Author's Note: As mentioned in the summary, this story was written for Charlie (Sw33tCh3rryP13) in the DG Forum's 2016 Secret Santa Fic Exchange. The original prompt was "sparkle, frosted, pining." Reviews appreciated!
It had always been a curious thing to Draco that the finest Hogwarts house had been relegated to the dungeons like vermin while Gryffindors and Ravenclaws were elevated in towers. (Thoughts about what Hufflepuff's home near the kitchens said about its students Draco kept to himself, but it was safe to say they were uncomplimentary.)
Curious may not have been the correct word for the feelings of his youth. Infuriating, perhaps. Annoying. Humiliating.
The lush furnishings of the Slytherin common room had done little to hide the fact that one-quarter of the students found themselves living in what was essentially the basement, which said plenty about current and former headmasters' and headmistress' opinions of the most cunning and ambitious of the student body. (Some might argue that tradition dictated Slytherin live in the dungeons, just as their founder had a thousand years ago. Draco had not cared much for this tradition when he had grown so used to the luxuries and comforts of Malfoy Manor as a child.)
Hogwarts' dungeons had never felt like home to Draco, and even now, three years after returning to his alma mater to teach Potions, he still struggled to swallow his distaste for the subterranean levels of the castle.
So he often found himself seeking the comfort of a tower. The Astronomy Tower, the Owlery, the empty salon in the South Tower—these were all locations Draco had grown familiar with since his return. There was nothing like the warmth of sunshine on his face or a blanket of stars spread out over the mountains to the horizon. The sparkle of the lake and the expanse of Hogwarts's grounds were equally as calming to him. At the top of the castle, Draco felt like he owned the world, a feeling he had lost since the war.
The salon in the South Tower was Draco's particular favorite spot to wind down with a cup of tea and a stack of potions essays to grade. The windows in this room afforded him a perfect view of the Quidditch pitch. Sometimes he found his mind wandering to the windows when he needed a break from a student's idiotic writing, focusing instead on the new flying instructor that had replaced Madam Hooch at the beginning of the term.
Ginny Weasley was a bright spot in her bleak environment. Even when bound in a plait, Draco could see the flash of her red hair—vibrant against hazy, gray skies and crisp, white snow—as easily as a beacon in the night. She swerved through the air effortlessly, her hands gesticulating as she directed first years in drills that would improve their flying skills.
He wasn't sure why he was drawn to her. They hadn't spoken a word to each other since September. At dinner, she was much too loud and boisterous, her laughter at some story told by that oaf Hagrid grating against his nerves even when Draco sat at the complete opposite end of the High Table. Draco had even passed her in the corridor on occasion, giggling with McGonagall about something inane, he was sure. Flitwick and Sprout constantly asked Weasley for help with some matter, as if she was the only person in the castle with two sets of hands and a wand.
Draco was not bitter, okay? So what if he'd been teaching at Hogwarts for three years now and the only friend he'd made among the staff was Filch, thinking he'd be as enthusiastic as Snape had been about the idea of corporal punishment for students?
(Filch had certainly picked the wrong champion in the castle to fight for that cause. Draco's own brush with corporal punishment during the Carrows' reign at Hogwarts had caused him to spend many a night wrapped around a toilet. Filch's hard on for more torture only sickened him further, even now, six years after the war.)
So what if the most Minerva had shared with Draco in the corridors were scowls of disapproval? So what if no one ever invited him to their office for tea and gossip about students' academic failures and love lives? (Well, Draco had no proof that Weasley engaged in the latter with anyone, but his imagination told him that she did.)
What was it about Ginny Weasley that made everyone in the bloody castle love her?
Draco was determined to find out. He took one more glance out the frosted window, but of course she was still out there on the pitch. Draco knew her lesson didn't end until four.
He stormed through the entire castle, from the South Tower, which jutted off the seventh floor corridor, all the way to the entrance hall, where he threw the door open and stopped in his tracks. Fat snowflakes fell like shredded cotton, blowing into the castle with a gust of wind and coating the entirety of Draco's front. He slammed the door closed and stormed into the dungeons to don boots, a sweater, woolen robes, a fur-lined cloak, gloves, a scarf, and earmuffs, and then he stormed back up to the entrance hall and out onto the grounds.
The first years from Weasley's class scurried past Draco to head back to the comfort of their common rooms as he reached the pitch, but Weasley remained in the air as she cleared away the obstacles from her drills. Draco waited until she'd touched down before coming out of the portal to the locker rooms and revealing himself.
For a moment, her eyebrows rose in surprise at the sight of him, but the moment passed and she smiled.
The heavy snow obscured his view, but she was hard to miss with her bright hair. Her exposed ears were already dangerously red from the cold, along with the tip of her nose, but her eyes sparkled as if she hardly noticed the below freezing temperature. She seemed to be in her element. Literally.
"Hello, Professor," she said. "I like your ear muffs."
Draco's hand automatically lifted to touch the fluff at the side of his head but aborted the gesture before he could complete it. Instead, he crossed his arms over his chest.
This only made Weasley smirk, and Draco wondered for the first time if the nice act that she played with everyone else was just that—an act. It only made sense that all those favors for Flitwick and Sprout, the giggling in the corridors with McGonagall, were signs of an ulterior motive, one meant to win Weasley a place in the staff's good graces. Maybe so her favors would be returned, or so no one would expect a darker side to her.
Draco snorted, and snow went up his nose. Weasley? A dark side? Who was he kidding. Ginny Weasley was the most vanilla person he had ever had the displeasure of meeting. (Well, perhaps aside from Colin Creevey (RIP) or Hannah Abbott.) As nice a thought as it was that Weasley had pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, he suspected his first instinct (that she was an annoyingly decent person) was correct. His lips turned downward in a scowl.
"Something I can help you with, Draco?"
Startled by the use of his name, Draco scowled further, his expression turning into a full glower. "Who gave you leave to call me by my given name?"
"We're colleagues now," she said with a roll of her eyes. (Draco did not notice how snow caught in her eyelashes, intensifying the sparkle in her brown eyes, which he did not just notice were flecked with gold.) "Sorry for assuming we'd moved past the antagonistic classmates level of our relationship."
"We have no relationship."
"And that's a shame, because we are the youngest on the staff by at least thirty years. How have you lasted three years here when you avoid all your coworkers? Don't you get lonely?"
Draco stared at her, her flushed cheeks, the tendrils of hair that had escape her plait and now framed her face, the expression that might have been pity but could have been something else. His heart raced because of course he was lonely and of course he was bitter and of course he was drawn to Ginny Weasley. Any man in his position would have been.
She had been popular in school, always surrounded by a group even when she wasn't hanging out with Potter and his gang. As an instructor, and a young one, she couldn't grow too friendly with her students, which left the other staff her only pool to draw from when searching for friends.
Draco knew that struggle, and he'd found no one except Filch willing to even speak to Draco, let alone have a drink with him in The Three Broomsticks on a weekend or chat about insufferable students in the staff room. After months of conversations dying anytime he drew near, it had become easier to keep to himself than suffer through glares and scowls and deliberate barbs about his family's lack of reparations after the war.
After it became obvious that Draco was not planning to respond—(Couldn't she see that he couldn't? Words died on his tongue before he could open his mouth.)—Weasley gathered the crate of materials she'd used for her lesson and hauled them off the pitch. He followed her when he realized he was just a pathetic git standing alone in the snow, and as she stored the crate in the supply closet across from a locker room, Draco considered her again.
She'd grown up in a house full of children, she'd always been popular as a student, and her previous Quidditch team, the Holyhead Harpies, had been a built-in support system for her until a serious injury had ended her career. She probably wasn't accustomed to a lack of friends when she needed or wanted them. Her excessive friendliness, he now realized, had been her attempt to create amiable bonds with the staff in lieu of friends her own age.
Weasley closed the supply room door and turned around to face Draco with her hands on her hips.
If he hadn't noticed before, he could see it now. Every favor she granted, every laugh she shared with McGonagall and Hagrid, she was lost here at Hogwarts, probably plagued by memories of the war, her promising career over, and she was pining for companionship.
"Well? What can I do for you?"
Draco licked his lips. His fingers began to tingle inside his gloves, which he attributed to them thawing.
"Perhaps," he finally said, "we could have tea together tomorrow afternoon and, er, catch up."
And because Ginny Weasley was a nice person (a much nicer person than Draco, anyway), she smiled, gazing at him with a warmth Draco hadn't seen from anyone except his mother in the last three years.
"I'd like that," she replied.
A small smile graced Draco's own lips, unbidden but not unwelcome (kind of like her), and he felt himself beginning to thaw to Ginny Weasley's charm.