Platform Nine and Three-Quarters buzzed with nervous energy from new and old students alike, just like it always did when school started now that the war had ended. As the conductor yelled "All aboard," Ginny Weasley hugged her parents goodbye and rushed toward her friends, just like she always did. She said distracted hellos to familiar schoolmates and walked through the train to find an empty compartment with her friends, just like she always did.
Except that was where the familiarity ended and the differences began.
Ron and Harry, along with over half of the previous year's seventh-year and a portion of the sixth-year students, were not on the train. Many of them declined to return, having decided they had enough of Hogwarts. Some of them simply hadn't made it through the war. Their absence weighed the train down like lead. Even Charlotte, who was usually the most talkative and excitable in Ginny's group of friends, seemed unnaturally muted. When she spoke, the topics were superficial: the fun things they had done during the summer, the classes they had registered for the year, and the food that they thought would appear on the Great Hall's table.
Inevitably, however, even the most innocent declaration scratched the scars of war that were still raw.
Hermione, who had been largely silent during the trip, commented on the view from her seat at the window. "I wish I'd a camera on me," she lamented.
"If only Colin were still here," Ginny replied absentmindedly.
Instantly, she realized her mistake. Charlotte's face paled at the mention of Colin's name. The compartment fell silent, and no one quite knew what to do. Ginny found herself feeling an unexpected spark of anger. She wanted to scream at Charlotte that she didn't have the right to look so shaken when Colin was really only one of her many flings—especially when Charlotte hadn't lost anyone closer, like a brother, like Fred.
The chatter started again eventually, but Ginny no longer trusted herself to participate. Her mind was too dark and stormy. The cheerfulness of the conversation suddenly felt offensive and took on a suffocating atmosphere. Needing to be alone, she excused herself to look for an empty compartment.
She peeked through the small window at each door, but every compartment was filled with students. She found herself almost out of hope as she reached the last compartment of the train. Yet having walked so far, she thought she might as well check.
The compartment looked shockingly, miraculously empty. Exhausted and relieved, Ginny pushed the door open and was in the process of throwing herself onto the bench, when someone grabbed her arm from the right. Her battle reflexes kicked in and she spun around with her wand ready. She instantly recognized her assailant.
"What the—let me go, Malfoy."
Malfoy blinked and immediately released her. "Sorry, I thought—" he paused, shook his head, and collected himself. "I was sleeping. You surprised me."
Ginny noted the blanket on the ground, the bags under his eyes, and the confusion on his face, and deduced he probably wasn't lying. She lowered her wand slowly as the adrenaline she had felt moments before gradually died down.
"I couldn't see you from the door," she explained lamely. She turned toward the door again before Malfoy could respond, having decided it was best to retreat before Malfoy could say anything insulting.
"You're welcome to stay, if you're just looking for a quiet place to sit."
His offer was so surprising, Ginny looked back to confirm if he was serious. Then, she eyed the compartment suspiciously, just in case there was a trap.
"Nothing's wrong with this compartment, Weasley," Malfoy assured, his lips tilting into a weak smirk. "If there is, I wouldn't be sleeping here." And as if to demonstrate his intentions, he pulled the blanket off the floor and over himself again.
He had a point, and she probably would have taken the offer if the other person in the compartment was someone else, but this was Draco Malfoy. Even if Harry was willing to vouch for his defection from Voldemort's side, being near Malfoy still made her skin crawl in the most unpleasant way. The idea of sitting in the same compartment as him seemed unthinkable, repulsive even.
"Thanks, but no thanks."
For a fleeting moment, one so quick Ginny wondered if she imagined it, Malfoy looked dejected and a little resigned. Then his face resumed its usual nonchalance, and he shrugged.
The lawyers escorted Draco out of Hogwarts to meet with his father. It was the night before the beginning of his father's war crimes trial. Draco hadn't seen Lucius since returning to school, and he was surprised at how haggard the older man looked. Draco wanted to say something, but what? You will be fine? I will take care of mother? I love you? He imagined standing up and hugging his father as well, but the things other people might say or do in his situation never seemed to quite fit his relationship with his father. Instead, he settled for greeting Lucius with an impassive nod.
His father nodded back and after a question about his mother (his father had always cared deeply for—and perhaps loved—her, despite what outsiders may have thought), Lucius went straight into the order of business. The details of the accounts that must be passed on, the location of the keys for all of his security boxes must be disclosed, and the fact he had added his son to all of his accounts must be revealed.
"There may not be a way to escape a jail sentence after our … indiscretions," Lucius explained when Draco asked why. "Mr. Whitestone is optimistic he could get my sentencing under ten years."
His father never voiced the worst-case scenario because there was no need. They were both thinking about it.
At the end of the meeting, his father filled two tumblers with scotch and handed one to Draco. There was no hugging, no tears, and no sentimental fatherly speech. There was simply a toast.
Raising a glass, Lucius said to his son with a wry, ironic smile, "To the future."
Grief followed Ginny around like an insistent stalker that she couldn't quite shake away. The hallways of Hogwarts were full of reminders of her dead brother, and she had nowhere to hide. For her, the manifestation of this grief came in the form of dreams, usually too vague to be remembered clearly, but which were of Fred nevertheless. When she woke, sometimes with tears in her eyes, sometimes with a silent scream on her lips, she felt his absence so strongly it would turn into anger. Anger because the world had taken Fred away from her, and anger because so many Death Eaters lived to see the end of the war when Fred could not. It made her unkind and unforgiving; it made her a lousy version of herself.
The morning after a particularly harsh nightmare, one that made her heart wrench, she was very late for her N.E.W.T. level Transfiguration class. When she finally arrived at the classroom, she found that the only available seat was next to a Slytherin, whom on closer inspection, turned out to be none other than Draco Malfoy. Ginny cursed her rotten luck, glared at the offensive empty spot for a full minute, and only begrudgingly sat down when McGonagall threatened to deduct house points. Malfoy barely looked up through all of this. His only movement of acknowledgement was a subtle shift away to the right when she put down her bag, as if to give her more space.
Ginny was determined to put Malfoy out of her mind. She focused on McGonagall's lecture, but Transfiguration had never been her favorite subject, and half of what was said refused to sink into her mind. She frantically took as many notes as possible in the hope that by transcribing what sounded like gibberish to her now, she would later be able to translate her notes into something understandable later.
It didn't work.
When McGonagall told the class to practice changing their eyes to different colors, and then to try the same spell on the person next to them, Ginny could only change the color of her eyes a single shade lighter. She repeated the spell again and again as her frustration grew, until finally the spell stopped doing anything at all.
There was a sigh next to her. "Do you need help?"
"Who needs your help?" she replied sharply.
Her irritation only grew when she noticed his normally silver eyes had already changed into Slytherin green.
Annoyingly, Malfoy ignored her. "Your wand stroke is off," he told her mildly, and waved his wand in front of him as a demonstration.
She knew he was probably right, but not liking that she was being corrected by Malfoy, she intentionally resisted imitating the wand stroke he had shown her. As one would expect, the spell failed and nothing happened.
He frowned. "No, you are doing the same thing again," he said, pausing to consider for a moment, and made a move to grab her hand.
Startled, she pulled her hand back. "What are you doing, Malfoy?"
"What am I doing?" Malfoy asked, having the tenacity to look exasperated. "I'm just trying to get us onto the second part of the exercise, but you aren't even trying."
"If I'm not trying, then it's because I can't focus when you are allowed to freely use your wand next to me."
Malfoy glanced at his wand and seemed genuinely taken aback. His eyes widened fractionally as he reached a realization. "You thought I was going to—I would never—" He swallowed hard, jaw clenching. "I was only trying to help."
"I don't need it," she snapped. The ghost of her nightmares cheered her on as angry words flowed from her mouth like a landslide. " I don't care that the Ministry acquitted your crimes. Just because they couldn't get anything out of you under Veritaserum doesn't mean you are actually innocent. You are just a rich kid living off your daddy's stolen money and a sordid lot of shady family connections. You're nothing but a shadow of your father. You're nothing but a Death Eater!"
He flinched like he had been slapped and he looked away, visibly shaken. Ginny noticed his right hand unconsciously went up to his left arm where the mark must be. Good, he deserved this. Yet, every moment passed made her less certain she was in the right. When she thought back to everything that Harry and Hermione had told her, she knew she had crossed a line.
Remorse gnawed at her insistently. "I'm sorry," she said weakly at last, but the damage was done.
Malfoy was on his feet. "I'll let McGonagall know you want to change partners."
Before she could react, he was gone.
Most of the pranks were minor inconveniences, like having food and drinks spilled on him during dinner (Draco discovered a cleaning spell that took even pumpkin juice stains out of silk shirts); or having his clothes disappear after a shower (he began to quickly improve in conjuration); or being locked in a room without a wand (he had perfected wandless door unlocking within the first week of the school year). Other times it was more dangerous, like having Bludgers batted toward him by both the opposing team and his own; or a flower pot dropped from the second floor while he was walking below; or jinxes and hexes sent his way "accidentally". There were a few close calls, but his war-trained reflexes and constant vigilance, paired with the fact that the last two years had forced him to perfect his shield charms and wards, meant he walked away mostly unscathed.
Still, the school (and the pranks, by extension) provided him with some much-needed distraction from the constant gloom that had taken over the Malfoy household. The looming war trials and the general outlook of his future set a long shadow, but, given that his sixth and seventh years at Hogwarts consisted entirely of worrying about his family's lives and trying to avoid certain death at the hands of a sociopathic monster, this "eighth" year could only be considered an improvement, all things taken into account.
On a particularly cold day a week before the winter break, after gathering ingredients from the ingredient cabinet to complete an Alchemy assignment, Draco was on his way out of the dungeon when a couple of sixth year Slytherins knocked everything out of his hands. Draco watched as they laughed and continued on their merry way. His fist clenched, but he stayed still, willing the dangerous tendrils of anger to subside. He resisted the temptation to respond, his reflex to retaliate, because nothing good could come out of either. The last thing his family needed was more bad press. In any case, he reminded himself, he deserved this. As the saying went: you sow what you reap.
He sighed and, as he surveyed the damage, someone bent down behind him and helped him pick up his potion bag.
"Thanks," he said as he turned, surprised at the act of kindness. When he saw exactly who helped him, his eyes widened. "Weasley."
"They did that on purpose, didn't they?" Weasley asked, her large, righteous eyes looking at the scattered ingredients.
He shrugged, too proud to admit to being bullied, and too proud to take the blame himself. She looked at him as she came to her own conclusion; her head tilted and an expression of pity spread across her easy-to-read face. A Weasley pitying a Malfoy, he realized wryly. Oh, how the times had changed.
"You don't need to help," he said firmly when he saw her bending down again, this time to pick up bottles of salamander blood and black beetle eyes. "I can clean up myself."
She ignored him, picked up the bottles, and threw them into the potion bag anyway. "I am not helping you because I think you are incapable. I am helping you because I am a decent human being."
The girl was too much of a Gryffindor for her own good. Still, he didn't want her pity. More than anything, he didn't want to be (however slightly) indebted to her. Not after whatever his father hinted he had done to her in her first year, not after all the danger Draco had put her beloved golden trio through, and definitely not after his indirect role in the death of her brother. He remembered the disgust on her face on the Hogwarts Express and the way she had jumped away in Transfiguration class when she thought he was going to attack her. Suddenly, he felt the familiar warmth of magic gathering at the tip of his fingers.
Draco glared at the mess around him, and the rest of the strewn ingredients suddenly levitated off the ground and violently flew into his potion bag. "You shouldn't help me!" he exclaimed, his voice more strained than he liked. "You shouldn't—"
He paused when his eyes landed on Weasley. He recognized the alarm in her posture and the energy he felt a moment ago drained out of him. He had scared her, again.
"I've got to go," he muttered, looking down at his now-full potion bag, and ran.
When Harry was not busy catching the Death Eaters who got away, he would visit her. She was always happy when she saw him. He was like a beam of sunlight in her otherwise rather monotonous world, and she loved him even more for his visits. When Harry promised to visit her that weekend so they could visit Hogsmeade together, she was so excited she couldn't sleep for days. It was their first real date in weeks, and the first weekend that Hogsmeade would be open since the war after months of rebuilding. It was the only thing she wanted to talk about with Hermione, much to her friend's annoyance.
Ginny literally skipped out of the last class of her week and, in her euphoria, she didn't notice until it was too late that she was about to run into someone. She apologized profusely as she picked herself up after the collision, only to realize whom she had bumped into.
"Harry!" she cried excitedly as she flung herself onto him.
"Ginny, you need to be more careful," Harry said, returning the hug and letting her kiss him.
"Sorry! I was just too excited about this weekend." She beamed and held onto his hand like her life depended on it. Her heart was pounding, she was so happy. She started to babble. "I can't believe you're here early! Are you planning to stay until Sunday? Maybe we can go out for dinner tonight, or perhaps we can go see a Muggle movie, or perhaps—"
"I can't, Ginny."
She finally looked up to see Harry's solemn expression, and her heart sank.
"You won't be going to Hogsmeade tomorrow," she said quietly to confirm, even though she already knew the answer.
Harry shook his head, guilt oozing out of his being like sweat on a hot day. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "We finally got a good lead on Goyle Sr., and we need to act now or he will be gone again. There's nothing I wanted more than to go on a date with you, but I…"
She mustered as strong of a smile as she could to hide her disappointment and willed her tears to stay in her eyes. "I understand," she said quietly. However selfishly she wished to be with him, she knew she shouldn't stand in the way of his important work. "When will you be back again?"
"Hopefully in a week, maybe longer. But I will drop by first thing when I get back. I promise."
Be understanding, she repeated in her mind like a mantra. She heard herself say, her voice disconnectedly cheery, "I will see you then. Stay safe, Harry."
Harry stepped forward, kissed her, and wrapped his arms around her tightly. "Thanks for understanding."
The problem with abandoning The Dark Lord's cause at the last minute was that, at the end of it, you are no one's friend. The winners cannot trust you because they view you as an opportunist with loose morals, and the losers, well, they despise you because you gave their names to the authorities to save your own skin. Draco liked to think the last two years had made him accustomed to not turning to anyone for help. He liked to think loneliness did not affect him, that he was above it all.
For the most part, it was true: he was perfectly content to spend his free time deciphering one of the ancient Alchemic scrolls in the library, searching for the panacea that he was convinced could remove the cursed mark on his arm, or reading one of the old books he managed to pack away before the Ministry seized Malfoy Manor. But every so often, especially when he caught glimpses of a group of friends laughing at a private joke or chatting animatedly about nothing in particular, he felt an ache in his heart that made him long for companionship. Inevitably, his mind would drift to whom he used to call friends: Theodore and Blaise (neither of whom had returned to Hogwarts), Pansy (who had called him pathetic in their last meeting), Gregory (who wouldn't talk to him anymore), and Vincent (who died because Draco couldn't save him). His heart would sink, and the yearning for friendly interactions would grow until in desperation he would find himself in Moaning Myrtle's Bathroom.
Pathetic, yes, but being able to confide in a ghost was better than being able to confide in no one at all.
Looking down from the top of the rebuilt Astronomy Tower, he watched the stream of students leaving Hogwarts for the reopening of Hogsmeade, and he felt that familiar tightening in his chest. For a moment, he imagined walking along with them, enjoying the food stalls in the village, soaking in the festivity of the grand opening, but the vision quickly morphed into one of being kicked out of stores by angry shop owners who had lost family to Voldemort; of himself stalking awkwardly in the corner alone while drinking Firewhisky at the Three Broomsticks. Suddenly, any desire he had to go to Hogsmeade dissipated into thin air.
He found himself tempted to visit the first-floor girls' lavatory again, but he shook his head. No. He had only visited the ghost two days ago. Myrtle was best in small dosages. Instead, he forced himself to to the library, the one place where being alone felt natural and bearable.
He headed straight to his favorite chair, the one just behind the window, farthest from the librarian, and closest to the Alchemy scrolls he had been studying. He had just plopped down his bag when he first heard the sniffle. Another followed, then another, and it was apparent to him that some girl was weeping in the Alchemy section a couple shelves from him, probably due to a broken heart or some equally silly reason. Draco cursed his luck, of all the places the girl could choose to cry at, it had to be exactly where his scrolls were. He tried to wait out the crying to avoid an awkward encounter. But when the crying only got louder and more insistent ten minutes later, he realized he may not have a choice.
Draco froze when he noticed a head of red hair as he turned into the Alchemy aisle. Weasley. He almost succumbed to his urge to flee, to avoid her, as he had done in the past two months ever since that day at the dungeon stairway. Yet, the sound of her sobs held him. Something akin to sympathy stirred within him, and he found himself searching for the packet of tissues in his robes.
He approached her cautiously and pushed a tissue into her shaking hands. "Here," he offered, and because he couldn't be seen as too generous and caring, he also added, "Moisture is bad for the scrolls around you, you know."
She glanced at him from the corner of her swollen red eyes wearily. "Leave me alone, Malfoy," she said, but she took the offered tissue anyway. "I really don't want to deal with you right now."
"Don't worry, Weasley, I will be out of your hair the moment I find the scrolls I've been researching. They're somewhere behind you." He nodded at the scroll drawers.
She frowned but stepped aside silently so he could pass, and as he pulled open one of the scroll drawers, he could hear her blow her nose behind him. He didn't understand why Ginny Weasley would be crying. Didn't her side win the war? Wasn't she surrounded by friends and family? Wasn't she the envy of all the Wizarding World because she was dating the Chosen One? And speaking of whom, why wasn't she at Hogsmeade with Potter? Draco felt sure he overheard her gushing about her upcoming date on his way to Advanced Potion class the other day … and though a part of him told him to mind his own business, the question bubbled out of his mouth.
The only response was a sniffle, so he tried again. "Why aren't you at Hogsmeade with your friends?"
"Why aren't you there yourself?" she deflected quietly, not answering his question.
"I don't think my presence would be appreciated there," he told her in an even voice and waited expectantly.
"I didn't feel like it," she said eventually, between sniffles. "Harry … it hurts too much to go without Harry."
The tissue in Weasley's hand was so wet, it was starting to disintegrate as she dabbed her eyes.
"He'll make up for it next time," Draco said, trying to console her. "I'm sure he has good reasons for missing your date." He vaguely registered that he was defending Potter, but somehow this felt like the right thing to say. And it probably was, judging by how Weasley nodded and slowly calmed down.
He finished his search in silence. A minute later, with two scrolls under his arm, he handed Weasley the whole tissue packet as he passed her.
"Keep it," he said.
She frowned. "Why are you being half decent?"
Draco shrugged. "Like I said, moisture is bad for the scrolls."
She spent an increasing amount of time flying. When something reminded her of Fred, or when she found herself missing Harry, Quidditch was her choice of escape. For the most part, the arrangement suited her well: the adrenaline from the speed and the feeling of the wind in her hair always made her feel better. Additionally, there was no time to grieve when a Bludger was only two feet behind her.
She had never considered the possibility of becoming a professional Quidditch player. Sure, she had dreamed of it when she was young, but she had never taken the idea seriously. She was definitely above average on the school team, but to go professional? That was an entirely different matter. The possibility only dawned on her one day in February, after a particularly exciting game, when Angelina introduced her to the Holyhead Harpies' scout. The scout invited her to spring training. Ginny went (because who could pass up such an opportunity), thinking it would be fun, but the next thing she knew it was mid-April and she had signed a two year contract with the Holyhead Harpies as their Chaser.
She wasn't sure about celebrating her contract; it was so close to the anniversary of Fred's death. However, her brothers' heartfelt congratulations and their enthusiasm to throw her a party took her by force, and she complied.
The next Sunday, her mum gathered her ever-growing family at the Burrow and cooked one of her infamous feasts in celebration. Ginny's brothers and Harry talked about the Harpies like they were long time loyal fans throughout dinner, much to her amusement. Then, after dinner, she found herself flying with Harry and her family in the backyard, playing an impromptu Quidditch game like they used to before the war. When George cracked a smile after he teamed up with her to bat a Bludger toward Ron (who was gloating far too much after his last goal), Ginny allowed herself to finally, wholeheartedly enjoy the moment.
And as she walked home holding Harry's hand that night, she couldn't help but think that maybe, just maybe, this was the beginning of the healing.
The Great Hall was packed. Laughter, fireworks, and drunken people were everywhere—exactly as one would expect a year after the Second Wizarding War. Draco instantly regretted coming down to the Great Hall in search for food. The sickening happiness was so offensive, he resolved to skip dinner altogether and retreated to his dorm where he cast a quietening charm to block out the festivity.
He dreamed of Snape that night, of an alternative event in which he took Snape's offer of help without resistance; where he never got the Dark Mark, where the Second War never happened, and Snape never died. His heart sank as the fog of dreams dissipated and reality set in. Guilt hit him in waves, consumed him until he could not breathe, could not do anything except sneak out of the school grounds and Apparate at the graveyard where he knew Snape was buried after the war. He ran, frantically searching for Snape's grave, and when he finally found it, he threw himself in front of it.
Breathing heavily, he wiped a strayed leaf off the gravestone to reveal the inscription that plainly read:
May 2nd 1998
Now that it was too late, Draco could see so clearly what he had missed before: how good of a friend Severus Snape had always been to his family and to him.
"This is all my fault," he cried to the billowing wind.
Regret poured out of his being like blood from a wound that would never close.
"If I had listened to you back then, if I had taken your help, if I had trusted you more, things could have turned out differently." His eyes watered without his permission. "I'm sorry, Snape. I'm so sorry."
But the apologies gave him no reprieve. Severus Snape was dead. The man had been dead for twelve months. No amount of apologies could ever bring him back, and no amount of black magic could change the past. Draco sucked in a tortured breath as he stood up and collected himself. Then, he retraced his steps, hoping to reach Hogwarts before anyone would take note of his absence. He had just reached the Apparition point when there was a crack, and suddenly Ginny Weasley was in front of him.
"You shouldn't be here," she said flatly, once she had recovered from shock.
"Neither should you," Draco retorted out of self-preservation.
He hoped his voice did not sound too hoarse as he hastily wiped the remnants of tears from his eyes. He prayed that it was too dark for Weasley to see he had been crying, but when he looked up and saw the same pitying expression on her face as at their last encounter, he knew she most likely had.
He bit his lip, feeling distinctly that this was the universe's way of punishing him. "You must be laughing inside," he said, glaring. If he didn't, the tears might start again.
She frowned. "Why would I be?"
"You righteous lot always enjoy watching someone like me fall," he suggested darkly.
He expected her to protest, and for a moment it looked like she would, but she didn't. When she finally spoke again, she said simply: "I wasn't laughing at you tonight."
"Oh, no insincere words of denial? Does that mean you were laughing some other nights?" He used sarcasm as a sword because he was so trapped—not necessarily because of her, but because of life in general. "You people always have a funny way of admitting things."
"Oh, that's rich coming from you," she snapped, her face changing a shade as she spoke. "Have you ever taken responsibility for all of your cock-ups?"
At her accusation, his demons resurfaced in his mind with crystal clarity. He could almost hear the crying and screaming around him, smell death in the smoke-filled air. He knew, by making it possible for Death Eaters to enter the school ground, he was responsible for all of it.
"I'm well aware I fucked up," he told her, feeling that phantom burn on his left arm as he spoke, feeling his frustration and helplessness bubble up to the surface all over again. "I'm sorry, alright? I'm sorry for so many things!"
Weasley rolled her eyes. "You're not being sincere."
Her plain rejection stung like the worst venom. Draco combed his hair with his fingers in raw anguish. "Merlin," he swore as he gave in and succumbed to whatever dark and unhappy thoughts he had kept at bay for the past year. "Sometimes I wish you people would just gather all of us who are not-guilty-enough-to-be-imprisoned, but-guilty-enough-to-never-be-trusted-again in a room, and kill us all to get it over with."
Without waiting for her reaction, he Disapparated away.
The train ride back home on the Hogwarts Express was surprisingly quiet. Half an hour after the train pulled out of the Hogsmeade Station, Hermione was sound asleep after pulling multiple all-nighters while studying for N.E.W.T.s. Luna was off in search of Fluffles (or whatever nonsensical creature she had mentioned), and Ginny was left in the compartment on her own with only Hermione's copy of the Daily Prophet for company. Ginny powered through the sports section of the paper first, absorbing all the latest stats and news on the Harpies before skimming the news section. There was a lot of boring political news, a lot of non-news about Harry, but in the section dedicated to the war trial, something caught her attention.
"Lucius Malfoy's Sentencing Next Week," read the headline, accompanied by a picture of Lucius Malfoy standing in the middle of the Wizengamot. She took a second look, and her eyes instantly focused on the crowd in the background. Without even realizing what she was searching for, she found Draco Malfoy next to a woman she could only assume was his mother.
A year ago, the two first things Ginny would have thought of after seeing Lucius Malfoy in a headline was Tom's diary and the fiasco in the Chamber of Secrets. Now, strangely, her thoughts went entirely to his son and their odd encounters.
Their last meeting, specifically the dark and gloomy words he departed with, left such a foul taste in her mouth that she had secretly looked about the school for him. She had hoped to catch him alone so she could speak with him one last time. She wanted to part on a more reconciliatory note, perhaps selfishly to clear her conscience, but Malfoy turned out to be elusive. The few times she did see him, he disappeared before she could draw up enough courage to approach and then, three weeks ago, he left school all together.
Ginny wondered if their paths would cross again, but even if they did, she doubted it would be appropriate to dig up skeletons from the past. Some things could never be amended. She sighed. Sometimes, there was simply nothing to be done.
With a quiet sigh, she banished Malfoy out of her mind and went on with the rest of her life.
After his father's sentencing devolved into chaos, Draco held his mother's arm as they stepped out of the courtroom into the hot summer heat. On their left was a mob of protesters, angry at the judge's lenient sentence of fifteen years and financial retribution. On their right was a swarm of reporters with their flashing cameras, hungry for statements and any words that they could twist into a sensational headline in tomorrow's paper. He pushed his mother along toward the Apparition point, and his lawyers shielded them as much as they could from the torrent of questions unleashed by the media's vultures.
The Wizengamot ward prevented non-authorized personnel from using weapons or magic and the security personnel kept the crowd back, but neither measures stopped the more creative protesters from throwing food and shoes. In the act of catching a shoe and a tomato that were meant for his mother, Draco was hit by an egg in the face. A few of the reporters saw what had happened and rushed in to take photos as he wiped the egg white out of his eyes. In the commotion, a protester somehow got close enough to grab his arm.
"Murderer!" the man screamed, and was about to swing a punch, but the guards caught up with him before he could. "Rot in hell, Malfoy!" the man spat as they restrained him. "You all deserve to rot in hell!"
And just when Draco thought his day couldn't become any worse, his mother swayed next to him.
"Mother?" he yelled, throwing himself forward just in time to catch her before she fell to the ground, unresponsive. "Mother!"
He looked around frantically as the cameras flashed all around him, but he could scarcely notice any of it. "Medic!" he cried when the lawyers finally came into hearing range. "I need a Medic!"
The Ginny did a fake out and zoomed past the keeper. She let go of the quaffle at the last moment and watched with satisfaction as it passed through the center goal hoop. Just as she hoped, Caleb Gones had the Snitch in her hand a moment later, bringing them just 10 points ahead of Wigtown Wanderers's 240. The stadium exploded as the whistle blew, and Ginny was so excited, so overwhelmed, she did a triple loop in the sky. When she landed, she was nearly tackled onto the ground by her ecstatic teammates. Next, the reporters rushed in and Ginny was urged by Joanna Gwenen, her team captain, to participate in an interview.
"That was bloody brilliant, Ginny!" Joanna said, slapping her back when they were finally rid of the reporters. "Making that last minute goal just so Caleb can take advantage of the snitch sighting on your first game; I'm so glad you're on the team."
Ginny blushed and muttered a shy thank you. Joanna laughed at her modesty.
"By the way," Joanna said, "I think someone's looking for you." She nodded with a wink toward somewhere behind her.
Ginny turned and found Harry waiting at the edge of the pitch with a heart stopping smile. She gasped and dashed toward him.
"Harry! Why are you here? Aren't you supposed to be at that security conference in Germany?"
"I took off early. It's your first game. I wouldn't miss it for the world." He pulled her into a hug. "You were so amazing today!"
Ginny laughed as she melted into his arms. "It's probably a good thing you didn't tell me you were coming. I'm sure I would've been looking out for you instead of looking out for bludgers."
"It's a good thing I'm good at surprises then," he told her with a sly grin, and leaned in to claim her lips.
Ginny felt the reporters that had gathered around them fade into the background and all was well.
In the new world that had risen out of the ashes of war, the Malfoy family's only allies (if you could call such beings allies) were the goblins at Gringotts. They had, through some clever manipulation of accounts behind the scenes, secured enough of the Malfoy's legacy from the Ministry's seizure to keep the Malfoy family financially afloat for the time being, despite his father's costly retribution payments and his mother's expensive private medical bills.
"We have always believed our most valuable clients are better investors than the Ministry," the head goblin told him slyly, when Draco thanked him for his support. "In safeguarding your interest, we are safeguarding our own."
"I will not waste any more of our time with pleasantry. I came here to request—" Draco almost couldn't complete the distasteful sentence at first, but he knew he must to safeguard his family from bankruptcy in the long run. He swallowed hard. "A loan."
"Straight to business as always, young Malfoy." The goblin gleefully clasped his wrinkled hands together, not at all surprised at the request. "Anything is possible, of course, under the right conditions."
"I am listening," Draco replied, knowing favors never came from nothing.
"As you are well aware, the Wizarding British economy has taken a significant hit after the last two wars. Rebuilding the economic cornerstones will take years, if not decades. A lot of our private clients, such as yourself, are looking for other options."
There the goblin paused and shot Draco a meaningful look.
Draco quickly understood the options the goblin was alluding to: Draco had, after all, come to the same conclusion himself a few months prior, but that was his own business and no one else's. "I do not know what that has to do with me," he said coolly. "The Malfoy family—"
"Had been very well integrated into the Muggle upper-class society prior to the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy of 1692," the goblin interrupted. His thin lips tilted into a knowing smirk. "And since then, although the Malfoy family had always publicly denied any connection to the Muggle world, private tutors were hired in secret to educate their heirs on Muggle investments. And you, Mr. Malfoy, have been dabbling ever since you became responsible for making your father's retribution payments." After admitting to knowing Draco's biggest secret, the goblin thought it prudent to add, "Discretion is always a pillar at Gringotts. I can assure you that any records we keep are to protect our mutual interests and will never be released to a third party."
"Even if that is true." Draco knew better than to easily admit anything. "Even if I had diverted our portfolio to the Muggle world, as you are suggesting—" he sighed, thinking back to the plots and charts he had begun to construct behind closed doors out of desperation in the face of so much rejection. "—the Muggles' market may not be a long-term solution; there is a bubble that will be bursting in the near future."
"But in the meantime there is money to be made," the goblin deduced. Without waiting for Draco's confirmation, a grin appeared on his ancient face as he continued. "Mr. Malfoy, this sort of astute market observation is a marketable skill that we are willing to pay for—to take risks for." He lazily waved his hand in a clockwise semi-circle, and a thick legal document appeared out of thin air in front of Draco. "Join our Muggle Investment Division as a finance advisor to our premium clients and we shall give you your loan. We will make your time worthwhile. The details are all in the document, but in addition to the loan, you will be compensated a flat 1.5% commission for all investments you handle—renegotiable after twelve months."
Draco stared blankly at the stack of paper in front of him. "I didn't realize you joke," he said at length, when his brain could finally wrap around such a preposterous preposition, "but no one will want their money tainted by association with a Malfoy."
"Not in public, perhaps, but with the right spells and paperwork, we are confident we can keep your involvement a secret to all, excluding those who are directly involved." The goblin gave a knowing smirk. "There is no contention that Malfoys are shrewd investors, and some of our more open-minded clients care more for the results than the means."
Draco did not need to be told to know the open-minded clients were likely his family's former associates and their families. Slytherins had always been the home of self-serving hypocrites who followed the money. In fact, he was sure many of them would actually prefer to have him invest their money out of spite. To them, having him lower himself to work for a living, to work for them (and in the Muggle world, no less), when his ancestors had not worked for ten generations, would be the greatest revenge.
There was a note of resignation when Draco spoke again. "I will let my lawyer review the document," he said, but they both knew this was simple formality; they both knew Draco was in no position to reject the offer when this might be his one and only chance to rebuild the Malfoy fortune, one galleon at a time.
Let the snide comments come. Let them try what they may to humiliate me, Draco thought as he stared grimly at the contract in his hand. I will get used to it.
He had no other choice.
A/N: This is an expanded version of a novella length story I wrote for Haz in the DG Forum Summer Exchange 2017. The original prompt can be found below. I understand how far fetch a Draco and Ginny pairing is, but I like the challenge of bringing two unlikely characters together in a more-or-less realistic manner, post-Hogwarts and books compliant outside of the epilogue / Cursed Child. The rest of the story will be set in 2008 (and beyond?) to give the characters time to mature (and because I am fed up with how JK Rowling made everyone marry and have children very young).
Basic premise: For the first time in several generations, Draco Malfoy has to work for a living - it was just too bad that Draco Malfoy never realized tarnishing the family's reputation involved wearing a tie.
Must haves: Draco struggling to hold a job and a valid reason for him needing to work. Ginny can fit into the story however you like by being a recruiter, a coworker or a boss but she has to help him succeed and be appropriately motivated to do so.
No-no's: Ginny simply rolling over in order to help Draco out. Weak or unmotivated main characters.