"He's looking over here again," Ron groused, sliding down in his chair and crossing his arms. "Thinks he's all slick because Snape brought him 'round and now he gets to play big hero."
Ginny sighed, though she peeped toward the table next to them from the corners of her eyes. Draco was looking at their table. Her heart fluttered a little. "Stop it, Ron. I'm tired of hearing you whinge about Malfoy."
"Me too," Hermione added. "Now that the war is over, we're all supposed to be moving on."
"And he sort of is a hero, isn't he?" Luna asked innocently. "He took down Alecto Carrow and saved your brother."
Ron snorted, but remained silent. Ginny knew that he was frustrated over more than Draco Malfoy. He'd wanted to go immediately into Auror training with Harry, but Hermione had convinced him to come back to Hogwarts with her and finish their last year. He'd gotten an owl that morning from his best friend, and hearing all about what he was missing always put him in a sour mood. But whenever he complained outright about it, Hermione ranted about how Harry should be there with them rather than taking the easy path.
Frankly, Ginny was glad he wasn't there. She had enough trouble trying to sort through her changing feelings without Harry sniffing around her. He owled her almost every week, even though she rarely wrote back. He clearly hoped they would eventually get back together. Ginny wasn't sure that was what she wanted anymore.
Snape had brought Draco to Grimmauld Place before Christmas the previous year, when his parents had been killed. He had spent nearly six months secluded with Ginny, most of her family, Remus and Tonks while Harry, Hermione, and Ron had been looking for Horcruxes. It had been…not terrible. Draco had been quiet, but polite. The first time they had really talked, he had asked her about a book from the home's library she was reading. It was about chess strategy, and she had always wanted to learn to play. When she told him, he offered to teach her and then did so with a surprising patience that Ron had never managed. It had seemed like the start of a friendship, even if a fragile one. She had learned to read between the lines of his simple, cool statements. She knew he felt a certain measure of relief that his parents were gone. His actions had nearly always been driven by fear that they would be punished if he failed, and now he was free to make his own choices because nobody had leverage over him. Snape hadn't forced him to come to the Order, he had given Draco the option and Draco had made, perhaps, his first choice ever of his completely free will.
He hadn't returned to the house after the final battle. Ginny had heard that he'd had legal business to attend to. First there was an inquiry on whether he would be charged with anything, but Harry's testimony plus that of Snape and the Weasley family had prevented that. Afterward, there were debates over how much, if any, of the Malfoy property would be returned to him. In the end he had gotten the house and his trust fund and the rest had been seized. She presumed he had stayed at the manor until school began.
It wasn't as if she had expected them to be friends now, but she was surprised—and, alright, a bit hurt—that he hadn't approached her at all. She, Hermione, Ron and Luna had fallen into a bit of a clique and he seemed to watch them often from afar, but that was all. Now Christmas was approaching again and all she wanted this year was for him to come around again. She missed their conversations, how funny he could be when he wasn't malicious, and he was bloody fit. She supposed it was possible that she had a tiny crush. She held a small, secret hope that the way he watched them meant he felt the same.
"Come on," Ron said, gathering his things. "It's nearly dinnertime."
"They're leaving," Blaise hissed, poking Draco in the upper arm. "Come on, you promised!"
Draco sighed and rolled his eyes. "Why can't you just talk to her yourself?"
He watched as his friend flushed uncharacteristically, and his brows rose. Apparently, Luna Lovegood was more important to Blaise than Draco had suspected.
"She might laugh at me," he grumbled. "I'd like to at least have some inside information to put my best foot forward, you know?"
Draco grunted and pulled his long legs in to stand. "Fine. But I'm not doing this because I want to. I'm doing it because you look bloody pathetic right now."
Blaise scowled. "Oh, please. Like you don't want an excuse to talk to Weaselette," he said snidely. "Rather than just mooning over her."
Draco gave him two fingers as he turned toward the table where the Gryffindors had been sitting, surprised to find only Ginny was still lingering, packing up her bag. He tucked his hands into his trouser pockets and meandered over, trying to think of something witty to say. He couldn't think of anything in the three seconds it took to reach her, so he just stopped next to her elbow and said, "Hey."
Ginny turned her head and her dark eyes widened just before she smiled. "Hey."
He liked the way her cheeks went pink. He liked the way her nose wrinkled when she smiled, her freckles, the way the ends of her hair brushed her slim shoulders…Hell, he liked her, full stop. He found himself grinning crookedly back before he caught himself. He coughed. "So, er, you and Lovegood are good friends, yeah?"
Her brow wrinkled a little and she shrugged. "Pretty good, I guess. Since first year. Why?"
He looked down at his feet, shuffling his boots a little. He had learned that his stomach felt funny if he looked into her eyes too long. He glanced back over his shoulder and Blaise made "go on" motions with his hands. What was he supposed to ask again? Oh, right. He turned back toward Ginny. "So, um, you know what her favorite flowers are?"
Ginny's smile seemed to freeze and fall out of her eyes as her gaze turned puzzled. Draco silently cursed Blaise. He hadn't thought it was such a strange question, but clearly it was. Girls had rules that he didn't understand at all.
"Uh, yeah. Yeah," she said, pausing to clear her throat. "She likes daffodils. Especially the white ones, you know? With the yellow centers? Her dad always sends them for her birthday."
Draco nodded. "Daffodils. Right. Great." He looked back into her eyes and managed a weak smile. Ask her to Hogsmeade, his brain silently urged him. But she wasn't looking so happy to be talking to him anymore. Probably she would say no. He backed away a couple of steps. "Well, er, thanks, then."
She nodded and he turned, returning to Blaise and mentally cursing his friend. He'd been trying to figure out for months if Ginny might want to spend time together again, and now it seemed like this favor had set him back. How was he ever supposed to convince her that he was more worth her time than Potter if she thought he was a giant numpty?
Ginny picked listlessly at her roast chicken and potatoes, her chin resting on one hand and her elbow on the table. The hall was beautifully decorated with a huge tree in every corner, each decorated in one house's colors. There were strands of fairy lights and ribbon-wrapped garland everywhere, jingle bells on the backs of the doors and crystalline snowflakes floating in between candles near the ceiling. None of it made an impression on her in her disheartened state. She was so stupid. If Draco was interested in her, he would have made a move during all of that time they'd spent alone together at Grimmauld Place, right? Of course he would have. He probably liked her well enough as a chum, especially when there was nobody else around, but he obviously wasn't attracted to her. She snorted and dug a trough through her mash. Who would be, with Luna around? Clearly she was the one Draco had actually been staring at.
Ginny loved Luna, but it was difficult to be friends with someone so beautiful. Instead of hair that couldn't quite decide if it wanted to dark ginger or true red and tended to just be pulled back in a horse's tail, Luna had hair the color of moonlight—almost as pale as Draco's own—that curled and twirled around her slim shoulders. Instead of freckles sprinkled across her nose and down her arms, Luna had a peaches-and-cream complexion. Luna was elegantly tall and leggy and lithe and she moved gracefully, while Ginny was plain short with a respectably narrow waist but too much at the top and bottom, and she couldn't manage to quell her enthusiasm to just get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. She sighed. Of course Draco liked Luna. Next to Luna, Ginny was like an erumpent in a china shop.
The evening owls arrived, and Ginny received a letter from Harry. She fingered the envelope carefully, considering.
"Ugh, he's looking over here again," Ginny muttered, wincing at how like her brother she sounded.
Luna looked up from the scroll she was writing on and smiled. "Is that bad?"
Ginny shrugged and looked down at her hands, playing with her quill. It had been a few days, and she had forced herself to move past sadness and now felt rather angry. Had Draco even ever said two words to Luna? How could he know that he liked her? He and Luna just wouldn't make a good couple. Didn't he see how compatible he and Ginny were? Of course not, because like a typical boy all he cared about were looks. She frowned, and it felt a bit pouty even though she'd never admit it. Maybe she should have written Harry back after all.
"He's not good enough for you," she said lamely. "He shouldn't stare at you."
Luna smiled again and shrugged. "I don't mind. I think you should figure out why you do, though." She pushed her chair back. "I am going to look for a book on flitterwimgers. I think Professor Snape should know that the overharvesting of the Pink Snorfulus tree is endangering their natural habitat, since he is asking us to write about the uses of Pink Snorfulus beans." She skipped off, leaving Ginny struggling not to roll her eyes. She highly doubted that Snape would be delighted over the ecology lesson.
She looked up, startled, to find Draco standing next to her chair. She had been so busy sulking that she had forgotten to keep an eye on him where he had been sitting with Blaise Zabini. She bit her lower lip, silently cursing her stupid heart to racing. She nodded coolly. "Malfoy."
He was wearing his robes today, and one hand seemed to rub the fabric nervously between his fingers and thumb. "So, um, I was wondering-"
Ginny sighed and crossed her arms. "Her favorite color is orange. The sweet she likes best are sugar quills. She likes to read travel books about places she hasn't been. She has a cat named Pepper." She pursed her lips. "Anything else?"
Draco blinked. "Who?"
"Luna, of course," she said with a wave of her hand and look as if he were a bit slow.
He chuckled. "Oh. That's not-"
"You should know," Ginny said, starting to gather her things and pack them into her bag, "that I am not Luna's personal dating filter, Malfoy. And she's too good for you, to be honest."
Draco frowned, looking affronted but confused. "What?"
Ginny stood and leaned her hips back against the table, re-crossing her arms. "Luna. She'd never go for a git like you, so you might want to just give up."
"You think I'm trying to get into Lovegood's pants?" Draco asked, stunned.
"I know you are," Ginny huffed, picking up her bag. "I know that's why you're asking all of these questions. You're not the first one to try this, you know. But you won't get anywhere."
Draco crossed his arms in an imitation of her, deciding he was too stung to correct her. "Oh, you think not? Because I'm so undesirable, right?"
Ginny swallowed and her eyes darted away. "That's right. You'd probably just shag her and leave her, anyway, and Luna is too smart to fall for that, no matter what you think."
His lips curled into a wicked smirk. "Oh, if I wanted Lovegood, I could get her into bed."
She gritted her teeth, knowing her face was flushing bright pink. Before she could stop it, her mouth opened and said said, "Oh really? Care to make a little wager on that?"
"What sort of wager?"
"I bet you can't bring me a pair of Luna's knickers by dinner tomorrow. If—sorry, when—you fail, you have to write my next three Potions essays for me. Good essays."
Draco nodded decisively. "Done. And when I win, you will be my slave for a week."
Ginny blinked, and then swallowed deeply again. "Slave?"
He smirked. "Scared, Weasley?"
"Not at all." She lifted her chin. "But no stealing a pair of Pansy's knickers or buying some or something. If I suspect a trick, I'll ask Luna to identify them."
"No tricks," he agreed, sticking out his hand. Ginny hesitated only a moment before placing hers in it and shaking. Her breath caught in her throat a bit at the small zip that passed up her arm, and she yanked her hand away.
"Well, I think I'm done here," she said, slipping the handles of her bag onto her shoulder. "Obviously you'll want to talk to Luna. Or try," she said a bit smugly. "I would appreciate if you would let her know that I've gone back to my common room."
When Draco nodded slowly, Ginny turned and walked briskly from the room. She ignored her own increasingly rapid breathing and the swirling feeling of dread in her belly. She must be coming down with something.
Draco watched the redhead flounce away with her head held high, like a duchess condescending to walk down a common street. He was going to kill Blaise; it was all his fault that the only girl Draco wanted to be with thought that he wanted someone else. Lovegood was well enough, he supposed, but how could he ever be distracted by a milquetoast sort of beauty when Ginny's luscious curves, fiery hair and velvet eyes were in the room? How could that that little bloody idiot not see how far he was twisted around her dainty pinky?
"Hello Draco," Luna said politely as she returned to the table. She placed the book in her hands on it and smiled at him.
Standing up straighter, suddenly nervous, he nodded to her. "Lovegood." How much of his conversation with Ginny had she heard?
"Everything," Luna said, not losing her smile.
He gaped. "Are you a Legilimens?"
She shook her head. "You just have a very expressive face, very easy to read, and I am very observant."
Draco tilted his head and considered her. She stared right back at him. His mouth curled up at the corners. He glanced back at Blaise, whose brows rose in question, before turning to her again. "Yes, I believe you are."
Luna spun and sat on the edge of the table. "You have to win. That's the only way she'll listen to you."
He coughed, choking a bit. "But if I—I mean, she won't-"
Her smile widened and she shook her head again, then leaned forward and pressed something into his hand. He opened his palm to find a pair of lavender satin knickers. "You'll figure it out," she said mystically. Then she slipped off the table carefully and stood, adjusting her skirt. She looked over his shoulder and smiled at the dark boy still sitting behind them, watching them carefully with a furrowed brow. "And, if you happened to tell Blaise that I might be walking near the dungeons tonight without knickers…Well, that would be alright." She grinned cheekily and was already pushing open the door of the library when Draco started to chuckle.
"Well played, Lovegood," he murmured. "Maybe we can all get what we want."
Ginny reached the portrait she was looking for and grimaced at the gruesome figure portrayed. She unfolded the note in her hand to check the direction again.
Meet me in my room, behind the painting of Unctar the Ugly directly across the corridor from the entrance to the Slytherin common room, 8 P.M. I'm ready to claim my prize. Come alone.
It wasn't signed, but Ginny knew there was only one person it could be from. As Head Boy, Draco had his own room near his house just like Hermione had her own room closer to the Gryffindor common room. Yet, she couldn't help but be puzzled. They had only made the wager that afternoon. Surely Luna had more sense than to let Draco talk her into bed so easily. Ginny refused to think about him sleeping with her friend, since even the abstract concept made her heart sink into her stomach. Instead, she took a deep breath and knocked on the portrait frame, her wand clenched nervously in her fist. Just in case.
"I say," Unctar groused, "who goes there?!"
She was about to tell him it was none of his bloody business when Draco pushed the door open. "Quiet Unctar," he said sternly. His face was carefully blank as he stepped aside and gestured for her to come in. Ginny stepped over the threshold and waited while he pushed the portrait closed behind her. The room was, naturally, dominated by a bed: a walnut four-post job hung with silver curtains and covered with a silver duvet trimmed in green. The duvet was folded back to show off matching dark green sheets. The rest of the space in the room consisted of a large black painted desk with a black leather rolling chair that had his winter robes thrown over the back, a tall walnut wardrobe with onyx and jade inlay work around the perimeter of the doors, a generously sized grey stone fireplace, and his trunk, atop which he had tossed his fur-lined hat. She turned away from the bed when she heard him approaching.
"So what is this about, Malfoy?" she asked, struggling to keep her voice cool as he came to stand with his face less than a foot from her own. Wordlessly, he reached into the pocket of his trousers and removed something that he held up between his index and middle fingers. Ginny turned her head a bit and focused on the item, recognizing it almost instantly. They were definitely Luna's knickers; in fact, they were the ones she had been wearing that day. Ginny had dropped her quill under the table and, when she had bent to retrieve it, Luna had accidentally flashed her. Ginny gaped.
"Did you do it in the library?" She hissed. "Draco, that's…That's indecent!" She blinked rapidly, flustered and embarrassingly near tears. He merely stared her down in silence, tucking the incriminating piece of lingerie away and smirking. Ginny sighed with resignation, though she just wanted to run away and have a good cry. "Fine. I still think you must have Imperiused her or something." She crossed her arms with a distinct pout. "What's my first task, then? Cleaning your floor with a toothbrush? Shining all of your shoes?" She was no welsher, no matter that she felt as if she'd been stabbed in the stomach. It was just a stupid crush. She'd get over it. Surely she would. She nearly jerked in surprise when Draco's hand came up, fingers cradling her jaw almost tenderly, and his thumb dragged gently along her bottom lip.
"My first order is for you to tuck that lip away. And then kiss me."
Draco enjoyed watching Ginny's eyes go wide, especially since she didn't step away from him.
"What?" she gasped. Her face slowly morphed into anger.
"I mean," he shrugged. "If you want to kiss me. But be honest about what you want for once, Weasley."
"You think I'm just going to let you stick your tongue down my throat after you've just shagged my friend?! That's a new low, even for you, Malfoy. I would think you got enough kisses today." She pulled her crossed arms tighter into her body and pressed her lips together as she raised her chin, almost quivering with indignation. Damn, she was glorious.
He smiled slowly. "But I haven't had a single kiss today, Weasley. Haven't in months and months. Or a shag, either. See, ever since I got stuck staying at Doom and Gloom Palace with the lot of you last winter, I've been falling for this barmy girl who can't see past the end of her nose."
Ginny's forehead wrinkled in confusion. "I don't understand. How can you have shagged Luna but not have shagged her? Wait, you're falling for her? But…But she wasn't…"
Draco watched the wheels in her wicked mind turning, the cautious realization that spread over her face. "Draco," she said softly, "how did you get Luna's pants?"
His fingers twitched at the terrified hope building in her eyes, that look making him want to snatch her against him and plunder her mouth. His smile widened into a grin. "She handed them to me and told me to talk some sense into you. I'm fairly certain she's shagging Blaise right now. Although I sort of hope not, since he caused this whole mess because he was too chicken to talk to her."
Ginny bit her lower lip and blushed, her gaze darting off to the side as she clearly struggled against a smile. "Oh."
He took one more half-step toward her until they were nearly nose-to-nose. "Now do you care to fulfill your first duty as my slave, wench?" He touched his forehead to hers and waggled his brows.
She tipped her head back with a breathless laugh. "Kiss me, you prat."
Draco bent slightly and captured her lips, teasing them between his own before sliding the tip of his tongue along the lush seam. She turned her head a bit and opened, and soon they were both panting into each other's mouths and searching for interesting things to clutch with their hands.
"You know," he mumbled, pulling away slightly to draw in deep gulps of air, "I was going to give you more orders, but now I can't remember what they were."
Her mouth curved into a siren's smile as she stepped back, the hand she had wrapped around his tie sliding slowly down the silk until it fell completely from her grasp. She hooked her fingers in the belt loops of his trousers and began pulling him toward the bed. "Lucky for you, we have all night to remember."