Author's Note: First off, chapter 14 of The Dating Charade is complete and beta-ed! My plan is to get the chapter edited and posted before the weekend, so if you're following that story, keep an eye out! This story was written for Kyla (writerdragonfly) in the DG Forum's 2016 Secret Santa Fic Exchange! Ky's prompt was "twinkling, fairy, surprise." There are multiple parts in this story, so there is more to come! I hope you enjoy, and reviews are appreciated! Merry Christmas!
Chapter One: Winter Wonderland
Later on, we'll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we've made
Walking in a winter wonderland
Who are you?
Ginny has written those three words hundreds of times in the three months since she realized she has fallen in love with her anonymous pen pal. However, just like the hundreds of times before, Ginny can't bring herself to send them.
Ripping off the bottom of the parchment, she crumples up those three terrifying words and tosses them into the grate. She feels no satisfaction watching the flames lick at the parchment, a line of ash swallowing the paper ball whole, but she knows those words are forbidden. If her pen friend—who she has come to think of simply by the initial with which he signs his letters, a swirly letter D—ever read them, their relationship would change. The easiness with which they communicated their thoughts, desires, and fears would become awkward and complicated.
Ginny knows this, but she can't stop wondering who and where he is. She can't help but wonder what he's doing now, the shape of his smile, the color of his eyes.
Instead of asking the question to which she's desperate to know the answer, she dips her quill in ink and writes:
I can't imagine being an only child. My family consists of a small army, and Christmas in our household is always chaotic and warm. Mum bakes every single day. The house smells like cinnamon from the end of November to Christmas Day. My siblings and I play pickup games of Quidditch in the yard, and we all play jokes on each other and tease each other mercilessly. My brothers can be really obnoxious sometimes, but I love when we can all get together under the same roof again.
She pauses, and her quill leaves a mouse-shaped blot on the parchment, muddling the word again and threatening to drown the entire letter. D would love that, she thinks, to open up her letter to find a page full of black ink. Maybe he would laugh. Maybe he would send her something just as absurd back. It wouldn't be the first time he'd received a questionable letter from her.
On the first of April, she'd sent her longest letter yet, words and ink blurred with tear stains as she'd shared her every happy memory of Fred with him, names redacted for privacy. Her heart had ached at the thought of George on his first birthday without his twin, and Ginny, wracked with grief and isolated at Hogwarts, had turned to her mysterious pen pal, a stranger, someone removed enough from her family to be her strength.
His replies had usually arrived within a day, so by the time the familiar owl landed in front of her at the Gryffindor table two mornings later, she had emerged from her grief enough to regret the word vomit to which she'd subjected D. His response had been short and confusing:
Words fail me. I wish I could comfort you in person.
Their relationship had changed after that. In the first few months of their exchanges, Ginny's letters had focused on her observations of others and the turmoil her friends and family faced daily. D had been reticent about the details of his life, his responses curt and devoid of emotion entirely. Since the twins' birthday, both of them have opened up, their letters laced with a vulnerability and intimacy that makes Ginny's heart pound and ache with each missive. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, Ginny's affection and yearning had gained traction and grown, until an avalanche had buried her under Feelings. Capital F absolutely necessary.
Point being, D knows that Fred died at the Battle of Hogwarts. He knows more about Ginny's trauma than her family does.
Last Christmas was just awful because of my brother's absence. Am I horrible for wishing this year could be the same as the Christmases from my childhood?
The letter soars out the window attached to the leg of an owl before she can second guess herself. Thoughts she doesn't dare speak aloud, especially to her family, she shares with D. Her secrets, even the ones that shame her, are safe with him.
Because of the quiet pain and understanding she reads in his letters, when she thinks of D, she imagines someone older than her, closer to thirty than Ginny's eighteen years. He probably didn't fight at the battle. Maybe he rebelled in his own small way, by tuning in to Potterwatch or deliberately sabotaging the folding of Umbridge's anti-Muggleborn pamphlets. He must have been an innocent bystander, a simple civilian, not an Auror or a Hit Wizard and uninvolved with the Order. He doesn't know Ginny. He can't know her. That's the only way their friendship can work.
Sometimes she pictures him writing letters to her in counsel while a girlfriend or wife patters around in the background. She hates how much that breaks her heart, but she has no rights to D. Their letters are intimate but lack flirtation. Ginny knows she's projecting and can't help herself because, even surrounded by friends and family, she has felt so lonely since the war.
Sometimes she rues the day she allowed Professor McGonagall to convince her to sign up for the Ministry's letter exchange program, an admirable attempt to support war-torn constituents in the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts. Sometimes she lays in bed devastatingly grateful for the program, for Professor McGonagall's keen eye for trauma, and, most of all, for D.
She acknowledges that he has his own life, a whole life she knows absolutely nothing about and in which she plays a miniscule part. She is not entitled to him, but still, selfishly, she asks this question only to herself:
Who are you?
Draco paces when he receives a letter from his pen pal.
The pacing began back in April on her brother's birthday. He hadn't known her. In fact, he hadn't put much effort in the letters he'd sent her before then, but for the first time since their pen friendship began over Christmas hols, she had revealed something of her life. Slipped. Now he knows exactly who she is.
When he had received her letter on the first of April, he had, for a moment, thought Ginny Weasley was playing a practical joke on him. He had paced around the Slytherin common room, letter crumpled up in his hand, as he had considered the possibility of Weasley discovering Draco's participation in the Ministry letter exchange program. For a whole half-hour, he had raged from the portrait hole to the hearth, back and forth, seething at the idea of her mocking him for embracing his anguish.
Once he'd allowed himself to look at the letter again, he'd realized it was no joke. The handwriting was the same as the letters he had received before, and the writer's tone was clearly one of despair, not mockery. Even in text, that was obvious as soon as he lowered his defenses.
He had paced for another hour as he contemplated his next move.
He had found out who she was, but his identity still remained a mystery her. If she had known her pen pal and Draco Malfoy were one and the same, she never would have sent him such a revealing letter. She never would have bared her soul to him, not even in her most despairing moment. He had been certain of that.
Now, eight months later, Draco is thankful that he stamped out the urge to read her letter aloud in the middle of the Great Hall to humiliate her. Instead, he chose to continue writing to her as if he had no idea who she was, and, for some reason, he allowed himself to open up to her as well.
Draco wears a path in the Aubusson carpet that covers the floor of his study. Since leaving Hogwarts in June and returning to Malfoy Manor, he has claimed this room as his own, oftentimes passing out on the decorative sofa in front of the fire when his body expires after multiple days without sleep. It's not comfortable in the slightest, but he can't bring himself to sleep in his own bedroom, a habit that frustrates his mother endlessly.
He stops in the middle of the room and reads the letter again. Looks up. Thinks.
We should meet.
How many times has he almost put those words to parchment and sent them to her? How many times has he thought about pulling her against his chest, wrapping his arms around her, and sharing in her warmth? It's a pipe dream, and Draco knows it, because as soon as she realizes that she has been sharing her deepest, darkest secrets with Draco Malfoy for almost an entire year, she will never forgive him and their letter exchange will stop.
There is no future where Ginny Weasley lets Draco touch her, not even for her own comfort. Still, increasingly with each letter he receives, he hovers his quill over his reply, those three single-syllable words threatening to leak out of the nib and splash on the parchment, becoming a reality and a challenge all at once.
It's not that he is getting tired of her letters. It's just that he isn't sure what more there is to say, and at this point, all he wants is to look upon her face and see the acceptance there that he sees in her ink. At night he dreams of her fingers entwined with his, and if he allows himself, he dreams of more. A caress, a chaste kiss on his cheek, fingernails lightly scraping his scalp, a freckled hand cupping his Dark Mark—
It will never happen, and he knows it.
Only after he has paced off the urge to reveal his identity does he sit down and pen his reply.
If such a wish makes you horrible, I must be horrible, too. Last Christmas was the first without my father, and it was an unbearable disaster. I'd give anything to go back to the way things used to be.
I don't think we're horrible, but I've come to realize that wishing is an impossible waste. There are so many things that I wish for, that I know I have no right to wish for. I struggle coming to terms with my unrealized dreams, but once I accept the reality, it stops hurting. Sometimes.
He isn't sure about this letter, what he's trying to say. But maybe she will understand. He sends it off on the leg of his father's eagle owl and watches as the bird disappears into the distance. Weak sunlight scatters across the fog, decreasing his visibility and ominously swallowing the owl whole.
Draco, too, feels suffocated by his environment, trapped in a fog he can't escape, lost and isolated from outsiders—if any outsiders even care to look for him. Every letter he receives from Ginny is a sunbeam cutting through the fog, spotlighting him and blanketing him in warmth.
While he reads her letters, his shivering ceases, but as he waits for her response, his bones can't stop trembling underneath his flesh.
"You need a hobby," Blaise says without turning around.
Draco stops in the entrance of the study. Sighs. He carries two sandwiches in one hand and a glass of milk in the other. Forays to the kitchen and the loo are the only sojourns he takes out of this room most days, unless Blaise comes over and drags Draco out for a walk on the grounds. Even Blaise knows he can't persuade Draco to travel out farther, to the Zabini home, the Parkinsons', or even into town. Draco hasn't visited Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade since his sixth year at Hogwarts, well over three years ago.
Draco places his lunch on the oak desk that once belonged to his father, and Blaise reaches for one of the sandwiches, taking a bite out of whole wheat and turkey before Draco can protest.
Draco only notices what has caught Blaise's attention after Blaise puts the sandwich down and lifts a piece of parchment. Instantly, Draco's body tenses, but he doesn't snatch the parchment out of Blaise's hand like he wants to. He can't let Blaise know just how important Ginny's letters are to him, giving Blaise a weakness to exploit or, at the very least, make fun of. Neither outcome appeals to Draco. The letters he writes to Ginny leave him too raw for jokes.
As he sinks into the visitor's chair on the other side of the desk, heart racing like stampeding manticores, Draco thanks Dumbledore, Merlin, and his ancestors that he has already sent his letter on its way. The words Blaise reads are Ginny's concerns about spending Christmas with her family. He forces his body to relax (a contradiction that does not escape him), clears his mind, and lets a sarcastic smile grace his lips. His expression combined with the languorous spread of his limbs is enough to convince Blaise of his nonchalance. He hopes.
"What kind of hobby do you have in mind?"
"Sex, for starters."
"God, no. You only wish you could have me."
Draco doesn't, actually. In fact, Draco can say with certainty that he has never thought of anyone in a sexual light before. But Blaise Zabini has more confidence than anyone Draco has ever known and an astronomical ego to go along with it, so convincing him that there is anyone alive who does not want to jump his bones is an impossible and fruitless feat. Draco chooses to ignore him.
"I don't need any hobbies. I'm fine."
Blaise lowers Ginny's letter and levels a dubious stare at Draco, one dark eyebrow elegantly arched in disbelief.
"I am," Draco insists, looking away from his friend before Blaise's gaze can needle itself under Draco's Occlumency. Blaise isn't a Legilimens: he's just annoying enough to get through Draco's defenses. That's the reason they're friends now. Blaise knows he has an edge over Draco. He's the only person in their social caste who does not fall at Draco's feet in worshipful adoration. The Zabinis care little for social politics and think even more of themselves than the Malfoys do, despite having significantly less wealth. What they lack in money, they make up for in self-admiration.
This means that Blaise is the only person Draco trusts to tell him the truth. After years and years of believing that the Malfoy name makes him special and important and better than—well, everyone, sometimes it rankles to be told he's a pathetic git who needs a hobby, but it's also refreshingly new.
"Fine, no sex. You need to get out of this house and you need something else to occupy your mind besides these depressing letters."
Draco can't really deny that Ginny's letters are depressing, but how does he explain to Blaise, whose family was unaffiliated with The Dark Lord and who left Hogwarts with most of the other Slytherins when the Battle of Hogwarts began, that he finds Ginny's mutual depression comforting? He can't talk about the war with anyone he knows. Emotions are unimportant and meant to be concealed. They're not just a weakness, something that can be exploited, they're shameful to the individual and the family. No one would listen to him, least of all Blaise whose experience with the war so vastly differs from Draco's.
Ginny suffers the same way Draco does, and for nearly eight months between the war ending and Draco signing up for the Ministry's pen pal program, the idea that anyone could share Draco's emotions had been unimaginable.
"I'm fine," Draco says again. He stands up and goes to the decorative sofa, throws himself down on it, making the delicately carved frame creak. A fire springs to life in the grate, and Draco stares into it broodily, as much a decoration now as the sofa on which he sits.
"You're not," Blaise says. He leaves Ginny's letter on the desk as he takes the armchair across from Draco, his dark skin glowing with warmth from the fire. "Not one of us is happy, Draco. You can't wallow here for the rest of your life. It helps to take your mind off the unpleasantness that is living and remind yourself that the world can be good again. Our lives can be good again."
The words and the candor with which they are spoken surprise Draco. He considers how best to proceed in this conversation before he responds, too aware that just because Blaise has opened up this dialogue does not mean he truly understands Draco or wants to help him.
Instead, he deflects. "Is living so difficult for you?"
"It has its moments. Your family has it worse. So does Pansy's. I'm aware of that, so I won't complain. But what you do in this room alone is not living. I'm… worried you'll forget what it means to have a life."
"I'm not suicidal," Draco huffs.
"I'm glad to hear it."
There's a medium-lengthed pause as Draco mulls over the conversation so far. Then: "I don't know if I ever knew what it meant to have a life."
Blaise smiles. His lips stretching across his face reminds Draco that when it comes to good looks, Blaise has a reason to be confident.
"Now is as good a time as any to learn. Take up a hobby with me. Off Malfoy property. I'll convince Pansy and Greg to join us, and we can have a little reunion."
Like the obnoxious git he is, he manages to worm that award-winning smile under Draco's defenses, so Draco concedes.
Later that evening, Ginny's owl pecks on the glass pane of the study window. He's surprised to have a response so soon; usually it takes a day or two for him to hear from her again. He snatches the letter off the owl's leg and shoos it back out the window without a treat, too impatient to read her reply to be polite to the creature.
He's immediately disappointed to find such a short missive.
Dreams are meant to be chased. What a waste to have them if you won't even try to reach for them.
His heart beats like a bass drum, the sound echoing against his rib cage until he can't tell the original pounding from the reverberations. Maybe she understood him too well. He wants so much to believe this letter is permission to pursue her, wrapped up like a chastisement, but he can't. He just can't. His identity would ruin everything. The truth would shatter the one good thing he has in his life, and he can't risk the certainty of her letters for the possibility of her because he knows she is as impossible as the idea of Potter turning to the Dark Arts, as his mother cavorting with Muggles, as Draco erasing the Dark Mark from his arm.
He holds her letter to his chest and feels his heart beating against it, and Draco can't stop himself. He begins to hope.