Author's Note: Ahhhhh, finally! This story was always meant to be a one-shot, so I don't know what freakin' happened, okay? But here it is, the last part!
Y'all, thank you SO much for all the extremely nice reviews. I can't figure out if you're bored or if this story really is something special, hahahaha. It's been a rough Christmas, and each review really did make it better. Thank you for your enthusiasm for this thing that I loved but didn't think anyone else would care for. Thank you for taking time out of your holiday to read and leave your thoughts. Just. Thank you.
Chapter Five: (There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays
Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays
'Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways
For the holidays you can't beat home, sweet home
Ginny's admission continues to haunt him for the next few days, and despite Blaise's best efforts, Draco has resumed his reclusive habit of confining himself to the study.
"No matter," Blaise says after unsuccessfully convincing Draco to go bowling. "We'll just bring the party to you."
Draco hadn't paid any heed, but now it's Christmas Eve and Malfoy Manor is full of people. People he most certainly did not invite over.
"Happy Christmas, Draco," Mrs. Parkinson says with a kiss to Draco's cheek. She's holding a crystal goblet filled with what looks suspiciously like punch, which Draco hopes she brought from her own home.
He continues down the stairs and into the formal dining room, and the source of the punch becomes apparent. The table overflows with food and beverages, and all the chairs have been removed so that people can serve themselves in the manner of a buffet. People—as in multiple persons—linger around the room in clusters, chatting and laughing about who knows what.
Mrs. Parkinson joins a cluster made up of Madam Zabini, her most recent husband (whose name she has not bothered to take this time around), Theodore Nott, and Mrs. Greengrass. A quick scan of the room reveals several of Draco's former classmates and their families in attendance.
Draco backs out of the room and heads for the parlor, but there is no respite there, either. Blaise and Greg converse in a corner with Daphne Greengrass and…Luna Lovegood. Draco's heart rate spikes when he sees that familiar shine of dirty-blonde hair, and he nearly goes into cardiac arrest when he spots Pansy sitting in chilly silence with his mother in front of the fire, neither woman speaking. He approaches them, suddenly dizzy from lack of oxygen or blood or maybe shock. He's not a Healer; what does he know?
Her cold gaze swings to him, but she looks relieved in her own, aloof way. "Draco. I hope you have an explanation for this."
"He doesn't," Pansy says in a dry voice that makes Draco think she has been assigned to Mrs. Malfoy duty by someone too annoying to refuse. "This is all Blaise's doing. Happy Christmas one and all."
"He had no right—"
Pansy cuts Draco off. "Yes, I know, but you try telling him that. His mother is even more impossible than he is."
Narcissa makes a scoffing sound.
Draco begins to back away. "I need to speak to Blaise."
"Are you going to leave me here with all these people?" Narcissa asks, a disgusted look in her eyes that Draco has never seen before when acting as a hostess for her own friends. Though he supposes she never volunteered to host this party in the first place.
Her expression stops him and gives him something new to consider. Maybe she, like he, hadn't known what to do when Draco came home from Hogwarts. Maybe mother and son both have spent the last several months isolating themselves to such a degree that they no longer know how to interact with each other anymore. What if Narcissa doesn't regret the choices she made during the war on Draco's behalf? What if she doesn't hate her son?
"I… I'll be back. Promise."
Blaise grins at Draco's approach, ignoring the fierce expression on Draco's face.
"What do you think? It's the best I could do on short notice, but everyone was pleased to hear the Malfoys would be hosting their annual Christmas party once again."
"I think you've meddled quite enough!"
"Have I? No, I don't think I'm done meddling yet." He looks at Luna, who smiles up at him blithely, as if she hasn't noticed that she's found herself in a viper pit.
Blaise's ominous words and Luna's presence induce more dizzy spells, and his stomach plummets while his heart rate increases once again. His hand comes up to his temple, and he wills away a headache before one can begin.
"Please tell me you didn't invite Ginny."
"Me? No, no, of course not."
Draco sighs, mollified.
"Luna did, though."
Blaise looks all too innocent, sipping his brandy and smiling into his glass. For the thousandth time in the last few weeks, Draco wonders why he opened his arms to this man in friendship, until he realizes, for the thousandth time, that he didn't. Blaise had knocked down the study door and thrust himself into Draco's arms, forcing his friendship upon Draco and refusing to relinquish his grip.
Blaise cannot be deterred, and Draco tells himself that that's what he likes about him. At this particular moment in time, the characteristic is infuriating more than appealing.
"Well, at least she chose not to come," Draco says, his pulse pounding but slowing in relief.
"Oh, no," Luna says, her eyes wide and sparkling. "She's here. We locked her in your bedroom."
Blaise's shrug sets Draco off. He ignores his mother's sharp, "Draco!" as he exits the parlor, ignores the greetings of guests as he ascends the stairs, filters out the sounds of the party below as he flies through the west wing to the bedroom he abandoned after returning home from Hogwarts.
The door crashes against the wall with the force of his entrance, and Ginny, standing at the window, jumps. She's the first thing he sees when he walks in, but a moment later, he notices that his room is not how he left it.
Fairy lights are strung up around the bedposts and the perimeter of the window, hanging like strings of stars from the ceiling, lining his desk and chest of drawers. The room is illuminated solely by their soft, twinkling glow, and Ginny is radiant in the middle of it all, her hair glittering, her eyes alight.
Those eyes narrow at Draco as the door shuts behind him.
"Was this your idea?" Ginny asks with a lazy gesture indicating the room as a whole. Since Zabini and Luna had locked her inside, she had avoided staring at the bed, averting her eyes to examine everything else in the room, including the festive lights and the dust that coated every solid surface.
It is a difficult thing, though. The bed is a beautiful piece of furniture, and the fairy lights wrapped around the posts only draw more attention to it.
"No," Draco answers. His cheeks are flushed in exertion and his breath comes out in puffs. "No, I had no idea about any of this. The party, you, I—I haven't even slept in this room in months."
"I know," Ginny replies. "I remember from your letters." Draco is still standing just inside the door, staring at her, as wary of her as prey would be to a predator. "I was kidding anyway. Zabini shoved me in here on the pretense of giving Luna and me a tour."
"Why did you come?".
She turns away from the window, devoting her full attention to the man hovering close to the exit. She can see his urge to flee in the way he keeps one hand on the doorknob, in the way his body settles on the balls of his feet, prepared to bolt at any moment. The war ended a year and a half ago, but he looks just the same as he had in the midst of it: shaky, pale, frightened. She isn't sure if it's a compliment or an insult that he looks like this because of her.
"I had to. I need to apologize."
She doesn't know how to begin even though she's been thinking of this moment non-stop since Luna invited her to the party. He's already skittish, and she knows how high he can construct a wall to protect himself, so she treads carefully.
He hasn't said anything in response yet, which makes her nervous, but she takes a deep breath to steady herself. Every version of the apology that she has rehearsed over the last couple days goes out of her head, which leaves her surprisingly focused.
"I've been unfair to you from the beginning, at the pond, at the Ministry party. I can see that now. I have been so fixated on this idea that you betrayed me or tricked me, I didn't even see what you were really doing."
"What was I doing?" he asks, his voice hard, his face matching his tone.
"You were telling the truth when you said you didn't want to make me uncomfortable."
His eyes roll. "I know I was."
"Well, I understand now. That's why you stopped sending me letters after I asked to meet. I told you at the pond to never speak to me again, and you could have continued writing to me, pretending to be someone else—"
"I never pretended to be anyone else!"
Ginny stops, stunned by his sudden outrage, which has caused him to take two steps closer to her. At least he's wearing a different expression, she thinks. At least his fright has disappeared. His feet are planted, his hands are clenched. He's ready to stay and fight, not flee, and Ginny is willing and ready to fight this out with him.
"I know that," she says. "But you could have. Instead, you did as I asked. You stopped speaking to me, even in our letters. You didn't make up an excuse for us not to meet and you didn't agree to meet me because you knew either option would hurt me. And I had already hurt you, so you were protecting yourself, too. I understand now. I'm sorry."
His outrage doesn't dwindle; instead, he seems to grow even more affronted, and Ginny realizes he must have had a similar reaction when he'd discovered her identity. Anger is such an easy emotion to draw from and rely on. She knows firsthand the warmth of its flame, licking her from the inside out, protecting her from outside hurts. Before you know it, you've been burned, destroyed by the emotion.
Anger is easy. Choosing to open yourself to someone, to make yourself vulnerable—that's hard.
It's a fight he wins, though, because after a moment he closes his eyes, and when he opens them he's no less tense, but the fire threatening to spark to life inside him is gone.
"I'm sorry, too. I was a prat."
She wants to take the burden of blame. Just as he'd said, her apology at the Ministry Christmas party had been insincere, a gesture to soothe her own conscience. If she hadn't dismissed him or provoked him, he never would have thrown their letters in her face the way he had. She can't disagree with him, though, because she knows how much it cost him to return her apology. If she takes responsibility for everything that happened, she dismisses him again, rendering his apology useless.
It's not useless. His vulnerability is important, and his attempt to embrace it with her, without the anonymity of their letters, that's important, too.
"I also need answers," she says.
"I'll give them to you."
"I sent you a letter that said… well, it's right here, I'll read it."
She goes to the desk and opens a wooden box stuffed to the brim with Ginny's letters. She'd found the box not long after realizing she had been locked inside the room, and she'd gone through it with her heart in her throat. Every letter was there. Every letter she'd written him over the past year.
She withdraws the pertinent one and reads, "'Dreams are meant to be chased. What a waste to have them if you won't even try to reach for them.'"
"Where did you get those?"
"They were here when I got here, but don't change the subject." She's relieved to see his lips twitch, as if threatening to smile, and a small smile crosses her own lips for a moment as if his amusement is contagious. "What is your dream, Draco? I want the truth. Mine was to meet my pen pal, to tell him that I love him and that I'm grateful for him, and for him to tell me that he loves me, too."
He takes another step closer to her, his expression suddenly gone blank. Ginny's heart pounds as he advances, afraid because his fear is gone and because she can't read him. But that's what she has been afraid of this whole time, that's why she's been so angry. She doesn't know how he feels, and she needs to know if she's ever going to get closure or move on.
"Why would you say that to me, knowing your dream could never come true?"
Even though she expected him to reject her, the nausea that has afflicted her all of a sudden surprises her.
"So you don't feel that way anymore?"
She doesn't expect this question, and she flounders for the correct response.
"I don't know. I had an image in my head of what D looked like and who he was. It feels like I lost him when you revealed your identity to me."
His eyebrows pull into a V over the bridge of his nose and his mouth flattens into a scowl, shattering the impassive mask. He's about to take a step backwards again, physically withdrawing from her, and she speaks to stop him.
"It's going to take some time to reconcile the man who showed me so much compassion and shared with me his pain with the boy who tormented me and my friends for years, Draco. But I'm willing to make an attempt if you are. I just need to know how you feel."
She had already decided to give him a chance the day after the Ministry Christmas party, after reading all his letters again. D was definitely there in those letters, his voice, his worries, his fears, but reading them with D's true identity in mind, she had also found Draco Malfoy there. They are the same person, one just less restrained and more forthcoming than the other. The open, honest man is the Draco Malfoy she wants to know.
It's out there now, out in the open for him to embrace or ignore, and he looks stunned for a moment, absolutely shell-shocked. Indecision keeps him at bay for a few long moments, moments that Ginny feels in her soul, before he closes the distance between them and hesitantly takes her hands.
He's looking down at her with those ice cold eyes, but in the glow of the fairy lights, she can see them thawing.
"I've been in love with you for months. My dream was for you to know and accept me for who I am. I didn't think you ever could."
It seems too good to be true that D could love her back, and she closes her eyes as she lifts his hand to her lips and kisses his knuckles, overwhelmed by emotions that are too difficult to separate and identify. Relief is there in the way she releases her breath, shock in the rush of adrenaline that shoots through her veins, happiness in her pounding heart and flushed cheeks. Besides those, her emotions are a tangle.
"Thank you for telling me," she finally says, the words warm against his fingers.
He lifts her chin and looks into her eyes, his expression so serious and bleak. She can tell, he doubts her even now, too afraid to put his trust in her after the way she's treated him in person over the last few weeks.
"I'm sorry again for my appalling behavior."
He shakes his head, smiles a little. "It doesn't matter. I know what I deserve."
"You don't, though. The war is over and you deserve a second chance. You received one in the eyes of the law, why shouldn't I give you the same?"
He doesn't speak, but she sees his Adam's apple bob as he swallows thickly, and she does the only thing she can think to do. His body stiffens for a moment as she wraps her arms around him, burying her face in his chest and squeezing in an attempt to deliver warmth and comfort. Soon his arms come up and hold her tight against him, his body shuddering.
This is all Ginny has wanted from D for months, and it takes her breath away that her dream is finally coming true.
"We'll take this slow," she says.
She feels him plant a kiss on top of her head and nod, and together they tremble beneath the twinkling lights, lost in a world that is all their own.
The party is still in full swing when they rejoin it later. The number of guests has grown since they've been away, and Draco grasps Ginny's hand as they navigate through the crowds. Her grip is warm and strong and anchors him even as he seeks an escape, the number of people littering his home making his breath come short and his head light.
Even after they've made it through the thickest clusters, Ginny doesn't let go of his hand, and a thrill runs through Draco. He never imagined she would let him touch her, and yet here they are, together at Malfoy Manor, fingers entwined. She let him hold her earlier and odds are good she will let him do it again. A giddy feeling swells up inside him, expressing itself as what is undoubtedly an idiotic smile, but Draco can't seem to care, not when his deepest wish has come true, not when this Christmas is set up to be better than the last.
"Draco!" his mother calls, halting their progress to the parlor.
"Mother," Draco says, drawing Ginny closer to his side. He senses Ginny's hesitation and surprise and delights in defying her expectations. He's been lonely and unhappy for so long now; he won't let the opinions of others define how Draco receives his happiness. Now that Ginny has given him her hand, he's afraid he won't be letting go anytime soon.
Narcissa looks between the two before settling an imperious gaze on Draco, no hint of her verdict visible.
"I've had quite enough of this nonsense. Everyone needs to leave."
He knows exactly how she feels, having had quite enough of socializing until the new year at least.
"We were just looking for Blaise. I'll ask him to help send everyone home."
"He left with that Lovegood girl not long ago. It's completely unacceptable for him to invite all these people to our home and then leave before the event is even finished! I shouldn't be surprised considering he is Zainab Zabini's offspring. That woman is as dependable as a centaur."
"Yes, yes," she says with a long-suffering sigh. Then she reaches into a pocket and pulls out two envelopes. "He asked me to give you these. I'm going to go look for Zainab. She will have to take care of this in the absence of her son."
The envelopes are addressed to each of them, and Draco hands Ginny's letter to her. It's too crowded here in the foyer so Draco takes her outside. A layer of snow coats the grounds, giving the shrubbery and the topiaries the image of frosted cakes. It's freezing out and he and Ginny don't have cloaks, but they sit down on the steps that lead to the driveway and huddle against each other for warmth. A warming spell on their robes helps keep out the chill until they can read their notes.
"Has your relationship with your mum changed?" Ginny asks as they each break the seals on their envelopes.
Has it? There is something there in her imperious attitude that seems different to Draco, maybe because it isn't directed at him. Not really, anyway. It was brief, but they bonded over their mutual distaste for the invasion of their home. Maybe, just maybe, that bond will not break after the party guests leave.
"No. I don't know. I think I've figured out what happened, and I'm going to work on fixing the strain between us as soon as I can. It was a recent discovery."
"I'm glad. I hope it works out between you two." She lays her head against his arm and unfolds her letter. For a moment, Draco is distracted by her glimmering hair and the solid weight of her against his side. He comes back to himself when she says, "What does Zabini have to say?"
Light from torches on each side of the door illuminates them from behind, and Draco separates letter from envelope and begins to read.
Merry Christmas to you! Did you like my gift? Before you start planning my execution, remember that big gestures are romantic, and I've done you a favor.
If you're reading this (as I suspect you are), you have probably finally gone after what you want. If you haven't, well, you're most likely in a foul mood, and nothing I can say will make you feel better. Either way, I'm going to try to make you feel better, dammit.
Not one of us is happy, Draco, but we need to do the best we can to find happiness even when it seems like all hope is lost. You deserve to be happy just as much as anyone else. I hope you see that, and I hope one day you will believe it. You're my best mate, whether you like it or not. It hurts my soul to see you so frowny all the time.
Luna and I are going to build snowmen on Boxing Day at my family's estate, and we expect you and Ginny to be there, so I really, really hope you two have worked through your differences. In the meantime, enjoy the party!
Draco rolls his eyes in exasperation as he folds the letter back up and tucks it into his pocket.
"Well?" Ginny says.
"Just usual Blaise claptrap. You?"
"Typical Luna wisdom."
They descend into silence until Ginny reaches for Draco's hand, interlocking her bare fingers with his until they are palm to palm. Draco swears he can feel her pulse, but that's probably just his own. His heart beats a rhythm against his ribs, urging him to action, and he leans down.
He's happy when she reaches up at the same time, her lips meeting his before he's ready for them. Her kiss is warm and a little chapped from the cold, but it's perfect, and Draco doesn't feel the cold anymore. He's only aware of her.
They're interrupted when the door opens behind them as grumbling party guests are shooed out of the manor by Draco's and Blaise's mothers. Ginny's eyes flutter open and Draco's mouth curves into a smirk at the satisfied expression on her face.
"Happy Christmas, D," she says with a smile in her voice.
Draco rests his forehead against hers and responds in kind. "Happy Christmas to you, Ginny."
A symphony of pops sounds around them as guests depart via Apparation, but, to Draco, they sound like jingle bells celebrating Draco's Christmas wish come true.