needed. Once again, her eyes had mesmerized and controlled him.

He kneeled down, careful of his very expensive robes—for which she obviously had no consideration—as she pulled two covered cups out of the basket.

"Raspberry sorbet?" he asked, surprised.

"It's your favorite, isn't it?" Her smile was devilish and smug.

He'd told her once, in the very beginning when he'd been trying to attract her, about his favorite childhood memory, which had involved raspberry sorbet with his parents. Before he'd become too old for childish treats and family outings.

"I didn't expect you to remember," he admitted.

She handed him a spoon, and he marveled that her spell-work hadn't failed in the extreme heat. The sorbet was still smoothly solid.

"I know you didn't," she said. "I just wanted to show you—" She stopped, startled, and her cheeks bloomed with color.

He softened under her kind gesture, changing from his frigid kneeling position to a cross-legged one. Blaise checked up on Draco about his relationship with Ginny often, and the constant threat of retribution if he failed had made Draco forget how beautiful and thoughtful she was. She also had a fiery temper, which he hadn't seen displayed often, mostly because he hadn't cared enough to argue with her.

"Show me what?" he asked.

She laughed, and it was a laugh of surprise and glee. The sound of it made Draco's heart flutter—he remembered attributing the flutter to the coldness of the sorbet.

Getting on her hands and knees, she leaned towards him and whispered in his ear, "That I love you."

That had been a worse shock than the thoughtfulness of the sorbet.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because you deserve it more than most. Even if you act like you don't."

He couldn't help it. Things changed after that. He stopped worrying about Blaise, and he let himself enjoy her for who she was: someone who wanted to be with him. Someone who loved him, even though she was ridiculous for doing it.

But he never let himself care for her the same way.

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Their relationship had changed again little more than three months later during the hottest time of the year, when the grass was brown and dead from lack of moisture and the heat produced sweat within seconds of stepping outdoors. Her energy had drained over the course of the summer until she became unlike herself. Her fiery edge had turned into frost, and he hadn't known how to thaw her.

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For the first time since the war, Draco was content with himself. Ginny brought out the best in him, banished his fear, and made him happier than he had ever dreamed. She wasn't with him for what he could do for her. She had no interest in his power or money. She only requested his time, and he gave it to her freely.

Blaise even seemed to find something else to amuse himself because he hadn't checked Draco's progress in months. Without the constant threat of Blaise breathing over his shoulder, Draco found he could enjoy Ginny more.

When Ginny became quieter, less prone to laughter, more subdued, he noticed. He didn't say anything for fear that she had grown tired of him, but he didn't need to.

"We need to talk," she said after several minutes of quiet. She'd brought him back to the hill where she'd confessed her love, though it was even hotter on this day than it had been then.

He said nothing, and she continued. "I found out I was pregnant about a month ago, and I didn't know how to tell you." He thought her eyes were filling with tears, but she blinked a few times and they cleared. "I lost the baby. I wasn't sure if I should say anything, but I thought you should know. Should I have kept my mouth shut?" she asked him, her eyes meeting his.

He didn't remember what he had said to her, but he remembered pulling her into his arms. He'd felt hollow afterward, but they'd worked through their loss together. The loss. Her loss. He couldn't claim to understand what she'd gone through or how she felt. All he knew was that he had done this to her, and he didn't know how to make it right.

He hadn't needed to do anything in particular. He was there for her to his fullest ability, and he thought as time had gone on that she'd recovered. But when she quit playing Quidditch, he realized there was no recovering. Even if she smiled and laughed and continued to love him emotionally and physically, she'd lost something that he couldn't bring back.

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Blaise had finally contacted Draco again in October, on the first sunny day after weeks of constant rain. Even the heat from that unexpected sun couldn't penetrate the slight chill in the air, and Draco would always remember it as one of the coldest days of the year.

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"Knock, knock."

"You're supposed to knock before you enter the household," Draco said from behind his oak wood desk.

"I don't see a point in asking for permission when I know I'm always welcome," Blaise said with a lazy smile, and Draco was reminded of the blood-smeared grin he'd seen at the Battle of Hogwarts. "I just wanted to see how our little project was going. It's almost been a whole year since I issued the challenge."

It had been months since Blaise's last visit, so Draco had forgotten his fear.

"What do you have against Ginny Weasley anyway?"

Blaise laughed. "Nothing, really."

Draco threw down the newspaper he'd been perusing, giving his full attention to his visitor. "Then why are you targeting her like this?"

Blaise looked surprised that he had to ask. "Because I can. Because if I tell you to assassinate the Minister of Magic, you'll attempt it. You're a coward, Draco, and there's no one easier to manipulate than a coward." He knocked over a picture frame on Draco's desk. "Ginny Weasley is nothing to me. I just want to see you dance. Now dance before I slit your throat."

He smiled, and then he went to the door, but before he exited the study, he turned back to Draco and said, "You saw what I did to Colin Creevey at the Battle of Hogwarts, and I watched the horror in your eyes grow as I punished Pansy and Goyle for their failures, so you know I'll make good on this promise: if you don't break her fucking heart, I'll take yours. Right out of your chest, and I'll send it to her in a box so she'll never forget the price of your love." Blaise's lips tightened and widened, but the expression couldn't be called a smile any longer. It was a predatory reminder of the demon within the man's body.

Draco's hands trembled as, moments later, a house-elf announced that Ginny was at the door.

Blaise had been completely right. Draco was a coward.

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When it snowed outside, Draco remembered how he'd let the best thing in his life get away from him.

And even in the middle of summer, no heat but hers could warm him.


END


Ky's Prompt (#2)

Basic premise: The day she knew she loved him had been the best day of her life; the day he knew he loved her had been the worst of his.
Must haves: raspberry sorbet, a picnic, and a loaf of bread. Ginny and Draco must be alive at the end, but a happy ending is not required.
No-no's: They cannot be a couple when Draco realizes he loves her. Whether he realises it before or after they are together is up to you. No Hermione/Ron or Hermione/Harry.
Rating range: Any rating, although an M would not be amiss. ;)
Bonus points: If you can write it out of chronological order. If you can set the tone of the story to a song from a Final Fantasy game such as Suteki da ne, Compression of Time, Opening Theme (FFVI), or Wandering Flame.