This story was written for chromeknickers in The DG Forum Fic Exchange - Summer 2017 by a member of our forum. For more details, please visit our page.


Warning: This fic contains plenty of booze, some internet/"interwebs" stalking, a rational adult Ron, a ghostly but sentient Fred, and a brief mention of a same-sex pairing.

A/N: Lia, I hope you like this! I went a bit trope-y with it, but hopefully in an enjoyable way. Ginny is definitely a bit "unhinged," though maybe more relatable than fun, exactly? lol

Many, many thanks to my beta, J. I take complete responsibility for any remaining errors.

Endless gratitude to my manky-but-dear friend S for inspiring prickly adult Draco and for allowing me to use some of our Twitter exchanges for inspiration.

Finally, a big thank you to the lovely and brilliant Laura W. for her cameo appearance.


"Okay ladies, I think that's a wrap for today. You can all come down and I'll see you on Monday." Ginny waived down the three chasers she'd been putting through drills all afternoon and made a couple of quick notes on the chart she was holding. Sara Meyer's left arm was still a bit weak, so she'd recommend that they keep her on the right flank for a few more games.

Ginny vanished her quill, tucked the chart under her arm and turned her wrist to check her watch. It had been Fred's, a muggle timepiece he'd bought with his own money and it was too large for her much thinner arm, which caused the face to sit to the inside. The slight pang didn't have time to settle, however, when she saw that it was after five. She muttered a curse sprinted across the pitch toward the locker rooms, begging her knee to hold.

"You must be late," Gwenog laughed as Ginny zoomed past her office, already tugging off her sweaty top as she stepped into the locker room doorway beside it. She threw her clothes into a corner rather than take the time to walk to the back and use her locker. She stepped under the spray of the shower, looking over her shoulder when she heard Gwen enter behind her. The brunette propped her shoulder against the wall and crossed her arms with an amused expression.

"I know, I know," Ginny said as she soaped up. "But believe me, if I skived off, I'd never hear the end of it. It's easier just to show up than make up a story that won't have Ron running to mum about my 'shiftless lifestyle.'"

Gwen laughed again. "I don't know, Gin. I'm pretty sure you must enjoy these things on some level. Maybe there's a masochist hidden somewhere inside?"

"Perish the thought," Ginny trilled, quickly shampooing her hair. She was not about to admit that maybe Gwen was correct; not about masochism because that wasn't her thing, but perhaps she did enjoy these Friday night gatherings just a little. To be perfectly honest, they currently made up the whole of her social life. Oh, the girls from the team still invited her out with them on their weekend pub crawls, but it felt awkward now. A year ago, she'd suffered a career-ending knee injury in a game against the up-and-coming Caracas Conquistadores and Gwen had stood her true friend by switching her to an offensive coaching position rather than just releasing Ginny from her contract. While she was grateful, she was still learning how to navigate her new dynamic with her team. Her dating life was so non-existent that it wasn't worth mentioning.

When she stepped from the shower, Gwen had gone but the word "masochist" floated in the air in gold, glittery letters. Ginny snorted and ended the spell, then used her wand to dry her hair and body and summon her clothes. Maybe she'd stop by the bakery on her way. She was going to be so late anyhow, and if she brought something really good she could avoid an earful from Hermione.

OOO

When Ron Weasley and Harry Potter had joined the Aurors together, everyone had assumed that they would end up partners–and they had been, for about two weeks. Unfortunately, their "thunder in and pray" method from the war didn't work terribly well for investigating routine crimes. Simultaneously, the department also had a pair of recruits who were excellent strategists and needed to be separated because their time spent strategizing was causing them to miss their window to act. When Ron and Draco Malfoy had first been partnered, bets were taken on which of the two would kill the other. There had been weeks of tension and distrust; Hermione Floo called Ginny in the wee hours once, certain Malfoy had killed her husband because he hadn't come home. That night had resulted in a turning point, not because Malfoy had killed Ron but because he'd saved his life on a dangerous stakeout. Things weren't perfect, but they were far from what they had been, and any lingering tension could generally be diffused by Harry or his partner, Blaise Zabini.

Ginny wasn't so easily won over. To be frank, she thought it was incredible that the four men were all chummy now. Sure, Draco Malfoy had changed quite a bit and wasn't the hateful boy he'd been at school, but he was still a complete ballbag in her book. Her was arrogant, a know-it-all, and a notorious womanizer. She was certain he had saved her brother on accident, because she couldn't imagine him ever having enough depth to actually care about another person. Once a week, however, she was thrust into his company when Ron and Hermione hosted their weekly gatherings.

The dinners had started at Kingsley's suggestion when Ron and Malfoy were still struggling to get along and be a team. Now they were just a chance to unshoulder the stress of the week, drink, and gorge themselves on Hermione's much improved cooking. Her brother and sister-in-law even sent Rose to her parents' house to spend the night each Friday—much to Molly's delight—so that they could cut loose, too. The group tended to change based on who was available on a particular Friday, but she could always count on Draco Malfoy being present, and Ginny herself showed up each week to stave off questions about her personal life. Most people were still under the impression she was dating Oliver Wood, and she and Oliver had agreed to allow that to continue for the good of their public relations unless and until it wasn't convenient for one or both. Ginny found it secretly amusing that Ron thought she sacrificed her Friday night out of love for him when in reality she would otherwise be parked on her sofa with a pint of chocolate chip mint and a romcom marathon.

Today Pansy Parkinson opened the door, taking the blueberry peach crumble Ginny was balancing in one hand while she dug for the key that fit the muggle deadbolt Hermione insisted on. "Heard you cursing out here," Pansy grinned. "Those were some good ones, I'll have to remember them."

Ginny gave her a weak smile and rolled her eyes, but followed Pansy into the house. She could never quite shake the feeling that the Slytherin woman was watching her closely, weighing her, evaluating her. But Parkinson had never been anything polite when she showed up, and while nobody knew what had happened, Harry had confirmed that they'd made their peace. Hermione's theory was that Pansy was harboring a crush on George that made her antsy around Weasleys, but Ginny suspected she was just always waiting for her to hex the blond prat Parkinson called a best friend.

"Hope you didn't make that," the prat in question drawled as Pansy carried the crumble past and into the kitchen. Without looking at her, he pulled a card from his hand and laid it atop the pile on the dining table that he, Ron, Harry, and Blaise were circled around. "Hey Weasley, if we have to eat something your sister made, does that count as attempted murder?"

Harry and Blaise tried to smother their grins, but Ron guffawed and earned himself a smack to the back of the head. "You're supposed to defend me, arsewipe. I'm your sister—and a lady!"

"Is that what you are? I've always wondered," Malfoy said, still not lifting his gaze from his cards. Ginny gave him two fingers and then turned to embrace Hermione, who handed her a butterbeer.

"Be nice," Hermione hissed in her ear.

"To him?"

Hermione's lips twitched. "Then be a benevolent goddess and have pity?"

Ginny grinned and took a sip from her bottle, then settled onto one end of the sofa Hermione had conjured in the corner of the dining room. Hermione sat at the other and Pansy wandered in from the kitchen where she had apparently been helping (or Pansy's version of helping, anyhow, which usually just meant tasting everything), levitating the stool from that room behind her. She settled it near Draco so that she could peer over his shoulder. She always declined to join them, but she had no qualms about telling him how to play his hands.

Ron took his turn and then leaned back in his chair. "So Zabini, you didn't tell us what happened with the blonde Wednesday night."

"And I won't," Blaise said, waggling his brows. "A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."

Harry snorted. "Funny, I seem to remember you giving graphic details about that 'adult entertainer' in the Murphy case and the way she-"

"Hey, I think we established that there are ladies present," Pansy interrupted with a wrinkle of her pert nose.

"Yes," Ginny cut in smoothly, "you know what a weak stomach ickle Dracoooo has."

Malfoy gave her a flat look from under his lashes as Ron said wistfully, "Anyway, that witness from Wednesday almost made me wish I was single."

Five of the occupants in the room cringed, but Hermione only laughed and threw the kitchen towel she was still holding at his head. "You wouldn't have gotten lucky anyway."

His wife popped back into the kitchen to check the roast and Ron grunted. "She's right, especially about this hand." He threw his cards down. "I'm out. Your pot Harry."

Harry collected the pot—fifteen or so sickles, a real haul for their games—and Blaise stretched. "I'm tired of cards."

"Good," Hermione sang, entering the room with the serving tray full of roast. "Then clear the table, it's time to eat."

Pansy ran to fetch the puddings and gravy while Ginny and Blaise cleared. Malfoy conjured a table cloth and Harry levitated plates and flatware over Pansy's head from the kitchen and soon they were all sitting down to eat.

"Oh, I forgot the wine," Hermione said.

"I also brought this," Blaise said, pulling a bottle of Firewhiskey from inside his robes.

Ron had summoned the wine from the kitchen and was offering it around, but didn't fill his own glass. "I think I'll have some of that," he told Blaise.

"Me too," said Harry, and Draco nodded and then turned his attention to Ginny, raising a brow in challenge.

He knew she was a lightweight, damn his eyes. "I do not feel the need to get sloshed at dinner," she said primly.

Draco's cough sounded suspiciously like "coward," and Ginny gritted her teeth and took a bite of roast.

"What about a game?" Harry asked, trying to smooth things. "A real game, not 'Bet I can drink you under the table,'" he added, looking at Malfoy.

"Truth or drink?" Blaise suggested through a mouthful of Yorkshire pudding.

"Nah, some of you would be drunk in five minutes," Ron shook his head, nodding at Pansy who personified Slytherin secretiveness. She stuck her tongue out at him and went back to ladling more gravy onto her meat.

"Never have I ever," she said definitively as she put down the gravy boat. "Draco's fun for that game."

Draco groaned. "I call bias."

"Not our fault you've done everything, mate," Blaise snickered.

Ginny looked at Malfoy curiously and he abruptly stopped protesting and gave her a sharklike grin. "Twice." She pantomimed gagging herself with her finger, making Hermione smile and Pansy giggle.

"It's settled," Blaise said, and began to transfigure shot glasses from various items on the table. Harry, who still inhaled food like a muggle Hoover, pushed back his empty plate to open the bottle of Firewhiskey, fill the glasses, and pass them around. Ginny swiped one last pud through the remnants of gravy on her plate, stuffed it into her mouth and reached out for her glass, nodding her thanks since her cheeks bulged with bread.

"I just don't understand how Glamour Witch magazine hasn't called for your style tips yet, Weaselette. You're so elegant," Malfoy muttered, taking his own glass.

"Fuck you," she hissed, just for his ears.

"Not on your best day." He relaxed back into his chair, holding his shot glass gracefully in one hand. "Besides, then that incontinent little worm Wood would get all riled, and I'd hate to have to smash his face in over something so-" he paused and looked her up and down before finishing with, "trivial."

Ginny seethed, unable to think of an adequate comeback. That's what she hated most about Malfoy, he was the only person who could do this to her! Normally she was razor sharp and perfectly articulate even in the heat of anger, but this one man had always been able to make her feel tongue-tied and idiotic.

"Stop whispering, you too," Pansy said teasingly, undoubtedly aware they were at each other's throats again, even if nobody else had heard the exact words. "We're starting the game, and Harry goes first since he poured."

Ginny snapped her gaze away from the man beside her and picked her glass up again. She managed to work her face into a smile and resolved to completely ignore Malfoy for the rest of the night.

"Never have I ever kissed a man," Harry said, his glass untouched. All three of the women and Zabini tossed back their shots, then passed their glasses to Harry to be refilled.

"Never have I ever had two women at once," Blaise said, immediately lifting his glass and downing the liquor again. Malfoy also drank, and Ginny rolled her eyes again.

"Big shocker there," she murmured.

Draco smirked and raised his glass, ready to drink. "Never have I ever fucked a celebrity." He drank, as did Ginny, Ron, and Hermione. "Technically, I think you should have to do two shots, Girl Weasley."

"Technically, I'm not sure a mass-produced inflatable doll qualifies as a celebrity, so we'll just count your shot for my second, shall we?" Ginny cooed, glad to have her feet beneath her again.

Everyone at the table laughed while Malfoy scowled. "She was a supermodel, for your information. French. Very sexy."

Ginny pretended to nod understandingly. "And do you remember waking up at the end?"

"Oh, like you know anything about me, you frigid bitch," he growled, slamming down his glass, which transformed back into a serviette under the pressure.

Ginny steeled herself against flinching, ignoring the way everyone scooted away from her. "At least I'm not a shallow manwhore. I'd rather be a frigid bitch and know I'm loved than someone like you who can't even feel love."

Draco leaned toward her, nearly out of his chair. "Just shut your mouth. You don't even know what you're talking about!"

She did her best imitation of his smirk, lifting her refilled glass. "Never have I ever been in love," she said in a saccharine tone before tossing back the shot. She watched Draco as he managed to smooth out his furious expression, then he grabbed Harry's full glass from in front of him and knocked it back.

"Bullshit!" Ginny said, jumping out of her chair.

Their audience watched, enthralled, as Malfoy settled into a more relaxed posture, crossing his feet at the ankles and spreading his arms. "You can believe what you like, Weasley, but I have been in love. Still am."

Ginny held onto the edge of the table, feeling a bit dizzy from the handful of shots she'd taken. Her thoughts were muzzy as she desperately tried to think of evidence that he wasn't being truthful. She thought about their years at school and subconsciously her gaze turned to Pansy, considering. The brunette raised her hands defensively. "It isn't me!"

"A-ha!" Ginny said triumphantly. She pointed a finger back at Draco, praying to Merlin that she wasn't swaying. "Parkinson is the only long-term girlfriend you've ever had, you slut. If you didn't love her, then you've never been in love. Case closed!"

"Don't ever join the Aurors, Gin," Ron said, tugging her back into her seat as Malfoy smiled benignly at her. Ginny turned her head and looked up at her brother.

"But he's lying," she whined. "If he isn't lying and he didn't cheat, then make him tell who it is."

Ron looked down into her face and shook his head. "It's none of your business, Ginbug."

"You're taking HIS side?!" Exasperated, she turned in her seat. Hermione, Blaise, and Pansy had snuck away to clean up dinner, and Draco was studiously ignoring her, though no longer looking so amused. She looked at the man sitting uncomfortable across from her. "Harry?"

Harry sighed. "Just let it go, Ginny."

She stood up suddenly, unsteady on her feet, and threw her wadded serviette onto the table. "FINE! I don't want to be with a bunch of cheaters, anyway. I'll just go home!"

OOO

Ginny groaned and rolled over beneath the covers, cracking open one eye. She was confused at first, and then recognized the floral quilt and realized she'd been ensconced in Ron and Hermione's guestroom. She remembered making her grand statement and then feeling her legs go out from beneath her, and she thought she could recall being carried up the stairs like some sort of silly, drunken bride. Sitting up slowly, she assessed her condition. She had a bit of a faint headache and would kill for a glass of water, but overall, she didn't feel terribly hungover. The mortification stemming from her behavior would hopefully be the only lasting side effect of too much Firewhiskey.

Ginny pulled on her denims, which had been tossed over the end of the brass bed, and ran a hand through her hair. She avoided looking in the mirror, knowing her makeup would be smeared to kingdom come and her eyes would be bloodshot. She left the room and sneaked down the stairs, hoping she was the first one awake and could Floo home without having to talk to anyone.

When she reached the ground floor, though, the smell of bacon drew her toward the kitchen. If Hermione was up, she could at least get breakfast before going home to her freezer full of Spello-Dinners. She was surprised to find Draco at the hob instead, carefully waving his wand over a skillet full of eggs while bacon and toast sat under stasis charms on the counter.

"'Morning," he mumbled without looking at her.

"Um," she swallowed, "good morning. Sorry, I—I thought you were Hermione."

He turned to slide the eggs out onto another plate. "She and your brother went to your parents' last night. Blaise and Potter kept drinking after you passed out and Pansy went home, so they decided to let us have run of the house. We promised to clean up and be out by noon," he finished, still not meeting her eyes.

Ginny reached out and took one of the strips of bacon, biting into it. "This is good."

"Lots of practice," he shrugged, scooping eggs onto his own dish.

"Funny, I didn't think you were the type to let them stay until breakfast."

Draco's lips twitched, but he didn't respond as he poured coffee into a mug. Without asking, he added four sugars and a healthy serving of milk and held it out to her. Ginny blinked in surprise at the gesture before taking the cup and slurping down some of the perfectly prepared brew. She sighed in contentment, feeling more charitable toward her brother's partner than usual.

"You know Malfoy, what you need is a relationship with a nice girl, a girlfriend. Then you wouldn't have to lie about being in love."

Draco's shoulders tensed, and he turned toward her with his own mug of black coffee and a placid expression. "You know what I need, Weasley?" he asked softly.

He had never spoken to her in that tone before, and Ginny tried not to shiver.

"You know what I really, really need?" He had come unexpectedly close, and Ginny's eyes widened as she looked up at him, feeling his warm breaths on her face. He bent further to murmur into her ear.

"What I need is for you to climb down out of my arse. Can you do that for me?"

Ginny shoved him away with a glare. "Trust me, I have no interest whatsoever in your arse, Draco Malfoy. You are a giant arse. And you're lying."

"Oh dear Salazar, not this still," Blaise moaned, entering the kitchen. "Why do you even care so much whether he's in love, Gin?" He paused in the middle of searching for a bowl to raise an eyebrow at her. "Unless you're jealous?"

Ginny made a face. "Don't be disgusting."

Draco shot her a faux sympathetic look. "Now Blaise, she would have to be able to feel emotions to be jealous, and as we discussed, harpy shrews don't-"

"Trust me," Ginny cut in loudly, "there's nothing wrong with my emotions. Have you ever considered that perhaps I just find you completely unattractive and unlovable?"

Time seemed to freeze in the kitchen as the two stared at each other until Blaise coughed. "On that note," Draco said calmly, placing his dish in this sink, "I think it's time for me to go." He brushed past her on his way toward the living room.

Ginny looked at Blaise, confused. He shook his head at her. "That was really badly done, Gin. Really badly done." He followed Draco out and she was left with her befuddlement and the early morning silence.

OOO

"—and then I left, but he's hiding something and he's lying, and it's just driving me spare," Ginny whinged at Gwen on Monday as they watched the Harpies play an intramural match, each team a mix of starting players and bench warmers.

"Why does it bother you so much?" Gwenog prodded. She blew her whistle and called a foul against the backup seeker while Ginny sighed. She wished she had a good answer. She had laid awake most of the night before thinking about the weird conversation in the kitchen and her annoyance over such a ridiculous thing. She'd finally come to the conclusion that she just didn't want Malfoy to lie; it didn't fit the responsible adult he had supposedly become. And, okay, it wasn't a good reason, but it was a reason. She told her boss as much.

Gwen shook her head. "That's not it. The truth is, you're as nosey as they come, Weasley. You like to know everyone's gossip. You've gotten too addicted to watching those reality telly shows with Hermione."

Ginny contemplated the idea. In the past three years, Gwen had probably gotten to know her as well as anyone. Luna and her husband were always traveling, and Neville was busy at Hogwarts year-round as a professor and also McGonagall's heir-apparent-in-training. When Ginny wasn't with the Friday night group, she was almost always at the pitch, and so was Gwen, who had about as much of a social life as Ginny did. They did a lot of talking, and she would admit it likely that Gwen would have insight into her psyche.

"I suppose that might be part of it. I mean, if he loves this woman, why would he be hiding her? Is she hideous? Part troll? His long-lost sister?"

Gwen laughed. "See? I told you. Too much television. Invasion of the muggle technology."

Ginny joined in the giggling before stopping abruptly. Wait, muggle technology. Didn't Malfoy have a HOOT account? It had been a big deal in the Prophet when he had joined, a former pureblood supremacist embracing the wizarding version of a muggle innovation. She was certain Blaise had mentioned once that Draco now had thousands of followers. Ginny grinned as their seeker caught the snitch and Gwen blew her whistle. She knew exactly how to get Malfoy to tell her who his secret love was, without him even realizing it.

OOO

After practice Ginny burst from Ron and Hermione's Floo still hot and sweaty, having skipped her shower to get there as quickly as possible. She found her brother in the dining room setting the table while Rose sat in her highchair. "GEE!" her niece screamed, and Ginny carefully bent to kiss her head without getting sweat on her.

Hermione came out of the kitchen, but Ginny stopped her mid-hug. "I'm filthy. I just popped by to use that fliptop computer thing that you have."

"Oh, sure. Ron, you know where my laptop is. Can you get it while I get everything finished up?"

Ron took Ginny into the living room and handed her the computer, showing her how to open it and sign in. He was still fascinated by it, so he hovered over her shoulder as Ginny found the HOOT website and filled out the information for her new, fake account.

"Oh, I know about this," he said, "this is the site Malfoy is always checking at work when we have downtime."

She didn't answer him as she finished up her profile and started searching for Malfoy's.

"Who's Anastasia Beaverhausen?"

"Nobody," Ginny brushed him off. "I think I hear Hermione calling you."

"Oh shit Gin, you're not going to be one of those podfish people, are you?"

That got her attention, and she paused perusing her search results to squint at her brother. "Podfish?"

Ron scratched his head. "Codfish? Something. Those people who pretend to be someone else online."

Ginny shrugged. "It's for a good cause." She found Draco's profile and clicked it with a triumphant sound, and then chose "follow." Ron watched her, and then sighed heavily.

"This has something to do with Friday, doesn't it?"

She reached up to pat his cheek. "Don't worry your head about it, Ronniekins."

Ron leaned down and pulled the laptop away after a brief tug-of-war. "That isn't going to stop me," she sulked. "I have an account now, I'll just get my own fliptop."

"I know it won't stop you," he said, sitting down on the wooden coffee table across from her, "but at least now you'll listen to me for a minute. You're acting like a crazy person, Ginny."

She crossed her arms. "I am not. I am acting like a person who was lied to and wants the truth."

He shook his head. "Ignoring the fact that it's none of your business, what if the truth is something you shouldn't know?"

Ginny eyed him suspiciously. "Go on."

Ron opened his mouth and then closed it, eying her. "No. No, I don't think I will. But more fool you if you don't let this go, Gin."

"Well, that's certainly your opinion. But if you tell Malfoy what I'm doing, I will hex you into the flea on a wart on the toe of a rat."

"I wouldn't anyway," he shrugged. "He's smart enough to survive this temporary insanity you have going on, and this is your own mess to make."

Ginny started to ask him what he meant when Hermione called that dinner was almost ready.

"So, big plans with Oliver tonight or can you have dinner with your brother?"

"Nah, I can stay."

"Good. But you're taking shower first so you don't put me off my meal."

OOO

Practice was rained out on Tuesday, so Ginny stopped by Gringotts to change some of her galleons into pounds and then headed into the muggle part of London to buy herself a computer. She was fairly certain that the clerk had pitied her because she'd forgotten and called it a fliptop again, and as a result she had picked out the most expensive version that the shop offered. It came in five colors and after the clerk kept pushing the pink and purple ones at her, she'd chosen lime green just to spite him and then paid for it in cash. She slightly regretted her rash actions while hauling the giant thing home, walking the ten blocks to her flat since she couldn't do magic around her new purchase.

The setup was thankfully simple, and soon Ginny was back on the HOOT website on back on Draco Malfoy's HOOT page. She clicked on "HOOTS and REHOOTS" so that she could see both the messages he had posted and his responses to others' messages, and eagerly began to scroll. She was surprised to see that the first handful of messages were jokes to his friends; Pansy was there, and Blaise, and people she hadn't heard from since school like Theo Nott and Millicent Bulstrode. About halfway down the page she finally spotted something different, a response to DailyProphet's "Question of the Day" post, "What band do most people think is brilliant that you think is bunk?"

Malfoy had said that the Weird Sisters were overrated, and Ginny scoffed. Of course he would have terrible taste in music, too. She clicked "reply."

DracoLMalfoy No surprise that you don't have the intelligence to understand the deep meaning of their lyrics.

She continued to scroll, and was surprised just a few moments later when she heard the tell-tale owl sound of a HOOT notification and found that he'd responded.

AnastasiaBeaverhausen What's deep about "I can feel the magic all around us when we kiss?" Blech.

AnastasiaBeaverhausen You probably like Celestina Warbeck, too.

Ginny bit her lip. She hadn't intended to get distracted, she was on a fact-finding mission. A bit of conversation might persuade him to trust her with those facts, though, she reasoned.

DracoLMalfoy Oh hell no, I'd burn all of mum's albums if she didn't keep them under an alarm charm.

She waited a long time for a response before realizing how late it had grown. Frustrated, she closed her laptop and put it away. It seemed the answers she wanted would have to wait until tomorrow.

OOO

Maybe I could ask if his girlfriend likes Celestina Warbeck, Ginny mused silently on Wednesday, watching her team run laps and making notes of whose times had improved. She had to be subtle, it would hardly do for him to think Anastasia was one of those nutty women who mooned over Draco Malfoy, dashing Auror and philanthropist. She tapped her quill against her lips. Maybe Anastasia could ask him on a date? She knew he liked quidditch, he'd come with her brother to several of her matches, including the one when she'd been injured. The team had an exhibition match coming up against the Marseilles Mademoiselles, the only other all-female team in the league. If Anastasia invited him and he had a girlfriend, he would be honor-bound to refuse, wouldn't he? Most likely he'd just see it as an opportunity to get some on the side. Ginny winced, admitting even to herself that that was unfair. Malfoy played the field, but as far as she knew he wasn't a cheater.

Either way, a random woman on HOOT asking him on a date was likely to be refused. Hell, if she had a strange man ask her out on social media she would probably create a boyfriend she didn't have just to let him down gently. No, that plan was definitely out. She could hear Ron's voice in her head telling her she was being crazy, and she was starting to think that maybe he was right. But she was also stubborn, and she wasn't going to give up until she found out what she wanted to know. Calling the girls in to give them the next drill, she decided just to check HOOT when she got home and go from there.

OOO

Ginny was surprised by the amount of activity on Malfoy's HOOT while she had been at work. She had changed into sweats and settled onto the sofa with her laptop, prepared to read a half dozen or so messages. Instead, there was negative response after negative response to random people as well as comments to his friends like, "Piss off, fucker" and, "Go bin your head." It took her a few minutes of scrolling to find the post that had started it all.

The evening before, Draco had apparently been photographed leaving a restaurant with a tall, gorgeous brunette woman. The Daily Prophet had snapped a picture that ran as a gif they'd attached to a salacious post from their account. It showed the woman, wearing a short and clingy nude-colored dress and perfect makeup, stepping out of the door onto the sidewalk while Draco, dressed in grey trousers and a dark jumper with a long, open black pea jacket overtop, held the door open behind her. She looked out toward the street and he turned his head toward the camera before the loop began again. The Prophet hadn't tagged his account, but one of the commenters on the post, " DracoMalfoyNumberOneFan" had asked if he was going to marry her.

What followed was a series of messages from his friends—Slytherins and other Aurors—taking the mickey out of him, and questions from heartbroken, angry, or upset followers asking if he was really getting married like the article suggested. The latter gave Ginny pause. Some of the commenters seemed really unhinged, begging Draco not to marry the unknown woman because they "loved him" or they could "just tell" that she wasn't good enough for him. Yes, maybe Ginny had been acting a little insane with her need to find out Draco's secret, but she wasn't like them. She actually knew him, she actually had a place in his life. Plus, she wasn't desperate to know about his love life because she was jealous, she was just nosy, and it was his own fault for not just telling her, anyway.

Ginny clicked through a few more messages on that thread, feeling anxious. It's because I'm so close to finding out the truth and I can finally be done with this. She clicked back to his page and saw a new pinned tweet explaining that he wasn't dating the woman in the picture and didn't even know her, he had merely held the door for her while leaving the restaurant after dinner with a friend. She released a deep breath, telling herself that she felt frustrated because she still didn't know who this woman was that Malfoy supposedly loved.

As she was looking over Draco's page a new HOOT popped up, and she clicked to open it.

The Magic in Me is rubbish. Who told Smith he should write a book, anyhow? Wanker.

Ginny laughed. Unable to stop herself, she typed out a quick response.

DracoLMalfoy I didn't think anyone else felt that way, it got such good reviews. I thought it was awful!

AnastasiaBeaverhausen I think we're the only two. It's extremely over-hyped and Smith doesn't deserve any credit.

AnastasiaBeaverhausen If you want a good non-fiction book, you should read A Year in the Forest. My partner's wife wrote it & I'd never tell her, but it's brilliant.

DracoLMalfoy Read it, loved it. Surprised you agree. Do you like fiction at all? Have you read A Journey to Soaring?

AnastasiaBeaverhausen Reading it right now, oddly enough. Heard a friend say she enjoyed the ending, so don't spoil it for me.

Ginny blinked in surprise and then logged off when she wasn't sure how to reply to his message that referred to her and called her his friend. They weren't friends. She shouldn't even be getting sucked into conversations with him, shouldn't be chatting with someone she didn't like. Want to like. Whatever.

She shoved the computer under her sofa and headed to bed, dreading Friday dinner.

OOO

Ginny took more care with her appearance that Friday, curling her hair a bit and taking time to apply some light makeup. She wasn't primping for Malfoy, the very thought was repugnant, but she reckoned if he wasn't so busy finding fault with her appearance, perhaps she could weasel information out of him. She wasn't even above flirting to get it at this point, if she thought it would do any good.

Pansy had cried off in favor of a date, and Hermione whispered to Ginny when she arrived that coincidentally, George had dropped by to borrow Ron's best tie earlier. They shared secretive smiles as they entered the living room. Draco hadn't arrived yet, but Blaise and Ron were playing chess and Harry looked up from thumbing through a Quidditch Monthly and whistled, gesturing at Ginny's royal blue sundress.

"Ollie in town today?"

Ginny playfully tossed her hair, "Why no, Harry, it's for you," she said in her most sultry voice. She managed to keep a straight face until Harry's expression started to slide from amused to genuinely panicked, and then she cracked up along with everyone else.

Harry grinned and shook his head. "You are an evil woman."

"Key word being 'woman,'" she whispered with a smile, and patted his knee with a wink as Harry turned pink.

"What gives though, Weasley?" Blaise asked, drawing her attention away from his partner. "Who are you all dolled up for?"

"Just part of my strategy for getting information, gentlemen." She smiled sweetly. "You lot have your tools for gaining confessions, and I have mine." She gave a little shimmy.

Hermione and Ron shared a look, and Hermione hurried out of the room toward the kitchen.

"Gin, tell me this isn't about Malfoy," Ron pleaded.

"Sorry, no can do," she said, searching through the sofa cushions for the television remote.

Ron sighed and turned away from the chessboard, and Harry put down his magazine. "Ginny, this is your last chance to let this go. I'm not asking you because I'm so very fond of Malfoy, though he's not as bad of a bloke as you think. I'm asking you because you're my sister and I love you."

Ginny batted her lashes at him. "Aww, Ron. That's sweet." She waited until her brother started to visibly relax before adding, "I'm still going to find out what I want to know."

Blaise snorted. "You know, I always thought you were smarter than your brothers, but I guess not. At least Draco-"

"Blaise," Harry said sharply, cutting him off. "Don't."

Blaise opened his mouth to say something else when there was the sound of a Floo arrival and Draco stepped into the room. He glanced around, taking in the tense faces and cleared his throat. "Well, what a warm welcome."

"Sorry mate, let me take those bottles from you." Ron stood and hurried over to take the wine that Draco had brought, and the blond looked over his shoulder and caught Ginny's gaze, raising his brows. She tried to hold his stare, but when his gaze started to grow puzzlingly warm she looked away.

OOO

Dinner was a calmer affair than the week before, and Ginny was mostly quiet as they put away chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls and green salad. A few times Hermione had tried to engage her in conversation, but she was feeling inexplicably shy. Draco kept looking at her, clearly trying to prompt a response, but each time she just shook her head.

Ron and Blaise began to clear away the dishes while Harry, Draco and Hermione debated their after-supper activity. Harry suggested cards again, while Hermione thought they should all attend a film at the cinema around the corner from the flat. Malfoy asked her which board games she and Ron had in the closet, and Ginny chuckled, finally speaking up.

"We could always play Never Have I Ever again," she said, half-facetiously.

Ron, who was just coming back into the room, growled. "Just shut up already about it, Ginevra Molly!" He yanked out the chair next to her as she gaped and sat down, wagging his finger in her face. "You are being a brat. Do you even realize that? A fucking brat."

"Hey now," Malfoy jumped up and came around, placing a hand on Ron's shoulder. "She didn't mean anything by it. You know what your sister calls a sense of humor has always been a bit off," he smiled weakly.

Ron looked up, and his anger seemed to fade. "She just—and you won't—dammit, Draco."

Ginny gasped as Malfoy drew a deep breath. Ron never called Malfoy by his first name. It was like an unspoken boundary that had remained, even as their relationship changed. She had a sense of foreboding, as if she was being left out of something very significant that was going to come back to harm her. It was the same feeling she'd had lying in the chamber, totally aware but unable to move. Suddenly she just wanted the last week to have never happened. She wished they had never played the stupid game, that she could just go on in blissful ignorance.

Draco patted Ron on the shoulder. "That's enough. Let's go dish out some ice cream while they decide what they want to do."

After the men had left the room, there was silence for a few moments before Hermione said carefully, "How about an activity to help us all get to know each other better? On a more personal level, I mean?"

Blaise nodded. "I think I follow you, and I'm in."

"Me too," Harry said. "How about this: We go around the circle, and each person gets to ask three questions. You can ask the same person all three on your turn, or ask three different people, or however you want to split it up. But you only get to ask each person three questions, and then they're off-limits to you. Once someone has been asked three questions by every other player, they're out."

"I like that," Hermione said. "But what if someone asks something that we really, really don't want to answer?" She looked nervously at Ginny. "I don't think alcohol should be a factor."

"We'll just say you can pass," Blaise said quickly, "but you also lose one question you could have asked that person. Alternately, if you've already asked that person three questions, they get to decide who you've lost a question to."

When Malfoy and Ron returned levitating bowls of ice cream, the rules were explained to them and they hastily agreed. Blaise went first and asked Harry about his sudden potions prowess during sixth year.

Harry explained about finding Snape's textbook and all of the helpful notes. "Of course," he added, "not everything in there was helpful. Some of it—some of it should never be common knowledge." He glanced apologetically at Draco, who subtly nodded and gave him a tight smile. "The book was destroyed."

"That was a bad book," Ginny murmured.

Draco turned his head and his smile softened into something more genuine. "Not bad per se, though I'm glad it won't be falling into any more impetuous, foolish Gryffindor hands."

It wasn't her turn, but Ginny couldn't stop herself. "Who are you in love with?"

"Pass," Draco said without hesitation.

"That's one less question Draco can ask Ginny," Hermione said, conjuring parchment and a quill and making a table. "And it was still Blaise's turn, Gin."

They went around the table and when it was Hermione's turn, she eyed Ginny slyly. "When did you and Oliver break up?"

Ginny coughed a bit on her sip of wine and considered passing, but in the end, what was the point? It was going to come out sooner or later, and she trusted the people in that room not to go to the press until she and Oliver were ready—surprisingly, even Malfoy. For some reason she avoided looking at him when she said, "Six weeks ago." There were surprised sounds all around, including a sharply indrawn breath from next to her.

"Why?" was Hermione's follow-up question.

Ginny sighed. "Officially? Too much time apart. I'm always traveling with Holyhead, he's always traveling coaching Puddlemere, we're rarely in the same place. But, I think if we wanted it to last, we could have worked harder at it. Oliver is lovely, but he's very settled and agreed with me a lot just to make me happy—which doesn't." She laughed weakly.

"Oh yes, heaven forbid anyone agree with you," Harry chuckled, leading Blaise and Ron to start taking the mickey as well.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she waved them off with a smile. "Go jump in a bin, all of you."

"I didn't know you had split," was Draco's quiet contribution and Ginny looked up, startled, to find him considering her with an uncharacteristically serious expression.

"Um. Well," she said brilliantly, unsure why she felt so suddenly awkward.

"My turn," Ron said gruffly. "I want to know what Malfoy used to put in his hair. Looked like the axle grease dad had for the Anglia."

Blaise laughed. "I always reckoned it was lube!"

"Oh, fuck you," Draco said, grinning and throwing his balled serviette across the table. "At least my hair was never as bad as Finch-Fletchley's. Now that was lube."

"That's likely," Harry said. "He and Ernie went through enough of it."

Zabini's brows shot up. "Really? Finch-Fletchley and Macmillan?"

"I probably caught them twenty times that last year."

"That's nothing," Hermione said, "I probably caught them fifty. Though, sometimes they were just kissing."

"That would have broken Millie's heart," Draco piped up. "Pretty sure she was carrying a torch for Mcmillan."

"No way!" Ginny gasped. "I always thought she and Goyle…"

"Nah, they just looked like two peas in a pod. Even Millie was too smart for Goyle."

"She might not care about his brains now, though," Blaise chuckled. "If he weren't married to that supermodel that Draco cast off."

"I never got the feeling Goyle's trust was much to write home about," Ron said.

"Oh it wasn't," Draco replied. "But he took it and invested it. He gave some to Adrian to put into the market, and then he opened up a chain of bakeries named after Vince, "Crabbe's Confections."

"That's where I got the crumble!" Ginny exclaimed.

Blaise nodded. "His stuff is good. He doesn't spend half his time stuffing his gob for nothing. Anyway, he's rolling in it and when Draco cut Sadie loose, Greg stepped up to comfort her and now she's missus Confections."

"Speaking of missus, did you hear who married…"

OOO

It was after two in the morning when Ginny got home after hours of laughing and gossiping. She toed off her shoes and headed into her own kitchen to find the sherry she kept hidden behind the spices she never used. She poured herself a small glass and leaned against the counter as she sipped it.

Her thoughts were a complete jumble, and at the center was a knot of things she didn't want to think about and things she wasn't sure she'd understand if she did think about them. Her mind flashed back to the way she'd felt when Draco had claimed her uneaten ice cream and finished it off using her abandoned spoon, like they didn't hate each other and he didn't find her repulsive. Resolutely, she pushed it away. Those were the sorts of thoughts that were going to make her confused.

She carried her sherry into the living room, feeling slightly buzzed on the back of the wine she'd had. She picked up her laptop and settled in, pulling her hair up into a messy bun and out of her eyes. She logged into HOOT and a notification immediately popped up.

It was a HOOT from Draco saying he wouldn't be around that night and asking for film suggestions, and he had tagged her. It gave her a funny, warm feeling even though she told herself he only tagged her because they had similar taste. To distract herself, she started scrolling through the replies, laughing at some of the suggestions that showed the people who made them didn't know Draco at all. She stumbled across one from APUCEYINVESTORS.

DracoLMalfoy Heard you skived off tonight for another dinner in the lions' den? Thought you wanted away from ginger shrew?

Draco hadn't replied, but he had "liked" it. Ginny suddenly found her expensive sherry harder to swallow.

OOO

Over the next several days, Ginny couldn't stop herself from HOOTing with Draco. She had suggested some films that he had already seen and enjoyed, and so she'd then jokingly recommended some chick flicks. In retaliation, he'd given her a list of horror films, which were his secret passion and which she found disgusting. They had segued into discussing food, and then, shockingly, politics. She found herself unwillingly attracted to Draco's intelligence and progressiveness. Of course, he could have been lying, but by the third day of that week they had switched to direct messages so she couldn't imagine why he would bother. Just to impress her? Doubtful.

She had just arrived home on Thursday, excited to change into her pyjamas and spend the evening trading messages back and forth in the suspension of reality she had become so attached to when she stumbled upon Ron sitting on her sofa, waiting for her.

"We need to talk." He leaned forward and clasped his hands between his knees, and Ginny knew he was serious. It was the same posture their dad took when he was about to say something important.

Ginny took a deep breath. "Can I change first?"

Her brother nodded and waved her off, and she hurried to the bedroom to switch out of her training clothes. Instead of her pyjamas, she put on a pair of yoga pants and an oversized Harpies tee-shirt, pulled her hair up, and returned to the living room. She had a feeling Ron was about to try to cut through her crazy again, and this time she thought she was prepared to listen.

"I feel like I should have had a drink," she joked as she settled on the other end of the couch.

Ron didn't smile, just turned toward her and said, "Blaise knows it's you. The HOOT thing. I asked him to give you a chance to fix things with Malfoy yourself, and he's agreed to give you until the end of tomorrow night. If you two haven't hashed it out by the time everyone leaves, he's going to tell."

Ginny grimaced, but she couldn't say she was surprised. Somewhere inside she had known that either Blaise or Pansy, or even Draco himself, would make her sooner or later. "I'll tell him. I-I think I'm coming down off of that high I was riding. I'm not even sure why I started this anymore."

Ron gave her a sad sort of smile. "Do you really not?" She looked away, and he sighed. "There are some things you need to know. You need to know them before you talk to Malfoy—to Draco. I made a promise not to hand you the water, but that doesn't mean I can't lead you to the lake, especially since the bugger won't do it himself."

Ginny nodded, realizing her brother was about to provide her with some significant hints about whatever it was everyone seemed to know but her. She steeled herself to find out something she didn't want to know—up to and including the name of the woman that Draco loved. Somehow the thing she had been madly trying to discover had become the last knowledge in the world she wanted to possess.

"Do you even know what happened when Draco and I were on that stakeout?"

She blinked, surprised that Ron would bring it up. He hated talking about that night, and she wasn't sure how it had anything to do with the issue at hand. "I know that he supposedly jumped in front of a curse that was aimed at you, nothing unforgivable but something that injured him."

Ron scoffed. "Injured him. It took half his arm off, Gin. It wasn't an unforgiveable, but some have argued that a slashing curse should be added to the list. It's horrid and it can be deadly. It severed the artery in his arm and took off everything below the elbow. It was only because we got him out quickly that they were able to stop the bleeding. They didn't even know if they could regrow all of his arm and his hand for the first two days. And for those two days I had to live with that. Live with the fact that someone I refused to acknowledge had changed might lose his arm to a curse that would've taken off my head. He would have never been an Auror again. Do you know he plays the piano? I didn't until the first day his arm was whole again. He demanded that they transfigure one for him so he could test it out. I had to leave when he got choked up."

Ginny bit her lip and looked away, terrified that she might get choked up if she watched her brother's wretched face as he went through the awful memories.

"I walked for hours. Diagon. Hyde Park. Anywhere I could be alone with my thoughts. Scared Hermione half to death when she couldn't find me. But at the end of all of it, I had to let it go, Gin. I had to let it all go and accept that we were starting over. He isn't the kid he was, and he's not his father."

She closed her eyes when she felt him reach out and gently grip her chin, turning her face toward him. "He's not his father, Ginny. Whatever happens now is between you and Draco and has nothing to do with that dead bastard."

Her breath stuttered out, and she swallowed several times before she managed to open her eyes and meet her brother's gaze. "I'm not-"

"Do you know he bloody panicked when that bludger hit you?"

Ginny shook her head. "That just doesn't-"

Ron sighed expansively, cutting her off. "We all thought the two of you would figure it out. But then you started dating Oliver and Malfoy made us all promise not to meddle, not to tell you that he—well. I'm sure you can figure that out. I'm walking a fine line here, but I guess I've technically kept my promise."

"I don't think it matters whether you did or not," she began tentatively. "He's had a chance to tell me how he felt. He's known since Friday that Oliver and I haven't been together, but he hasn't said anything."

He shrugged and scratched the back of his head. "Maybe-"

"Maybe he did feel something at one point. Some point in the past. But we both know how quickly he moves on. I'm sure I was a passing fancy, if I was anything at all. A curiosity," she finished sadly.

"Gin," Ron said softly, "regardless, you have to stop. You know that, right?"

She nodded. "I know. At first it was just about having the upper hand. Or I thought it was. Maybe it was always about—about him." She gave him a watery smile. "I don't know if I'm more afraid to find out that she's nothing like me—or a lot like me."

Her brother gave her a sympathetic look and squeezed her hand. "I still think-"

Ginny shook her head. "Does it matter? Even if you're right, it would be stupid and—and impossible. Can you imagine what people would say?"

Ron squeezed her hand once more and stood. "If you're most concerned about what people would say, then you're right. It wouldn't work, anyway." He stepped into the Floo and was gone.

She sat for a while with her thoughts, finally accepting what she wouldn't admit even to herself for so long. Draco was the epitome of unobtainable, especially for her. It had always been so much easier to keep him at arm's length with animosity. But in reality, she was just another one of the women he'd won over. Eventually she reached beneath the sofa and brought out her laptop, deciding that she needed just this last night before she said goodbye to HOOT and the digital world where she had his attention and she could like it without him—or anyone else—knowing who she was.

The first thing she saw when she logged into HOOT and checked his page was a series of HOOTS responding to someone called DrAcOMaLfOyLuVrXOXOXO. She opened the thread and went back to the beginning to find that the person in question had originally responded to one of Draco's HOOTs to Blaise.

BlaisinHot So, coming up on a quarter century. How does it feel?

DracoLMalfoy (from DrAcOMaLfOyLuVrXOXOXO) Great, thanks for asking!

DrAcOMaLfOyLuVrXOXOXO Glad you are well, thanks for following.

DracoLMalfoy OMG I can't believe you responded! I'm like totally fainting.

DracoLMalfoy I'm going to your ribbon cutting at the hospital next month and I'm SO TOTALLY excited to meet you & prolly make a fool of myself! Hahaha

DrAcOMaLfOyLuVrXOXOXO Can't you just do the latter?

DracoLMalfoy LOLOLOL you are like soooo funny! Maybe we can go out next month after we meet? We can have champagne and strawberries.

She had followed her tweet with several kiss emojis, and Ginny rolled her eyes. Unable to stop herself, she scrolled back up and replied to the woman's first message.

DracoLMalfoy (from DrAcOMaLfOyLuVrXOXOXO) Great, thanks for asking!

AnastasiaBeaverhausen Wow Blaise, you sure have changed! You were much funnier and better-looking before.

Then, she scrolled down to the last one and, after hesitating a moment, typed out a response.

DracoLMalfoy LOLOLOL you are like soooo funny! Maybe we can go out next month after we meet? We can have champagne and strawberries.

AnastasiaBeaverhausen He's allergic to strawberries and champagne gives him a migraine, you sad psycho rubbish goblin.

She was quite certain Draco would guess who she was now, but she had intended to tell him the truth tomorrow night, anyway. She couldn't keep violating his trust, even if he walked away from her forever.

OOO

As soon as Ron returned from Ginny's flat, he talked to Hermione and then made a series of Floo calls. It was time for everything to be resolved, one way or another.

OOO

On Friday Ginny got in late again. One of the backup players had tested positive for Felix and it had been a nightmare filling out the paperwork and then standing as witness while Gwen dismissed her. There had been an informal meeting afterward about filling her position, though they had no leads on good, unsigned keepers. On the bright side, it was now off-season, so they had time. Because of her busy afternoon, she was running around her flat trying to shower and change when an owl arrived.

She almost ignored it. It wasn't a howler, so surely it wasn't urgent. Guilt ate at her, though, so when she came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, she let in the owl and relieved it of its message, worrying that dinner was canceled. Instead, it was a note from Ron letting her know that they were meeting at a French restaurant in muggle London rather than at their flat because they had decided to celebrate Blaise's birthday. There was a postscript in Hermione's handwriting hinting that she should dress up, and Ginny checked the restaurant address again and raised her brows at the posh area.

Instead of the denims and top she had been planning on, she put on a little black dress and black dragon suede heels, pulled her hair back into a simple chignon and dabbed on some mascara and blush. She added some diamond studs that Harry had gifted her for her eighteenth birthday, reminding herself that this wasn't just Blaise's birthday party, but the night she had to confess to Draco what she had done.

When she was certain that she was as ready as she was going to get considering what lay ahead, Ginny Flooed to the Three Broomsticks and then walked out of the building, through the archway at the end of the alley, and into muggle London. She stepped out and hailed a cab and gave the driver the address of the restaurant. She tried to engage the driver in conversation about the traffic, but when he just grunted she remained silent for the rest of the seven-minute ride.

It was long enough for Ginny to start feeling slightly nervous again, and it didn't help when she finally entered the restaurant to find it seemingly vacant. She glanced past the vestibule to all of the empty tables, and decided she must be in the wrong place. Then, a smiling maître d' stepped forward and asked, "Mademoiselle Weasley?"

At her nod, he gestured with his hand and she followed him farther into the restaurant. In the center of the empty, luxurious, candlelit room was a table for two where Draco sat, alone. He looked up as she approached, and his confused expression squashed the fleeting hope she'd had that he had orchestrated their situation.

Despite his obvious discombobulation, he stood immediately as the maître d' pulled out her chair, unfolded her serviette over her lap, and handed her an open menu. After she thanked the man and he stepped away, Draco again took his seat across from her. "Do you know what's going on?" he asked, picking up the wine list. "I thought we were meeting everyone here for Blaise's birthday."

"So did I." She smiled timidly and turned her attention to her menu. "Maybe they're just running late?"

Draco chuckled, but neither of them were willing to acknowledge that they'd been had.

"Welcome," said a smiling brunette female server, approaching their table. "My name is Laura, and I will be serving you tonight. I've been informed that this is a surprise for both of you, so I will explain. As you have likely guessed by now, the entire restaurant has been reserved for the two of you. We have a special romantic dinner for two planned, including wine pairings, but you can choose to forgo that and select something from the menu, if you like."

Malfoy looked across the table at her and raised a brow. "Are you brave enough to be surprised?"

Ginny scoffed. "Braver than you are," she said reflexively, and then winced when her mind immediately went to her discussion with Ron. Draco was still smiling, though, as the server took their menus away, filled their water goblets, and left them in peace.

"So," Ginny said, her eyes darting to his and then away.

"Yeah," he said, smiling faintly.

"I'm sure Ron and Hermione meant well," she ventured.

"And Pansy, and probably Blaise. It takes some serious galleons to reserve an entire Michelin-starred muggle restaurant," Draco clarified.

Laura thankfully brought their amuse-bouche then, interrupting the awkwardness. Each plate held a small piece of fresh coconut topped with raw ahi and drizzled with a fragrant lemongrass sauce. Once they were alone, Draco carefully lifted his with the tiny fork and paused, looking at Ginny hopefully. When she continued contemplating the raw fish on her plate, he grinned. "I dare you."

She groaned but followed suit, lifting the bite-sized appetizer near her mouth. "You know I can't resist that."

He laughed. "I know you can't. On three?" He counted down and they both stuffed the bite into their mouths, chewing thoughtfully.

"Interesting," he mumbled. "Bright, Thai-inspired..."

"Fishy," Ginny said flatly, making him laugh.

"I assume sushi is not your thing then."

"No, thank you. I'd rather have my food cooked." She smiled and they lapsed back into silence.

Laura returned to fill their wine glasses with the dry, intermezzo white wine and they both murmured appreciatively. Ginny gulped hers down, needing the liquid courage, while Draco went through his fancy ritual of smelling and sipping.

"How is your mother?"

He smiled slightly. "She's well, thanks. She enjoys living in France. Away from…away." His smile faded and they both avoided looking at each other once more.

"Your entrees," Laura said happily, setting down plates filled with perfectly prepared lamb with lemon sauce and peas, and pureed parsnips accented with coconut milk. On her heels came the sommelier to fill their glasses with Spanish Rioja. Laura looked over the table to ensure that everything was satisfactory, then frowned slightly when she seemed to notice their discomfort. "Concentrate on enjoying your food," she suggested. "We have a surprise from your friends as well that might help." She smiled mysteriously and walked away.

"Well, that wasn't cryptic at all," Ginny muttered.

Malfoy snorted. "I wonder what the surprise is?"

Ginny swallowed her bite of lamb. "Anyone's guess," she admitted, take a sip of wine. "If my brother sent it, probably something embarrassing."

He gave her a surprisingly gentle look. "He wouldn't do that. He's a pain in the arse, but he loves you."

"Yeah, he does." She giggled. "I think he loves you, too."

Draco made a dramatically repulsed face and they laughed and then lapsed into silence again as they both finished off their food. A few minutes later Laura arrived with a runner to clear their plates as she revealed a bottle of high-end whiskey with a note tied to the neck. "We were told to give you this if you weren't holding hands by now." She sat the bottle on the table along with two short glasses brought to her by a second runner before quietly disappearing again.

Ginny could feel that her face was burning while Malfoy busied himself untying and unfolding the note so that he didn't have to look at her and see her reaction.

"Huh," he said once he could read the familiar handwriting. "It's from Blaise. It just says, 'You know what to do.'"

She picked up her glass and held it out. When he reached out for it and caught her gaze, she lifted a brow. "Never Have I Ever?"

He smirked, then started filling the glasses. "Only if I get to go first."

Ginny nodded and lifted her glass. Draco did the same and took a deep breath. "Never have I ever pretended to be someone else on HOOT."

She tilted her head back and groaned before taking a healthy sip. "Blaise told you?"

He shook his head. "It was those messages last night. I don't know anyone else who uses the expression 'psycho rubbish goblin,'" he said, his smirk widening into a grin.

She blinked and tilted her head. "When…?"

"That time I jokingly said that dating Wood meant you rode a broom all day and all night."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Right. You still deserved it."

"Probably. Your turn."

She eyed him from the corner of her eye. "Never have I ever sent anyone flowers anonymously."

Draco sighed and took a gulp from his glass. "How long have you known?"

"I've only suspected since yesterday, when Ron said you reacted badly when I got hurt. I always thought they were from a wealthy fan. They were gorgeous. Huge and completely ostentatious, but gorgeous." She grinned.

To cover his embarrassment, he took his turn quickly. Steeling his spine, he looked directly at her and said, "Never have I ever fallen in love with someone I shouldn't have." Then he lifted his own glass and took a drink, watching as she did the same after only a brief hesitation.

After she swallowed, Ginny took a deep breath but didn't look away. "Never have I ever been in love with a redheaded nut who stalked me on the interwebs instead of telling me that she liked me."

Draco barked a loud, surprised laugh and then lifted his glass and drained what was left inside. He lowered his head, set his glass to the side and reached out to grasp her free hand. "Never have I ever danced with a Slytherin idiot that I'm in love with, anyway."

Ginny smiled flirtatiously and played with her glass. "Too bad I can't finish this off."

He stood and tugged her up, guiding her to some empty floorspace. "I think we can take care of that." He pulled her into his arms and they started to sway to the soft music.

A few moments later their lips met, and the five people watching through the window began to celebrate.

OOO

One Year Later

"I'm not joking, if I have to look at one more fabric sample, I'm going 'round the twist," Draco complained as he gratefully accepted a cocktail from Blaise.

"You should talk," George muttered from his place in Ron's favorite armchair. "Not only do I have to hear about colors and flowers, but I have to deal with the pregnancy hormones and mum's constant comments about putting the cart before the horse."

"I know you're not calling your unborn child a horse cart," Pansy said warningly, waddling into the living room." George jumped up to help her settle into the chair he'd been occupying.

"Of course not, my love. Have I mentioned how radiant you are looking today?" They started to give each other the soppy sort of expressions everyone had grown used to, but were interrupted by disembodied laughter.

"Whipped," sang the appearing cloud of silver mist before coalescing into George's twin.

"Shut it or I'll make Ron my best man," George said.

Pansy laughed as Fred's silvery visage reformed into an affronted expression.

"You're such a liar," Ginny said as she entered the room and went directly to Draco, who pulled her into his lap. "You know Ron would refuse, since he'd be afraid Freddy would pop in inconveniently, like he did to Harry and Blaise."

At the reminder, Blaise glared over at Fred, who immediately evaporated while the others laughed. "It's too bad Harry couldn't be here," Ginny added.

Blaise's face relaxed, though he still glanced around, certain that Fred was hovering and eavesdropping. "Yeah," he said a bit sadly. Since they'd become partners as well as partners, Kingsley had decided they should be reassigned to prevent their relationship from interfering with their work. Blaise and Harry had both been matched with new recruits, but they had both also applied immediately to be case managers and Kingsley had agreed to expedite and approve their paperwork after Harry had threatened to quit. It was just a matter of waiting, but eventually they would all be together for Friday nights again.

"I have juice!" Hermione said. She entered with her husband, her own small bump, and glasses of orange juice for herself and Pansy.

"We have booze," Draco murmured in Ginny's ear, handing her his half-finished glass, and she giggled as she took a sip.

"Let's have a toast," George said.

"To love?" Hermione asked.

"To friendship," Ron suggested, raising his glass.

"To new life," Pansy added, and stroked a hand over her belly.

"To future in-laws who love me because I didn't get their daughter up the duff before proposing," Draco crowed, and Ginny elbowed him in the side but couldn't help laughing along.

"To nosy ghosts," Blaise said.

"To nosy redheads?" Ginny asked hopefully, eyes twinkling at her fiancé. He leaned his forehead against her jaw and then softly kissed her behind her ear.

"Definitely to nosy redheads."

Hermione huffed. "To love," she insisted.

Everyone good-naturedly raised their glasses. "To love."


Lia's Prompt #2

Basic premise: Draco has a secret. Ginny is obsessed. Ron is the voice of reason.

Must haves: Humour, misunderstandings, an unhinged but still fun Ginny.

No-no's: No prior romantic relationship between the two. Friendship, mild tolerance or out-right hostility is acceptable.

Ratings: Any.

Bonus: If you could convincingly use the following line: 'What I need is for you to climb down out of my arse. Can you do that for me?'