June 18th, 2018

Double-Booked for Christmas

Draco didn't expect Weasley to show up for dinner, but he was—Pleasantly? He'd have to thoroughly analyze and identify his reaction later—surprised when she entered the dining room in dress robes of midnight blue that shimmered with crystals resembling a cascade of frost.

He had no trouble identifying the breath that caught in his throat at the sight of her.

"You look festive," she said when she finally noticed Draco. This was, of course, after she glanced over the feast spread out on the table between them, eyeing the new and familiar dishes that would make up their Christmas supper.

Draco managed not to nervously smooth out his own dress robes—green for the season and his family's colors.

"You look…." Draco began to say, but words failed him. If he spoke the truth, he would have to compliment her, and he just couldn't stomach the idea at the moment. Dressed the way they were and sharing his favorite holiday, it seemed too intimate to be needlessly kind. He didn't want to give Weasley any ideas that the holiday had softened him.

Never mind that words had truly failed him. There were no words to describe the sparkle of her gown or the enticing allure of the freckles revealed on her shoulders by the sweeping neck of her robes. He wondered if her family normally dressed up for Christmas (which he found doubtful unless they enjoyed pretending they were the kind of family that could afford to dress up for family gatherings), and if not why she had chosen to tonight.

Seemingly awkward due to Draco's incomplete thought, Weasley's cheeks reddened, and Draco was mesmerized by her visible blush.

"I was afraid I'd made a mistake by overdressing," she said.

"Not at all," was all Draco could say in reply, his mouth somewhat parched. He found nothing to insult about her clothes, so he gestured at the table. "Have a seat."

They claimed the seats nearest to them, which meant they sat at opposite ends of the long table. This was good, Draco thought. Distance was good. He'd sent Lina and the servers away as soon as they'd laid dinner out, preferring to serve himself and take his time with his meal, but now Draco almost wished someone had stayed behind. What on earth did Draco and Weasley have to talk about?

Snowball seemed to have sensed Draco's unease, because the high tinkling sound of his bell drew closer to the dining room. A massive feline head popped up over the edge of the table, accompanied by paws, as Snowball stood on his hind legs to peer at all the goodies he planned to eat.

Draco tried to swat him away with his napkin but ultimately rolled his eyes when Snowball licked his lips and refused to budge.

Weasley laughed and reached over to pinch a piece of ham off the serving platter before her. Her hand lowered under the table, and the hungry cat chirped as he rushed to her offering.

Draco levitated the bottle of wine he'd chosen to accompany their meal into the air, eyebrow arching in inquiry at Weasley.

She smiled and raised her glass in answer.

The wine poured itself, and then Draco cast another spell on the tableau of food, which prompted knives and forks and plates to come to life, serving Draco and Weasley in lieu of human hands.

Draco tried his very best to smother the warmth that filled his chest at Weasley's pleased smile. He then attempted to drown that warmth with food and drink, until he, Weasley, and Snowball all sat back with satisfied purrs, allowing their stomachs to rest before tackling the challenge of dessert.

Weasley lifted her—third—glass of wine to her lips, eyeing Draco over the rim as she took a sip.

The meal had been silent but companionable, no pressure to speak for the sake of conversation, no need to comment on the scrumptiousness of the food because it was, indeed, too scrumptious for words.

But now that the main course of the meal had concluded, Weasley opened her mouth, and Draco found that he didn't mind. Perhaps he had had two too many glasses of wine himself to mind.

"I think it's obvious why I've exiled myself this Christmas, but do you usually spend the holiday alone?"

Draco had stuffed himself with food and drink in an attempt to douse the flame that had lit inside his chest, but the alcohol had exacerbated the heat, fanning it into a tender flame that warmed his whole body, from ears to toes.

"No," he said, too full to tell her to mind her own business, too comfortable and drowsy to lie. "Do you usually wear dress robes to Christmas dinner?"

She covered her mouth to try to stifle her burst of laughter. "Absolutely not."

Her eyes sparkled, and maybe it was the alcohol that put color in her cheeks and a smile on her lips, but Draco appreciated them all the same, whatever had caused them.

"Meow," Snowball said, drawing Draco's attention away from the end of the table. He stood next to Draco's chair, paw extended to pat Draco's elbow in gentle entreaty.

"Poor baby," Weasley said with an exaggerated pout. "Do you think he had enough to eat between the two of us feeding him under the table?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "Apparently not."

He stood, ignoring Snowball's desperate pleas for food, and grabbed the second bottle of half-finished wine with one hand while withdrawing his wand from a pocket and summoning their coats with his other. He didn't have to ask Weasley to meet him at the door that led to the back deck of the cabin. She seemed in tune enough with him to realize his intentions, enough to grab both of their wine glasses from the table before heading outside.

Draco set the bottle down on a low table to help Weasley with her coat before donning his own, and he did his best not to let his fingers linger on her shoulders too long.

Once they were properly adorned, they took a seat on chairs around the table, the light from the inside of the cabin spilling outside through the glass wall and covering them like an immaterial blanket.

Snowball scratched at the glass, tail flicking in agitation to join them. Weasley laughed at the sight of him, and Draco made a new discovery—he didn't hate her laugh. It was warm and sincere and—dare he admit it?—infectious. His own smile was hard to contain upon hearing it.

Weasley refilled their glasses, clinking them together in a toast before drinking.

It was too cold to be sitting outside without a fire or at least a heating charm, but Draco liked it. He liked the feel of his body wracked with shivers, the utter awareness of his own limbs that plagued him. He loved the snow and the cold because it made him feel alive. Not too many years ago, Draco had woken up each day soaked in fear and dreading living. Now, he wanted to take every advantage to enjoy his life for as long as he was able.

Right now, he was miraculously enjoying Ginny Weasley's company.

"So what's the real story behind the dress robes?" Draco asked.

"If you must know," she replied, staring at her lap to avoid his gaze, "I had this grand idea of going to the resort's Christmas party and finding a bloke to make out with and forget all about Harry what's-his-name Potter."

"You literally just said his name."

She closed her eyes and exhaled through her nose. "I am literally not in the mood, Malfoy."

"Fine. Sore topic, I see."

"And what about you? Care to share what you're really doing all alone for Christmas?"

"I'm not alone, am I?" Draco asked.

He wished they had a little more light because her face was sure to be flushed even darker, and it was a shame for him not to be able to see it. But a smile curved her lips, reluctant and amused, so maybe he hadn't embarrassed her as much as he hoped.

"I hardly think Snowball is acceptable company for a holiday about being with your loved ones."

Ah, so either she'd mistaken his meaning or she'd chosen to ignore it.

"Is that what Christmas is about?" he asked, unable to hide the bitterness from his tone. "My parents seem to think Christmas is about selecting a wife."

"What?" Weasley's brow furrowed, and she fidgeted in her seat. Maybe she thought this holiday had been an elaborate scheme on Draco's part to win her over as his wife. As if.

"The war frightened them, my father especially. The thought that the Malfoy line could have ended just like that—" Draco clapped, the sound sharp against the quiet night. "They've been particularly aggressive this year on the marriage front."

"You don't want to be married?"

Draco shrugged. "I'm not opposed to marriage. As long as it's to the right person."

Weasley tilted her head and leaned back in her chair, making herself comfortable again. "How will you know you've found the right person?"

"I don't know, Weasley. I'm obviously no expert. I suppose I'll just know."

She smiled. "Like magic."

He didn't know how to verbalize to someone like her all the difficulties of finding a life partner he could trust. She'd grown up in a house full of people, with more siblings than Draco could count. But Draco had always been alone, had never had to share, had always been given privacy and space. He couldn't imagine parting with his comforts unless the person he chose to marry enhanced his solitude instead of intruding on it.

Her idea of love as magic was a fairytale. Draco knew it couldn't be like that, not for him, not with so many expectations heaped on his shoulders. Marry the right woman ("right" as in the right bloodline, the right family), carry on the family name with an heir (male, of course), preserve the Malfoy legacy by any means necessary (a legacy Draco no longer looked up to, a legacy dripping in blood and disgrace and fear).

She had the luxury of falling in love like magic. Draco could only stall until he found a woman he could tolerate within the parameters set for him.

For a moment, the wine and conversation had been enough to keep the cold at bay, but in the face of the stark reality of his future, the chill began to sweep back in, inching under Draco's skin along with sobriety.

"Come on," Weasley said, her whole body violently trembling now, too. "Let's go decorate the gingerbread biscuits and warm up."

Draco took that as code for we need more wine, and he did not disagree.

They stood and retreated back to the warmth of the cabin, scalding but welcome after the frigid outdoors. Snowball greeted them with an impatient yowl, twining around their legs in an effort to trip them and thus slowing them down enough to listen to his complaints. Before they could finish removing their coats, a knock sounded at the front door, making them pause and look at each other in confusion. Even Snowball quieted down, ears perky and alert.

Draco went to the door and tossed his coat on the coat rack, half-expecting the property manager to be standing on the threshold with an apology and a free cabin for Weasley to move into for the rest of her visit.

Disappointment at the thought surged through Draco for just a moment—until the identity of the man on the other side of the door registered and dread settled in instead.

"Harry?" Weasley said as she came up behind Draco.

Standing with his mouth agape, green eyes wide in alarm, lightning bolt scar half-hidden under unruly black hair—it was indeed Harry what's-his-name Potter.


Author's Note: Next chapter... the confrontation between Draco, Ginny, and Harry as seen through Snowball's eyes!

He couldn't imagine parting with his comforts unless the person he chose to marry enhanced his solitude instead of intruding on it.—This line was inspired by a tweet I saw on Tumblr, a link to which you can find in the end notes of this chapter on FIA and AO3. It resonated with me personally, and I thought Draco might feel the same. u_u

You guys, I just love cats so muuuuuch! ;o;