Dark Directed: Epilogue

The next day was an even better treat for Ginny. Mum finally relented and let her relocate from her bed to the couch in the drawing room. She wasn't allowed to do anything strenuous, but the change of scenery was heartening. Late in the afternoon Bill sidled into the room and dropped several folded-up pieces of parchment on her lap with a wink.

"Don't tell Mum," he mouthed at her, and ambled back into the kitchen. Unfolded, the parchments turned out to be replies from Zoë and Colin. Zo's was full of tales of her summer and her plans for applying to the Ministry for job training. Colin's was more light-hearted as he detailed his first days at the Daily Prophet--they'd hired him as a junior reporter, and from the sounds of things he was having the time of his life.

Ginny could tell that there were things her friends were carefully not saying, in the way they'd written around mention of anything related to the war or her brothers or--in Zo's case--Draco. She stomped down hard on the bitter streak of frustration and folded the letters up to tuck them into her book so Mum wouldn't see. She was happy to hear from them at all; letters were a much welcomed respite from novels or Quidditch magazines.

She could barely sleep that night from excitement; Draco should have got her letter this afternoon, and with any luck he'd write her back tonight. She pushed all thought of doubt out of her mind; he would write to her.

Just after midnight, a tawny owl settled on her open windowsill, with a letter secured to its leg. Ginny grinned and pulled the letter off, giving the bird a few owl treats in payment. She paid no attention as the owl flew away, her full attention on the letter. She nearly ripped the paper in her eagerness to unfold it.

Dear Ginny,

I am pleased to hear from you, and to hear that you are doing better. From your letter, it seems you think your illness wasn't serious, but it was. And still is, as far as I'm aware. Professor Dumbledore told me they were worried you might die directly after the battle; they whisked you out of Hogwarts straightaway and didn't tell anyone where they'd taken you for the longest time. I'm sure you're fine now, but it was a near thing. I suppose it's for the best that you're not allowed to see anyone--I expect they want you to get better before you do. But I am glad you could write to me. I don't get much news here, so I'm pleased to hear from you.

The school is still over-run with Aurors and they seem to be using the Hospital wing as some sort of extension of St. Mungo's, so there are a lot of wounded people about. They seem to be thinning out as time goes on, so I'm sure it will be back to normal soon. Professor McGonagall isn't very happy about it, I understand. I think she misses having her summers free of responsibility for other people.

Your brother is fine, to the best of my knowledge. He and Potter are still here, and although they were both injured in the battle and spent some time in the Hospital wing, they are well enough now to play Quidditch and eat in the Great Hall. Whatever has happened to them, it wasn't permanent. I haven't seen any of your other brothers, although gossip says that Percy Weasley is at the Ministry in London, so he must be all right. I can't imagine they'd let him work if he wasn't. Certainly Potter, Granger and your brother aren't doing anything constructive.

I am well. Like you, I haven't been doing anything exciting. I keep the Hospital wing stocked with potions and that's about it. I have been offered the position of Potions Master at Hogwarts next year, and since I cannot think of any pressing reason not to, I have accepted. It should be exactly as much fun as it sounds. NEWTs were canceled, as you said, but no one seemed to mind. I suppose they feel that it's only fair, since the school was attacked.

Please write again if you're able to. It's been difficult hearing second-hand news. I hope when you're well enough you'll be able to visit me. Or I could travel to you, since I've been given the freedom to leave Hogwarts if I wish.

Love,
Draco

Ginny's cheeks were starting to ache from smiling so hard; she read through the letter twice more before she doused the light. Mum came by to check on her at night, she knew, and she definitely didn't want to get caught. She hid the letter between the mattress and headboard on her bed. It wasn't the most secure hiding spot, but it was certainly better than leaving it out where anyone might find it.

She was hard-pressed to hide her giddiness from Mum and Bill the next day, and sneaking down to send another letter that night was too easy. She used Bill's owl, Antaios this time, sending him off with strict instructions to be back before dawn, so Bill wouldn't notice he'd gone.

Draco wrote her back again the next night, and from there they developed a pattern of writing every day. His letters were like a delightful secret, something that was just hers, that didn't need to be shared with anyone else. There were some things Draco couldn't tell her--he hadn't heard anything about Charlie, for instance--but he could and did share what he knew about the end of the war, about Ron and Harry and Hermione, and a little more about the state of the world outside her house. Even the crumbs of information he could give her helped, easing the frustration that built with every dismissal she got from Bill and Mum when she tried to ask questions.

She and Bill were spending another afternoon playing Exploding Snap on the couch while Mum cleaned house. "We should probably clean up," Bill said after the umpteenth game. "It's almost dinner time, and I can't hear Mum any more. She must be finished with her tidying by now."

Ginny nodded and scooped up the cards spread over the table in front of the sofa, shoving them back in their box and gathering up her pillow. Bill followed her up the stairs, his arms full of books and blankets. She stopped short at her bedroom door, nearly causing Bill to stumble over her. Mum was standing beside her bed, holding a fistful of parchments. Even from across the room, the handwriting was unmistakable.

She'd found Draco's letters.

"What," Mum asked, trying to keep her voice level, "are these?"

Ginny exchanged a horrified glance with Bill, who had gone pale under his freckles. She only hoped that he couldn't tell that the letters in question weren't the ones he'd vetted for her.

"Well?"

"They're letters," Ginny said. "From Colin and Zoë. Bill brought me writing supplies so I could write to them."

Instead of being deflected, Mum seemed to grow even more infuriated. "Oh, indeed?" she snapped. "Well, if they're from your friends, missy, then why do all of these seem to be from someone named Draco?"

Bill made a strangled noise, and Ginny felt herself flush. "He's a friend too."

"If he is, why haven't I ever heard you talk about him? The only Draco I've ever heard mentioned is that boy that Ron and Harry dislike so much. I hope they're not from the son of that awful man!"

Ginny stiffened. "If you mean Draco Malfoy, then yes, they are."

"Letters from Colin and Zoë I could understand, but this!" Mum waved one of the letters over her head. "Writing to a Malfoy!" She wheeled on Bill, who backed up a step. "How could you let her do this?"

"I didn't know!" he protested. "All I did was lend her paper and ink, and I made her give me all her letters before she sent them! The only ones I saw were from her friends...she never told me she was sending letters to this bloke!" He cast a reproachful glance at Ginny. "I didn't think she'd go sneaking off behind my back...I knew there'd be trouble."

"Well there wouldn't have been if Mum wasn't being a snoop!" Ginny snapped. "Since when is it all right for you to go through my things?"

"Don't you take that tone with me, young lady! As long as you're under this roof--" The door opening cut Mum off in mid-rant, and she whirled toward this new target.

It was Dad, patting his pockets absently. "Molly, have you seen my wand? I could have sworn I had it in my pocket, but it's vanished completely."

"I haven't the foggiest, Arthur, and it's hardly important!" Mum yelled. "Perhaps you can talk some sense into your daughter, since she's so determined to ruin her health at every turn!"

"Mum!" Ginny protested, but it fell on deaf ears.

"What's this?" Dad said. "What've you done?"

"Nothing!"

"I found letters hidden behind her mattress!" Mum shouted, brandishing the sheaf of paper. "Letters! And you'll never guess who they're from, Arthur! She's been sneaking 'round, deliberately trying to ruin her health, lying to us..."

Dad raised his eyebrows in concern. "You aren't really, are you Ginny? You know you're not supposed to be talking to people. You're not even supposed to be out of bed yet. Your mother's told you that!"

"My mother hasn't told me anything," Ginny said icily. She reached out and snatched her letters from Mum, who wasn't fast enough to stop her. "And neither has anyone else. At least some people are willing to share information with me, even if none of you are."

Mum looked about ready to explode, but Dad reached out and placed a steadying hand on her shoulder. "There's no need for everyone to get upset," he said, and glanced at Mum in a significant manner. "Why don't you have a seat, Molly, and we'll talk about this calmly?"

Bill gave up his chair and Dad guided Mum into it as Bill retreated to lean against the dresser. Ginny settled on her bed, leaning back against her pillows. She clutched Draco's letters tightly in one hand, feeling more than a bit put upon.

"Now," Dad said to Ginny. "Why don't you tell us what this is about?"

She bit her lip nervously and glanced over at Bill. He stared back impassively--there was no help from that quarter. "Bill brought me quill and ink and paper, but he only knew about the letters to Zoë and Colin, like he said. He read them before I mailed them, and they sent their replies back to him so he could read them before he gave them to me. It's not his fault. These," she raised Draco's letters, "are from...from Draco. Draco Malfoy. He's at Hogwarts, teaching Potions. He's been there all year, and I haven't talked to him in ages, so I wrote to see how he was, and he's been writing me back."

Mum moaned and put a hand to her forehead. Dad flushed an odd brick colour. "That was a bit foolish," he said after a moment, his voice very even. "Writing letters to Lucius Malfoy's son."

"Not that foolish," Ginny muttered. "And anyway, Draco's not anything like his father. We're...friends. Sort of."

"Oh, now, that doesn't sound very likely," Dad laughed. "Friends with a Malfoy...not my daughter."

"He's not that bad," Ginny said through clenched teeth.

"Bad or not, it's not as though you'll do it again," Dad said. "No need to go writing to people like him, is there? We'll tell you everything you need to know."

"It's funny. You keep saying you'll tell me things, but the only person who actually has is Draco," Ginny said tightly. "He had all sorts of interesting things to say in his letters. And I think I'm old enough now to choose who I want to see, thanks."

Dad stiffened. "You're not that old yet, miss, and I'll thank you not to take that tone. I don't want you talking to that boy. You've no idea what sort of things he's been up to, what sort of people he might know...why, for all we know he might be a spy!"

"He is not a spy, and he isn't a Death Eater, either," Ginny snapped. "And I should bloody well know, because he's my boyfriend!"

For a moment, Bill and her parents froze in a perfect tableau of shock. Then Dad broke the silence with an incredulous laugh.

"Your boyfriend. You don't expect us to believe that!"

Ginny shot upright in the bed, her temper rising. "You can believe it or not as you like, but it's true. I've been seeing him for almost a year."

"You can't possibly be serious," Dad said slowly, his voice shaking. Ginny had only seen Dad in a temper like this a few times; Mum was usually the one who lost her head. "The day my daughter lowers herself to scum like a Malfoy--"

"He is not scum!" Ginny shouted. "Don't you call him names in front of me! He hasn't done anything wrong!"

Dad twisted his face up, his hands clenching into fists. "You know who his family are, Ginny. You know what his father did to you. If you think that I will simply stand aside while the son of that...that...Death Eater tries to steal you away from under my very nose, you're very wrong indeed! I don't believe you would be so foolish!"

"I am not being foolish! You are, if you think that Draco is the same person his father is! He wasn't on Voldemort's side in the battle, he was on ours! He saved my life!" Ginny inhaled deeply to steady herself, bracing herself against the pain in her head. "Dumbledore trusted him enough to let him teach the students. I don't see why you can't!"

"Letting him teach is a sight different from letting him--letting him--it's not the same thing at all! He is a totally inappropriate person for you to be exchanging letters with, and I refuse to allow it! You'll not see him as long as I'm able to prevent it!"

"You can't stop me!"

"I bloody well can," Dad shouted. "You are not going to talk to him anymore! Not as long as you are a member of this family!"

Ginny drew in a sharp breath, half in pain and half at his words. "Then I reckon you'll have to disown me," she ground out.

Dad stared at her for a brief second, breathing harshly, before he spun around and marched out, slamming the door behind him with a crash. Mum made a small, distressed noise and followed him.

Ginny slumped down in the bed, curling into a ball with her hands pressed to her eyes. Her head felt like it was going to explode.

"Ginny," Bill said cautiously. "C'mon Gin, don't--"

"Go away," she whispered. After a moment she heard his footsteps retreat and the door open, then close. The pain receded a bit, enough to let her reach for the bottle of sleeping potion on her bedside table and measure out a small dose with shaking hands. For once she actually wanted its swift withdrawal of consciousness.

Maybe things would look better when she woke.

Bill was sitting in the chair beside her bed when the potion wore off late in the night. He offered her a crooked grin and a glass of water, which Ginny drank gratefully. Her mouth tasted like something had died in it.

She finished her water and handed the glass silently back. Bill took it and set it down on the bed table, then leaned back in his chair and cocked his head at her.

"Want to talk about it?"

"Not particularly," Ginny muttered. "Is Dad still mad at me?"

"Well, if you mean is he still stomping around and muttering, yeah. I'm sure he'll stop eventually."

"He'd better."

"Gin," Bill said, and stopped. He looked like he was weighing his words carefully. "I think Dad might have a point. He's known the Malfoys for a long time, and if he says they're not to be trusted, then I'm inclined to take his word for it." He held up a hand as Ginny opened her mouth to protest. "Now, I'm not saying you're wrong either. Just that you might want to take his point of view into consideration."

"There's nothing to consider," Ginny snapped. "I know Draco. I know him a lot better than Dad, and he's not the same as his parents. He wasn't a follower of You Know Who, he never did anything in the war. He was at Hogwarts the whole time, teaching. Would Professor Dumbledore let him teach if he was really a Death Eater?"

"He might. Dumbledore has reasons for things we don't always know about. And what would he say, if he knew? If this Malfoy's your boyfriend like you say, then something must have happened while he was teaching, and that's not--"

"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Dumbledore knows. He's known practically since the start, so don't tell me that I've done anything he wouldn't approve of," Ginny said. "Just because Dad is determined to be a--"

"Ginny!"

She subsided, leaning back into her pillows. Truth be told, arguing was giving her a headache. Again. "I just don't see what all the fuss is about."

"Oh, I think finding out their baby girl's been carrying on with the son of a Death Eater is enough reason for any mum and dad to raise a fuss," Bill said with a snort.

"I'm not a baby!"

"Not a baby, but you are the baby. They worry about you. And I hate to tell you, but you'll never outgrow that. Just give Dad a bit of time, he'll calm down. Now, do you want something to eat, or are you still tired?"

"Still tired," Ginny admitted grudgingly.

"Need a dose of potion, or can you get to sleep on your own?" Bill asked.

"I'm fine." She prodded at her pillow and lay down again, still feeling sulky. After a moment she turned back to look at him. "Do you think he's going to stay mad?"

"No," Bill replied softly, "don't worry. He'll come around."

Ginny nodded slowly and closed her eyes, hoping he was right.

But Dad's acceptance of her announcement didn't come the next day, or the days after. The atmosphere in the house had changed noticeably; the place had been quiet ever since the battle, but now it was eerily so. Bill took over bringing her meals, Mum came to fuss over her sheets and books but didn't stay, and Dad stopped visiting entirely, which stung more than anything else.

"It's because he's upset, and the healers say that high emotions in other people are dangerous for you while you're healing," Bill told her later in the week. "Don't take it so personally."

"He's avoiding me and I'm not supposed to take it personally?" Ginny replied bitterly. "Oh, of course, silly me."

"Ginny..." Bill said warningly. "Try to see it his way, won't you? It was a sudden thing to spring on them, particularly when you were deliberately disobeying orders by reading those letters." He sighed and slouched in the chair, pushing one hand through his hair. "We're not doing this to punish you or be mean, we're just trying to keep from hurting you any more than you already have been."

Ginny blinked in surprise. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that no one knows what's wrong with you, and the healers don't know how to fix it. Whatever spell You Know Who cast on you during the battle did something to your mind, and whatever it was, it made you very open to other people's thoughts and emotions. Like you lost the filter that keeps the auras of other people from affecting you. I don't even really understand it to explain, but you were very sick after the battle, and the more people who were around you the worse you got," Bill said. "Didn't you ever wonder why it's just me and Mum and Dad here? Why the twins aren't, or Percy, or Ron?"

"Well, I wondered, but I just thought--I don't know. That they were busy," Ginny said. "Or that something terrible had happened and you wouldn't tell me."

Bill glanced away at that, but he shook his head. "Nope. They were kept away so that you wouldn't have too many other thoughts and feelings to contend with. For the first week, while you were being kept asleep so much, it was just Mum allowed here. Dad and I stayed at Hogwarts. That's why you're here and not still at school will Ron and the rest."

Ginny leaned back against her headboard, trying to digest his words. "I don't feel like I've been that ill."

"Well, you have been, and in a lot of ways you still are. Which is why Dad's been scarce lately, to avoid making you worse. You can't blame him for having reservations, Gin. Not after everything you've been through...not just during the battle, but before, too." Bill sighed. "And the blame for that can be laid squarely at the feet of Malfoy's father, so maybe you can understand his reaction a little more."

"Draco is not his father!" Ginny protested. "He didn't have anything to do with anything Lucius Malfoy did, and the sooner Dad figures that out, the better!"

"Gin..." Bill said, a warning in his voice. "Give it time. All right? You're not going to be able to make Dad change his mind overnight, and fretting over it is only going to make you ill. Let Dad think about things and then you can sort it all out when you're well."

Ginny sighed and nodded grudgingly. She didn't have much of a choice.

The next day she came downstairs in her pyjamas to find Mum running around the kitchen in a flurry of activity.

"Back upstairs with you!" she called to Ginny. "Put some robes on, we're going out."

"Out?" Ginny repeated dumbly. "Out where?"

"You've got an appointment with Madam Pomfrey today," Mum said, making shooing motions with her hands. "So we're going to Hogwarts. You can even visit Ron, won't that be nice?"

Ginny opened her mouth and shut it again, unsure of what to say. She went back upstairs to change, and several minutes later she and Mum were dusting themselves off in the anteroom of the Hogwarts hospital wing. Mum tucked her hand under Ginny's elbow and pulled her over to where Madam Pomfrey was waiting.

"Hello, Poppy, hope we're not too late."

"Not at all, Molly. Just come this way, and we'll have a look," Madam Pomfrey replied, gesturing them into another small room off the main ward. She motioned Ginny to sit on the low cot. "Now, then, why don't you tell me how you're feeling? You certainly look better than you did last time I saw you."

Ginny shrugged at this--she didn't remember that last time. "I'm doing better, I think," she said cautiously. "I mean, my headaches are improving, and I'm not sleeping as much."

Madam Pomfrey nodded and prodded at Ginny with her wand, muttering thoughtfully under her breath. After a few moments of that, she straightened up and nodded.

"Well, you do seem improved," Madam Pomfrey said. "I'd say a couple more weeks of rest are in order, but you can probably move up to having visitors very shortly. Just take things slowly, and if you find you're getting more frequent headaches, cut back on interaction with people. You've still only got the older boy at home?" she said to Mum, who nodded.

"Yes, it's just Bill and Arthur. The twins and Percy are in London, and Ron is here, of course," she replied. Madam Pomfrey looked as though she was going to say something, then they both glanced at Ginny and exchanged a glance.

"What about--" Ginny began, but Mum shook her head and stood up.

"If we're done here, why don't you go down to the Great Hall, Ginny, while finish we up here?" she said. "I'll meet you there in a few minutes, and it'll give you a chance to catch up with your brother and Harry and Hermione."

Ginny bit down on her questions and nodded, letting herself be shooed into the corridor. She'd leave, all right, if they wanted to keep things from her, but she wasn't going to go to the Great Hall. Once the door had firmly shut behind her, she smiled grimly and made her way down to the dungeons.

Draco carefully measured a precise amount of valerian into a small cup and tilted it over the simmering cauldron in front of him. He was making a batch of Sleeping draught for Madam Pomfrey, something he could do in his own sleep. The neat rows of bottles that lined the shelves of the work room were half his own making; Snape had kept the room well stocked, but Draco had made inroads into both the potions and supplies in the last few months. In fact, he'd have to make a trip down to Diagon Alley before the school year started to stock up. At least he could do that now, rather than being forced to rely on other people to do his shopping.

He was mentally composing a list of things he needed when he heard the soft scrape of the door opening. He glanced up in surprise; almost no one bothered him here, and he was used to working undisturbed.

Ginny was standing in the doorway.

"Hello," she said.

Draco gaped at her. "Hello," he replied stupidly. A million things flitted across his mind, but he couldn't grasp at any thought and put it to words. She was here.

Here, and looking thin and very pale, not at all like her usual self. Her face was narrower, her hair a shade duller, dark rings under her eyes. She clasped her hands nervously in front of her and gave him a tentative smile. "I wasn't sure you'd be here," she said. "I couldn't ask...I'm not supposed to be down here. Mum sent me to the Great Hall."

"Oh." There was a long pause as Draco cursed himself and tried to think of something, anything, to say. "What...what are you doing here?"

Ginny raised her eyebrows, seeming torn between amusement and uncertainty. "Coming to see you?"

"I know that, I meant--why are you at Hogwarts? I thought you were still at home."

"Had an appointment to see Madam Pomfrey. And Mum went off to talk to her in private and told me that I should go find Ron and Harry, except I thought I'd come down and see you instead." She paused, twisting her hands nervously again. "I can go, if you want me to."

"No! I mean--no. Don't go." Draco fumbled for his wand and poked at the fire under his cauldron, which went out, then came around the table. Ginny smiled for real, her face lighting up. She lifted her hands toward him as he approached, and he wrapped his arms around her and hid his face in her hair, hardly daring to breathe in case he really was dreaming. Desire and relief curled in his chest, mingling with the solid warmth of her body nestled against his.

Ginny pulled away first, but not far; she rested her arms around his waist and smiled up at him, her eyes sparkling. "I missed you," she said shyly. "All summer they wouldn't let me talk to anyone, and all I wanted was to be able to see you again."

"I missed you too," he whispered roughly, not trusting himself to speak any louder. Ginny nodded once, swaying toward him, and then they were kissing and it was as though they'd never been apart, as though the past months of strain and worry and fighting hadn't happened.

They parted reluctantly, and Ginny reached up to smooth a lock of his hair, tucking it behind his ear. "You need a haircut," she said, and laughed as he made a face at her.

"There's nothing wrong with my hair," he said. "And anyway, you've never complained before."

"I'm not complaining. I'm just pointing it out." She grinned again. "But that's beside the point. How are you? I mean, you said in your letters, but I want to know everything. About taking on teaching again this year and all. Have you talked to your parents? Surely they wouldn't make you stay here now that the war is over."

Of course, she didn't know, having spent the last month or so sheltered at her house, unaware of events. Draco kicked at a raised flagstone and shook his head. "Well, Mother's on the Continent visiting relatives. She hasn't written, but I know the Ministry wants to question her. And my father...he's dead."

"Oh," she said very quietly. Some complex emotion flickered behind her eyes. "I'm sorry."

Draco jerked one shoulder in an attempt at casualness. "I'd sort of expected it. It doesn't matter."

Ginny inhaled sharply, her face stricken. "Of course it matters! It--it--oh!" She flung her arms around him, burying her head in his shoulder.

Draco wrapped his own arms around her and closed his eyes, fighting against the painful lump rising in his throat, not wanting to give in to that weakness. He re-opened his eyes with an effort and ran his hand through her hair instead, letting the copper strands twist around his fingers. If he concentrated hard enough on that--on the bright red-gold of her hair, the feel of her slight body against his--the horrible feeling that he might cry in front of her would fade.

He was concentrating so hard on controlling his own emotions that it took a moment for him to realize that Ginny was sobbing quietly into his shoulder.

"Don't," he whispered, horrified. "Don't cry. Ginny, don't."

"M'sorry," she mumbled through another sob. "I can't help it." She pulled away and wiped at her cheeks. Draco lifted her up and sat her on the edge of the work table, then pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Thanks," she said, using it to wipe at her eyes. "Mum's going to kill me. Madam Pomfrey just said that I could see people as long as I didn't upset myself, and what do I do very first thing but act like a waterworks."

"I didn't mean to--" he began awkwardly, but she waved a hand at him.

"It's not your fault," Ginny said. "It's just...I don't know. Bill told me that because of the spell on me from--from Voldemort, I've lost my ability to filter out strong emotions. I'm feeling loads better than I used to, but I get a bit overwhelmed sometimes. Though I don't usually cry...it gives me a horrible headache."

"Headache? What sort of headache?"

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Like a pain in my head. A headache. And then I have to go lie down, and they give me some sort of potion, and it tastes absolutely awful and puts me right to sleep," she said. "Which I can't exactly do here."

"Some sort of combination of gastrodia and linden, I'd guess," Draco said automatically, ignoring her insolent tone. Headaches were something he could fix. "And valerian, if they're putting you to sleep with it. Probably some sort of mental suppresser too, to keep you from picking up emotions from other people. Though I don't know why they don't just give you skullcap, or a modified Cephalaea potion. It'd probably work just as well. And taste better." He turned to glance over the shelves, searching for the flask of Cephalaea potion he was sure he had.

Ginny giggled behind him. "If you say so."

Draco ignored her laughter with as much dignity as he could muster. "Here," he said when he'd located the bottle he was looking for. "Try a bit of this, and see if it helps."

Ginny grinned again, but obligingly let him administer a spoonful of potion. "It does taste better," she said after she'd swallowed. He could see the faint lines of pain fade from her face as the potion did its work, and she sighed with relief. "Oh, that is better."

Draco nodded, satisfied. Ginny laughed and twisted her hands in his robes, pulling him closer. "Much better," she whispered, hooking her ankles around the backs of his knees. Draco groaned softly and leaned in to kiss her again, one hand rising to cup the back of her head.

She made a soft, hungry noise that went straight to Draco's groin, and he moved closer without thinking, pressing his body against hers. Being able to touch her like this after so long was dizzying. She slid her up over his shoulders and around his neck, leaning into him. But too soon she was lifting her mouth from his again, putting a few inches of distance between them. "We can't," she said breathlessly. "We don't--we can't. Not now."

Draco groaned and dropped his head, resting his forehead on her shoulder. "Give me a good reason why not," he murmured, only half-joking.

"Well for starters, we don't really have time."

Draco muffled a snort of laughter. "It wouldn't take that long."

Ginny snickered and poked him in the ribs. "I bet. I'd rather not settle for a thirty second shag on the table you chop shrivelfigs on, if it's all the same to you. Not to mention Mum's going to be looking for me. In fact, I should probably go," she said, sighing. "She's angry enough with me as it is, about this."

Draco lifted his head and looked at her in astonishment. "You told your parents?"

"Not exactly told. More like they found out." She ducked her head, the faint unhappy lines around her eyes returning. "My dad's not what you'd call pleased."

"Oh." Draco said. He wasn't really surprised; he thought Ginny's blithe assurance that her family would welcome him was unrealistic, to say the least. "Is it...are they angry?"

Ginny shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know. Bill says they'll come around, but it's been days, and Dad's still avoiding me. They say it's because he doesn't want to upset me, except all that means is that he's too angry to look at me." She sighed unhappily. "I want to just go places, and do things, and not have to sit around and wait for some unspecified time in the future to be well, whatever that means. I hate this!"

"Well, I'd rather see you frustrated and well than gone completely 'round the bend because you're pushing yourself," Draco said. "So if it means letting your father avoid you, it's probably for the best. I don't want you to end up locked in St. Mungo's or something."

That made her smile and raise one hand to rest against his cheek. "Thanks," she said, and Draco felt himself flush. It made her smile widen, and she pulled him forward to kiss him soundly before releasing him again. He helped her off the table, smirking a little as she wobbled before finding her feet. She glowered at him, but the effect was ruined by the happy little smile she couldn't quite suppress. Draco grinned unrepentantly and took her hand, leading her to the door.

"You'll still write to me, won't you?" Ginny asked. "I mean, they're hacked off at me, but they can't really do anything, and I like your letters."

"Of course," Draco said. He leaned in to kiss her one last time, trying to imprint her taste and scent on his mind before she left. She squeezed his hand and made her way down the corridor toward the stairs, pausing once to wave. He waved back and watched her until she was out of sight.

The weather turned after Ginny's visit, the warmth of summer vanishing in a series of cold, wet days that felt like autumn come early. The castle had been emptying out as the summer progressed, and the wounded that were left hunkered down in whatever rooms had fireplaces, wrapped in blankets and sweaters against the unseasonable chill.

Draco finally bowed to necessity when his breath started condensing in the air in the mornings. He pulled the sweater Ginny had given him for Christmas--the only such garment he owned now--out of the back of his wardrobe and put it on, examining his reflection in the mirror on the back of the wardrobe door. It looked bloody ridiculous of course, even after he shortened the sleeves with a spell, but it was warm. And after all, it had been a gift from Ginny, and if he was feeling particularly soppy he could admit that it made him feel a bit like she was closer to him.

Not that he'd be caught dead wearing the thing anywhere that anyone could see him.

Thankfully people seldom came down to the dungeons, and he could move between his rooms and his office and work room without having to worry about encountering anyone. It had been suggested that he take Snape's old quarters, tucked behind his office, but Draco was resisting. He wasn't quite ready to admit that Snape wasn't really coming back, and he certainly didn't want the thankless task of going through his old teacher's effects.

It was warmer in the potions lab than it was just about anywhere else, so Draco took to eating meals there, in between working on various projects and writing letters to Ginny. He didn't send half the letters he wrote to her. Many ended up in the back of his desk drawer or consigned to the fireplace as being far too soppy. He had a reputation to maintain, after all. He wasn't about to start writing pap, no matter who the letters were for.

But before letter writing came his potions projects--Draco had agreed to keep working on brewing Wolfsbane potion, as well as a number of other advanced recipes for Dumbledore, and Draco spent almost as much time doing research as he did actually brewing potions. He had to admit he enjoyed actually making potions, even if teaching others how wasn't his favourite thing in the world.

Draco sat up straight, stretching the kinks out of his back from bending too long over his desk. It was growing late, and he could finish reading his latest book on advanced potions just as well in the comfort of his own room, in a proper chair in front of a proper fire. He gathered up his book and tucked it under one arm, giving the office a quick once-over before letting himself into the corridor.

He swore under his breath when he turned toward his rooms. Potter, Granger and Weasley were standing at the end of the hall for some reason, having some sort of conversation, although none of them were looking in his direction yet. Draco reached back for the doorknob. Maybe he could duck back into the room...

But then Granger turned, and it was too late to do any such thing. Her eyes swept over him, then went back and lingered on his chest, her eyebrows rising. Draco could feel an embarrassed flush creeping up his cheeks. To try to hide the sweater now would be to acknowledge that he was uncomfortable, and he wasn't about to do that in front of this crowd. He raised his chin, refusing to look away.

After a moment Potter and Weasley realized Granger was distracted and turned to face him too. Draco gripped his book a little tighter and started forward. He'd just ignore them, and perhaps they'd leave him be. He knew it was a vain hope, though, and his suspicion was borne out when they spread out on the stair to block his passage, apparently having decided amongst themselves that this was a good time to give him some sort of ill-thought-out talking to.

"Still writing letters to my sister, Malfoy?" Weasley said with his jaw thrust forward, as Draco came to a stop in front of them.

"What's it to you, Weasley?"

"I'm her brother," Weasley snapped. "I've got a bloody right to know!"

"So why don't you ask her?" Draco replied. He was biting the inside of his cheek to keep his temper in check. He'd gone this long without having to talk to the irritating little troika, and he wasn't about to tell them anything now if he didn't have to.

"Ron..." Granger said warningly, and Potter rested a hand on his arm, but Weasley wasn't paying any attention.

"I'm asking you," he said to Draco. "Don't think I don't know you're just doing this to be a world-class git. You're using her, aren't you?"

"I've already told your bushy-haired little friend here you haven't any idea what you're talking about," Draco snapped. "So why don't you just shove off?"

"I don't know when this started, but I'll--"

"Nearly a year ago, if you want the truth," Draco interrupted, his temper finally snapping "Although if you want to count from the first time I kissed her, then it's been closer to two." It was quite gratifying to watch Weasley's face twist with outrage, and see Potter and Granger latch onto his arms to hold him back.

"You're a liar!" Weasley shouted.

"The Ministry has already spent considerable resources establishing that I'm not," Draco said icily. "And I don't think you're in any position to know one way or the other."

He didn't wait for Weasley to form a response, but turned on his heel and went back to the office, slamming the door with a satisfying bang. He fell back against the door and slid down it, listening for the sound of their retreating footsteps.

It was funny how he kept forgetting how irritating the bunch of them were. Draco stared at his hands, wrapped around his knees. He had the horrible feeling that if he weren't holding onto something, they'd be trembling. It wasn't fair that something as stupid as running into Ginny's brother could set him so off-kilter. He'd been through worse, hadn't he? With his father dying, and Professor Snape dying, and his mother abandoning him for nameless cousins in Europe...

Draco shook his head to stop that train of thought. He'd spent the last month and a half not thinking about that, and he wasn't about to start now. It made him want to break something, or kick something, or...or...Draco blinked, rubbing at his eyes in disgust. He shoved himself to his feet instead, and gathered up his books. They had to be gone by now.

Ginny floated through the next several days, her good mood only improved by short visits from Fred, George, and even Percy. Thanks to Madam Pomfrey's diagnosis of improvement, Mum had to bow to Ginny's pleading and allow her more freedom. Such freedom didn't extend to letting her out of sight of the house, but she was given permission to sit out onto the porch, and it was better than being confined to her room or the drawing room.

Not long after her trip to Hogwarts a package arrived for Mum, containing a note from Madam Pomfrey and a selection of potions for various of her symptoms, labeled in Draco's heavy hand. Mum either didn't recognize the writing or didn't want to mention it; she only exclaimed happily over the box and pinned the note to a cupboard where it wouldn't get lost. The horrible potion Ginny was being dosed with vanished in favour of the new medicines, and if she got a happy little shiver every time she thought of Draco making them for her, she took care not to mention it to anyone.

Several days later, Ron arrived home with Hermione and Harry in tow. Ginny was immeasurably cheered by their appearance; if they were letting Ron come home, it meant she was getting better too. She was even allowed to attend the family supper that night, even though Mum protested that too much excitement might make her ill.

"What difference will it make if I'm at the table or upstairs?" Ginny pointed out while she watched Mum prepare the food. Everyone else had gone out to the garden to de-gnome, and Dad was in his shed. "Either way they're in the house. It's not like I can avoid them."

"Is it so wrong to want you to use a little caution?" Mum snapped, turning away from the stove. "You're not well!"

"If I'm not well, then why'd Madam Pomfrey say it'd be all right for everyone to come home?" Ginny asked. "I'm not dying, you know."

That made Mum go white for some reason, and she raised one hand to her mouth. "No," she said, much quieter. "No, you're not." Ginny frowned, trying to decipher this reaction, but Mum turned back to the stove, stirring the contents of one pot vigorously. "Well if you're set on it, then make yourself useful and set the table."

Triumphant, Ginny went to the sideboard to haul plates and cutlery out and place them on the table. Soon afterward everyone came piling in from their various activities and settled around the table. It was a tight fit, even with Percy, Fred, George and Charlie missing.

Which reminded Ginny of something she kept forgetting to ask. "Mum," she said as everyone pulled their chairs up to the table, "where's Charlie?"

Conversation stopped abruptly, and everyone glanced from Mum to Ginny and back again. She raised her eyebrows; they were hiding something from her, they had to be.

"Well, he's off at work," Mum said, looking anywhere but at Ginny. She cleared her throat and picked up the bowl of potatoes, passing it to Harry. "Here, Harry dear, you look like you could use a little more. Why don't you and Hermione tell me what you plan to do now?"

Harry took the bowl with an uncomfortable glance at Ginny. "We hadn't really thought about it yet. There's still plenty of work to be done with the Department, of course."

Ginny frowned again as everyone seized on Harry's words and started talking about the cleanup effort, without another word about Charlie. Something was going on, and to know that her whole family were going to conspire against her like this set frustration seething in her chest. She scooped food sullenly onto her plate and poked at it, ignoring Bill's attempts to draw her into conversation.

"I thought you'd be interested to know they hired Malfoy on to teach Potions next year, Ginny," Hermione said a few moments later. Ginny cringed as the table went silent again, leaving Hermione blinking in surprise. "Professor McGonagall seemed quite pleased about it, actually. I wouldn't have thought so, but there you are."

Ginny wasn't the only one cringing now; Bill ducked his head and Ron had closed his eyes in despair. "Yeah, I heard," she said softly, willing Hermione to shut up.

"Surely we can think of more interesting things to talk about," Dad said in a hard voice.

Hermione raised her eyebrows and opened her mouth, only to snap it shut on an irate squeak. She turned to glare at Harry, who was examining his fork carefully and trying not to look like he'd just kicked her under the table.

"Well, I've been offered my old job at Gringott's, to start at the end of the month," Bill said quickly. "Don't think I mentioned it, Dad, but they're talking about sending me to Mongolia."

"Mongolia!" Mum gasped. "You can't be serious!"

It was an effective subject change, though Hermione still looked outraged. Ginny sighed heavily and picked at her food. The rest of the meal passed without any other incidents, and she was sent up to bed not long after for looking "peaky".

Ginny didn't sleep, though; she knew that shipping her off to bed was just an excuse for the rest of the family to gather in the drawing room and talk about her. She'd have given her right arm for an Extendable Ear, but Fred and George had cleared out all their stock when they set up shop, and Mum had confiscated Ginny's ages ago. She was forced to eavesdrop the hard way, by sitting on the landing above the kitchen and straining to hear what they were saying in the drawing room.

"I thought she was better," Ron was saying. "I mean, I know she's not totally well, but she's not near as ill as she was, is she?"

"No," came Mum's voice in reply. "But there are some things she can't be told yet. She's already come close to one relapse, and we don't want to risk another one!"

"Don't look at me like that, Molly!" Dad said, but his voice dropped too far for Ginny to catch the rest of what he said.

"Well, I'm not convinced that keeping her in the dark is the best way to deal with it. How do we know it won't do her more harm than good when she finds out we've been keeping things from her?" That was Bill, and she thought he sounded frustrated. "And she's already managed to get 'round us once. She might well do it again."

"Yes and whose fault was that!" Mum said shrilly.

"She'd have done it anyway, even if I hadn't brought her quill and ink. She's not stupid, Mum, and she's not one to sit idly around while we try to sugar-coat things for her." Ginny laughed under her breath--she could practically hear Bill rolling his eyes. "I still think it'd be better for her if we just told her."

"Yeah, better than her getting information from Malfoy," Ron said.

"Ron..." Mum said warningly, and Ginny could hear Dad making an irritated sound. "And you! What's done is done, Arthur, and your temper isn't helping matters!"

"My temper! Molly, you know what she's--"

"Don't start with that again!"

"Here now!" Bill interrupted loudly. "Enough arguing! It's not helping!"

Both Mum and Dad went quiet, but Ginny didn't think they did it willingly. There was a long pause, and Ginny half-wished she could see their faces, to know what everyone was thinking. Eavesdropping had its limitations.

"Between her and Charlie, I've been at my wit's end," Mum said finally. Ginny held her breath and slid down a step, leaning forward, straining to hear with her whole body.

"How is he?" Hermione asked.

Ginny heard Mum sigh. "He's still the same," she said. "Poppy says he hasn't woken, and she's still not sure if he'll lose his arm. There was lung damage as well. They're talking of sending him to St. Mungo's soon, to see if they can help him there."

Hermione made a sympathetic noise, and their voices dropped again. Ginny frowned. What on earth had happened? She risked sliding down a few more stares, listening hard. When Bill entered the kitchen--and really, when had he learned to walk so quietly?--she gave a guilty little jump. He spotted her and rolled his eyes, looking exasperated.

"Bill dear, can you bring the tea out?" Mum called from the other room. Ginny half-rose, tensed to run.

Bill shook his head, a resigned expression on his face. "I'm going to the loo, Mum," he called over his shoulder. "I'll bring it when I come back down."

"All right," Mum called back, and Bill started toward the stairs, motioning Ginny to precede him. He rested his hand on her back as she went, guiding her toward her room. She turned around once they were inside, and raised her eyebrows at him.

"So I guess you heard," he said.

Ginny nodded. "Had to find out somehow, didn't I?"

"I don't think that was the best way for you to hear it." Bill sighed heavily and shut the door, leaning against it. "How do you feel?"

"I'm fine," Ginny said impatiently. "Just as fine as I've been for weeks now. Tell me what's going on. What's wrong with Charlie?"

Bill waited a long moment before speaking, his head tilted back against the door. "He was badly injured by a dragon during the battle at the Ministry," he said finally. "It was touch and go for a long time, but he's been improving in the last few days. They...well, they think he'll pull through."

"But they're not sure," Ginny said.

"No."

She went to her bed and sat down slowly, feeling as though she'd been hit in the chest. Charlie...fit, active Charlie who loved dragons, loved being in the out-of-doors, loved Quidditch and gardening and even clearing snow. Bill came to sit down next to her and put one arm gently around her shoulders.

"We didn't want to tell you yet, because no one was sure how the news would affect you," he said softly. "Charlie wasn't the only one who was seriously ill."

Ginny nodded. She could half-feel his distress, a tiny echo of her own pain in the back of her head. Bill had been closest to Charlie and it had to be hurting him more than anyone. And he'd never let it show. Weeks and weeks of spending hours with her, knowing what he'd known about Charlie, and he'd never let on.

"Here, now, don't cry," Bill said. "I know it sounds bad, but he is doing better. He'll pull through."

"You just finished saying you didn't know," Ginny muttered. She bit back a sob and wiped at her cheeks, hating herself for this new tendency to dissolve into tears at the slightest thing.

"Maybe you ought to lie down," Bill said gently. Ginny nodded helplessly and let him help her back into bed.

"I might as well," she sniffled. "Since it's all I'm good for lately."

"Oh, I don't know. You play a mean hand of poker." Bill poked her and smiled. "You can beat Charlie at it when he comes home."

Ginny tried to smile, if only because he wanted her to. "We'll team up and win all the Chocolate Frog cards I've lost to you this summer."

"And I might even let you." Bill chuckled, and winked. "Rest up, and I won't tell Mum."

Ginny nodded and obediently closed her eyes, listening to the familiar sound of her door latching behind Bill as he made his way back downstairs.

"Hey, Gin, you want anything from Diagon Alley? I'm going that way this afternoon, thought I'd ask."

Ron banged the door shut behind him as he came out on the porch and flopped down beside Ginny on the bench she'd taken over as a reading spot.

"Can't think of anything," she replied, setting her book down. "Why are you going up there, anyway? I didn't think you were back at work already."

Ron shook his head. "Not work. Not exactly, anyway. Harry's giving notice today, and I was going to have a talk with Kingsley about maybe doing the same thing."

"You're giving notice? I thought you liked being an Auror," Ginny said in surprise. "What changed your mind?"

"Well, Harry's been wanting to," Ron said. "And really, the only reason we joined was to help him. Because of the war and all." He looked at her sideways, as if judging the effect of the words on her. Ginny suppressed a sigh and he continued, "Hermione wants to go into research, and Harry's been talking about trying out for Quidditch."

"What about you?"

"I dunno. I thought I might try out for the Unspeakables, actually. They're tough to get into, but we worked with a few during the war, and it was bloody interesting stuff. Don't know if they'd take me, but I can ask. If not...," Ron shrugged. "I'll either keep on as an Auror, or go try out for a team with Harry." He grinned at her. "Don't tell Mum, though. She'll skin me alive."

"It'd be a refreshing change, not having her mad at me," Ginny said. Ron stiffened beside her, and she heaved a sigh. They'd managed to avoid the topic of Draco for almost a week, though Ginny was sure he'd wanted to bring it up.

"She's got bloody good reason to be mad at you!" Ron began. "I still can't believe you'd actually want to get involved with Malfoy, of all people!"

"Oh, don't even," Ginny snapped. "You don't know the first thing about it, and you don't need to come over all outraged whenever he's mentioned!"

"Maybe if he weren't such a slimy little maggot--"

"He is not slimy! Don't you call him names!"

Ron inhaled, ready to shout, his face beet red, but the sound of Mum's voice getting nearer made him bite down on whatever he'd been about to say. She peered at them through the porch door.

"You're not upsetting your sister, are you Ron? You know you're not supposed to."

Ron glared at Ginny. "No," he muttered. "I'm not."

Mum nodded and moved away, and Ginny waited until she was out of sight before sticking her tongue out at Ron. He pulled a face and shoved himself up and off the bench, stomping down into the yard. He stopped at the fence and stared out into the field on the other side; she could see his shoulders heaving, as though he were taking a great many deep breaths in an effort to control his temper.

After a minute or two he came back, stopping at the bottom of the stairs to look at her. He was tall enough that they were at eye level, and his deep blue eyes were clouded.

"I'm not trying to upset you," he said stiffly, "but everything you've said about him doesn't fit with what we know he's like. I know you think he's changed, but you can't know, really. And I don't want to see you get hurt."

"I won't get hurt. And even if I were, you can't protect me," Ginny replied. "You all want to think that you're trying to help, and you aren't. You can't box me up claiming it's only to do me good. I won't live like that. Draco isn't going to hurt me, any more or less than anyone else will, no matter what you think."

Ron looked away, heaving a sigh. "Maybe we can't protect you, Gin, but you can't blame us for trying."

"Yes I can," she muttered sullenly.

"Gin-ny," he huffed. "I don't see why you've got to be so bloody difficult."

"I don't see why you've got to be so bloody pig-headed."

"He's a prat!"

"So are you!"

Ron gaped at her in outrage, then spun around and stomped back to the fence. This time he kicked a fence post several times. After a few minutes, he turned and came back to the porch, still red in the face, but in control of his temper again. "Just tell me exactly what's been going on, all right?"

"Why should I?" Ginny muttered. "You're only going to get mad again."

Ron bit his lip and looked away. "All right," he said after a moment. "I promise I won't get mad. But he's said some things, and it's bloody frustrating to hear about stuff from him that I ought to have heard from you. Can't stand it, having him pretending to know more about my own sister than I do."

"What sorts of things has he said?"

"That he'd shagged you, for one. That this has been going on for over a year, if not longer," Ron said. He climbed the stairs and sat down beside her on the bench, slouching back with his long legs splayed out in front of him. "Which is a bloody fine thing to find out from him, let me tell you." He cast her a sidelong glance. "Is it true?"

"Yeah," Ginny admitted. "Well, sort of, anyway."

She took a deep breath and began the story, starting with her first encounter with Draco in her fifth year, all the way up to the end of the war. He glowered at his feet as she talked, occasionally making outraged noises but not interrupting her story. She decided to leave out a lot of things, sensing Ron wasn't really ready to hear about the more intimate side of her relationship with Draco. It was almost a relief to be able to share it with Ron--she'd told Zoë, of course, but sharing this with a friend, no matter how close, wasn't the same as telling her brother.

"I still can't believe it.," Ron said after she'd finished. "Draco Malfoy. He's such a jerk!"

"I know, Ron," she said. "Believe me, I know he has faults better than anyone. But he's changed a lot in just the past year, and I care about him."

"Care about him," Ron muttered. "You care about an enormous bloody wanker. What was wrong with Harry, that's what I'd like to know. What's Malfoy got that Harry hasn't?"

"There's nothing wrong with Harry. I never said there was anything wrong with Harry, except that I already have a boyfriend. And I don't see how it's any of your business, anyway," she said, exasperated.

"Oh, no, it wouldn't be my business. I'm just your brother. I've obviously got no reason to be interested in your welfare. Why should I worry that you've pulled a great ferrety git who'll only treat you like dirt and probably leave you heartbroken?" Ron said. "Why should I mind that my only sister has decided to throw herself away on a worthless prat?"

"Would you shut up? I'm fine, Draco's not evil, and I am not 'throwing myself away', so you can stop worrying like a ninny. Besides, I told him he had to be nice to you but that if you weren't civil to him that he could hex you if he wanted." Ginny folded her arms and resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at Ron. "So there."

Ron grunted, still scowling. "Malfoy wears that sweater Mum knit for Christmas," he said finally.

"He does?" Ginny, raised her eyebrows, turning to stare at him. "How do you know?"

"Me and Hermione and Harry ran into him before we came home. He had it on." Ron paused for a moment, frowning out at the yard. "He looked like a ponce."

Ginny grinned, imagining what Draco must look like. She'd known when she sent it that it'd be miles too big for him, and she hadn't thought he'd ever wear it. Ron stared at her, his eyebrows raised. "What?" she said defensively.

"I can't believe you're grinning about that."

"Well, I didn't think he'd wear it. He's awfully picky about appearances," Ginny said. "Aren't I allowed to grin about it if I want to?"

Ron shook his head in amazement. "If you want. I don't see the humour myself," he said finally. "But you do look happy, Merlin knows why." He stood up and leaned over to kiss her lightly on the forehead. "Freak."

Ginny laughed and pushed him away. "Oh, sod off."

"Hey!" Ron backed out of range. "Be nice, now! Or I won't bring you back any sweets."

"You weren't going to anyway," Ginny snorted.

Ron did stick his tongue out at her. "Shows what you know," he said, but he grinned back at her before disappearing back into the house.

Mum had scheduled a second appointment for Ginny in the middle of August, and after a great deal of pleading Ginny managed to convince her to let her go alone. After a barrage of instructions and strident warnings about not doing anything foolish, Ginny Flooed directly to the Hospital wing, into the small ante-room outside the main ward.

Madam Pomfrey was waiting for her, and ushered her into an examination room.

"So," she said, "how are you feeling? Still having head pain?"

"Not really," Ginny replied. "I haven't had a headache in ages. Not like the ones I had at first."

"No odd dreams? Feeling like you're experiencing emotions that don't belong to you?"

Ginny shook her head solemnly.

Madam Pomfrey poked her in the chest with her wand, muttering spells under her breath. "Well, you look healthy, and most of the damage seems to have cleared up. I'd say you can go about your normal business from now on, and just keep those potions we sent to you on hand in case you experience any more symptoms. And if anything odd happens...you start having strange dreams, or having moods that don't seem like they're yours, or your headaches come back, see me straightaway."

"I will," Ginny said, and Madam Pomfrey allowed her to hop down from the examining table. "Um, can I ask a question?"

"Of course, dear," Madam Pomfrey replied. "That's what I'm here for."

"Um, about...about sex. Would it be...I mean to say...is it all right?" Ginny asked, cheeks burning. "Can I...er. Not that I am, I mean, but if I were going to, would it be okay?"

Madam Pomfrey shot her an unreadable glance. "Well now, I suppose the same instructions would apply. Stop if you feel any discomfort or start getting any of your previous symptoms. None of the potions you've been using would interfere with a contraceptive. So long as you are taking precautions, it should be fine."

"Thank you," Ginny said meekly, straightening her robes.

Madam Pomfrey saw her out of the hospital wing, and Ginny immediately took herself down to the dungeons. Draco wasn't in Snape's workroom--though strictly speaking, it was his now--or in the office. She huffed impatiently and made her way toward the stairs down to his room.

Draco was in the hall, she saw as she came down the stairs. He was walking toward her, head down, a stack of folders tucked under one arm. She grinned and cleared her throat to make him look up. He started in surprise and grinned when he saw her, hurrying his steps. She hugged him and lifted her face so he could drop a quick kiss on her mouth when he reached her.

"What brings you here?" he asked. "I thought you were still stuck at home."

"I had an appointment," Ginny replied. "Was seeing Madam Pomfrey for a check-up."

Draco lifted his eyebrows. "And?"

"And she gave me a clean bill of health," Ginny said. "She says I'm fine, and that it's business as usual. Can't wait to tell Mum."

Draco smiled again and gave her a hard hug. "Well I'm happy to hear it too."

"You should be, since you get to benefit directly," Ginny laughed. "I asked her about sex, and she said it'd be fine."

Draco went very still against her, and his eyes darkened. "Did she really," he murmured. Before Ginny had a chance to respond he began tugging her down the hall to his room. She went without resisting, her fingers tightly interlaced with his.

He pulled her inside and shut the door. His eyes swept over her intently as he turned, leaning back against the heavy wood.

Ginny smiled and raised a hand in invitation. He pushed off the door and took it, pulling her against his chest once more, wrapping his arms around her in a tight hug. She relaxed into him for a moment, savouring the solid weight of his body against hers.

"I missed you," she whispered against his neck.

Draco drew back and kissed her, a slow, achingly sweet kiss that left her breathless and weak-kneed. "I missed you too," he murmured against her lips, his hands moving slowly over her back. "God, Ginny..." The rest was lost as he claimed her mouth again, nipping softly at her lip.

Ginny barely noticed as he pulled her slowly backwards, only realizing they'd moved at all when he sank down onto the bed, sliding his hands down her sides. The motion made her feel faint with wanting. She swayed on her feet, grasping at his shoulders for balance.

Draco raised his hands slowly, unfastened the clasp of her traveling cloak and let it slide off her shoulders. He moved on to the buttons on her shirt--she was wearing one of Ron's old ones, and if she'd given it half a thought she would have worn something else. But Draco didn't seem to care about the state of her clothing as he slid the buttons through worn button holes. It was clear that he intended to take his time, and already Ginny was half-mad with anticipation and suppressed want.

"I've thought about this," he whispered huskily. "Every day since I saw you last."

Her shirt followed the cloak to the floor, and Ginny tried not to shiver in the cool dungeon air. Draco made a small noise in his throat and traced her breasts with light fingers, cupping them in his hands. Ginny could barely breathe, her breath hitching with every movement of his hands. She tugged at his robes, her hands clumsy on the buttons until he helped. His robe finally joined hers on the flagstones and he pulled her backwards onto the bed, his mouth finding hers.

Ginny had half-forgotten how easy this was; there was no need for words, their bodies simply fit, like halves of a broken plate laid together for mending. Draco cradled her face in his hands as he entered her, the roil of emotion in his eyes so intense she had to close hers, trembling. For a moment she felt a stab of fear--it was too much, too intense, with no way of knowing if the feelings pouring through her were her own or his or some mix of the two. She could only cling to him and hope, with the part of her mind that wasn't overwhelmed with pleasure, that she hadn't just undone a month and more of recovery.

Afterward Draco shifted to one side and gathered her into his arms, one hand brushing lightly at her hair.

"I'm glad you're here," he murmured, and the satisfaction in his voice made Ginny laugh softly.

"I'm awfully happy to be here," she replied, smiling. She ran a possessive hand over his ribcage, loving the feel of his smooth skin under her hand. "It's been far too long."

"I agree. We definitely ought to do this more often."

Ginny snickered under her breath at that. "You're terrible." She propped herself up on one elbow to look at him, grinning. "So now that we've got that out of the way, how are you?"

"Better now," he said with a smirk. He pulled her down so he could kiss her again, and she rested her head on his shoulder, taking his hand so she could twine her fingers around his. "How have you been?"

"Fine...I finally found out what's happened to Charlie. Had to eavesdrop to do it, but Bill caught me out and just told me the truth. Turns out he's been in the hospital wing," Ginny said. "Though they moved him to St. Mungo's last week...they say he'll make it."

"That's good," Draco murmured. "He'll have to be in top shape so he can get in line with the rest of your family, wanting to kill me."

She snickered. "They don't want to kill you."

"Mmmm." Draco nodded, and Ginny wondered if he was thinking of her father. Who probably did want to kill him, come to that. But thinking of her family reminded her of something she'd wanted to ask.

"Have you...," Ginny began, and paused to consider how to ask what she wanted to know. "Have you heard from your mum yet?"

Draco tensed beside her. He didn't say anything for a long moment, so long Ginny was afraid she'd gone too far. But then he let out a slow breath and shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "I haven't heard anything except what they told me after the war."

"Oh," Ginny said. "Do you think she'll come back?"

"I don't know what to think," he said, staring up at the ceiling. "I thought--after it ended, and I found out she wasn't killed, I thought she'd write at least. I thought she'd be...I don't know. Less inclined to leave me disowned." He laughed hollowly. "But it's been months and I haven't heard anything. From anyone. So who knows. Maybe she hates me too."

"I'm sure she doesn't," Ginny protested. There was a sense of weary defeat behind his words that she didn't like. "Maybe she's just waiting until everything's more settled."

Draco sighed and shook his head, but didn't contradict her. "It's not just her. It's...it doesn't seem real," he said after a moment, his voice so quiet she strained to hear him. "That my father's--gone. That I'll never see him again. Never talk to him again. And the last time we did speak, he was so angry with me, and now I can't ever tell him--" His voice cracked, and Ginny waited silently as his chest heaved. After a moment he collected himself and went on. "Everyone is so glad he's dead, and all I can think of is that I failed him. That he wanted me to be something, and I couldn't do it, and I'll never get the chance to tell him that I'm sorry."

Ginny stared at his profile, at the moisture that collected on his pale lashes and left small tracks across his temple, disappearing into his hair. There was nothing she could say, and she knew it. She was glad Draco hadn't become what his father wanted, but that wasn't what he needed to hear.

She settled for moving closer and aligning her body against his, trying to comfort him without words. He tensed, but after a moment he relaxed against her with a heavy sigh. "Sorry," he muttered, scrubbing at his face with one hand. "I didn't mean to go all pathetic."

"You're not pathetic," Ginny protested. "I think you're being very brave."

"Brave," Draco snorted. "No wonder everyone thinks you're cracked. Because you are."

Ginny poked him in the ribs. "I am not!"

"Yes you are."

"No, I'm not!"

Draco snickered and rolled, flipping her over and pinning her to the bed with his body. "You," he said, a smirk crooking his lips, "are cracked. Which explains so much about you, really."

He leaned down before Ginny could protest and kissed her. He might have meant it as something light, but they had been too long apart and Ginny couldn't fight against the desire that coursed through her, pooling in her belly and crackling everywhere their bodies touched. She snaked one arm around his waist and pulled him down on top of her, running one hand across the smooth skin of his back, feeling the long muscles flex as he moved.

Draco raised his head again, breaking the kiss. "I don't know if we should--"

"Yes," Ginny interrupted, "we should." She pushed at his shoulders to roll him over and swung one leg over his hips, shifting so that she could lower herself onto him, letting her eyes drift closed as she did so. She heard him groan softly and felt his hands curl over her hips, his long fingers biting into her skin. She rocked against him slowly, eliciting another groan, wanting to make it last as long as possible. Her movements didn't stay slow; before long a familiar urgency took over her and she sped her movements, bringing them both to the brink and over.

They dozed together for several minutes before Ginny took notice of the angle of light in the room and realized how late it must be.

"I should go," she whispered, pushing herself off Draco's chest and sitting up. "Mum's going to kill me."

Draco nodded and slid out of bed after her, pulling his own robes back over his head before coming to help her into her robes reluctantly. He smoothed the fabric over her shoulders with a frown of concentration. "Do you think your family will let you come back?" he asked.

"Well, they can't keep me shut up forever," Ginny said. "And I'm not a child. I can do what I like, and if that means coming up here to visit my boyfriend, there's not much they can do about it."

Draco nodded, still frowning.

"What?" Ginny asked. She had a brief moment of panic that he'd changed his mind, or that she'd offended him by calling him her boyfriend. But Draco only shook his head.

"It's nothing," he said quickly. "Just that...if your family is against this..." He shrugged one shoulder. "I don't want you to be at odds with them. Over me, I mean."

"They'll come around," Ginny said, trying to sound confident. She was sure they would. Dad couldn't very well stay angry at her forever. She slid her arms around his waist and leaned her head against his shoulder. "I wouldn't just give up on you, you know."

Draco hugged her so tight she could feel her ribs creak, then let her go. He raised one hand to cup her cheek, pausing as if he was choosing words. But he only smiled. "I'll see you soon," he said softly.

Ginny nodded and reached up to kiss him one last time before she left for home.

Barely two weeks into the new term, Draco found he had his hands full dealing with classes and students. He was still leaning heavily on Snape's old lesson plans and notes for teaching, and it was still the nerve-wracking experience it had been the first time he'd done it, but at least he didn't have the threat of immanent death hanging over him this semester. He could leave the castle, go flying, meet his girlfriend in Hogsmeade on the weekends for drinks amid good-natured teasing from the staff...all in all, it was a vast improvement.

Draco allowed himself a smug grin as he contemplated the thought. Ginny was going to be up in the afternoon, and he had the morning to prep for his Monday classes.

He glanced up as the door opened, and raised his eyebrows as Ginny entered, dressed in light blue robes.

"Hello," he said in surprise. "I thought you weren't coming down 'til this afternoon."

Ginny shrugged, dropping her handbag down on a nearby table. "I wasn't, but I got away early. Why, are you busy today?"

"Not really," Draco said, sweeping the pile of crushed scarab shells into a jar and capping it. "Just prepping ingredients for next week's classes. You're welcome to help, if you want." He waved a hand toward the stool on the other side of the workbench.

Ginny moved closer to the bench and peered into the bowl of newt ears sitting at the edge of the table, but didn't sit. Draco hadn't really expected her to--she'd never really enjoyed Potions. He picked up a few daisy roots and began dicing them carefully.

"Actually I have a question for you," Ginny said after a moment, her voice edged. "I was going to look at flats today, and I wanted to know if you would come with me if you're not busy. I was going to ask Zoë, but out of anyone, you'll probably spend the most time there, so it makes more sense for you to come."

Draco looked up from his dicing and looked at her a little more closely. Sure enough, she was wearing a determined expression, but under the determination was a wealth of barely hidden emotion--anger, hurt and frustration, mostly. "Is something wrong?"

"No," she said, a little too abruptly.

Draco raised his eyebrows, and after a moment Ginny huffed angrily.

"Fine. Yes, something is wrong. I'm bloody well going out of my mind is what is wrong." She threw herself down onto the stool and kicked out at the table leg. "My family is driving me mad!"

"What are they doing now?"

"What are they always doing? Treating me like I'm five. I had to lie to Mum when I left today, so she wouldn't know I'm planning to go looking at flats...the last time I mentioned something to her about moving out, she yelled for an hour. But she can't expect me to stay at home forever!" Ginny cried. "I'm not a baby anymore! I have a right to my own life, don't I!"

"Of course you do," Draco replied. "What could she really do if you moved out?"

"Scream her bloody head off, is what she'll do. Dad will continue on with the silent treatment, I'm sure," Ginny said bitterly. Draco suppressed a twinge of guilt; her father wasn't talking to her because of him, and although Ginny swore it didn't bother her, he knew it did. "But what else can I do? I don't want to stay, and I'm at my wits' end. I'm not a child!" she said, her voice rising again. "I'm eighteen, and--"

"You're not actually--"

"I will be eighteen in less than a month," she cut in with a scathing glare. Draco shut his mouth. "I'm not so immature I can't look after myself, or make my own decisions! She can't honestly expect me to be a baby forever!" Ginny's hair seemed to blaze with the heat of her anger. "She wants all of us to do exactly what she wants, and mostly what she wants is for all of us to be good little children like Percy and spend all our time writing reports about cauldron bottoms! Well I'm not going to! I went to talk to Kingsley Shacklebolt yesterday, and he said I'd be a cracking Auror! I'm going to live my own life, and there's not a thing they can do about it!"

"Er," Draco said, a little dumbfounded. "Good for you?"

"She's been giving me hints since Madam Pomfrey said I was well enough, and between her saying I'd do well to learn to type--as if I'd be willing to sit about and take dictation and fetch tea for some overweight Ministry wanker!--and Fred and George talking about how I should help them out at the shop and Dad barely speaking to me, I'm going to go mad if I have to spend one more minute in that house! So I'm going to do it. Look at flats today, and I applied for Auror training yesterday, and got in." Ginny paused, and some of the fire seemed to go out of her. "I start next week. Um. Which I probably should have mentioned first. I've got a job."

"Congratulations," Draco said solemnly. "And as an Auror, no less. They're very picky. Good for you."

Ginny stared at him suspiciously for a moment. "You aren't going to yell?"

"Do you want me to?" he asked. "I could, if you like."

"Well no, it's just...I expected you to be more..." she waved her hand about in front of her. "Upset. Angry. More yelling about me picking a dangerous career and less laughing at me, you prat!"

She leapt off the stool, flew around the table, and smacked him on the shoulder, hard. Draco grabbed at her hands, snickering helplessly as she swore under her breath. He finally managed to pin her arms to her sides and grinned down at her. "I think you'll be a brilliant Auror," he said. "Really. You know more about Defense than anyone I've ever met, and you're good at Potions and Charms...I don't see why you wouldn't do well."

Ginny relaxed into his chest with a disgruntled sigh. "You're not even going to argue with me a little bit?" she asked. "I had all sorts of good come-backs planned out."

"I can if you like." He cleared his throat and schooled his face into a stern expression. "You can't possibly be an Auror! You're too...short. And your hair is too red. And it would be very selfish of you to deprive some poor sod of your as yet nonexistent typing skills. Just think of the disservice you'd be doing to our hard-working Ministry employees."

Ginny giggled and poked him in the side. "Very funny. I expect I'll get all the arguing I want from Mum, anyway." She slumped, her amusement fading. "She's going to be furious with me. Not just because she doesn't want me to move away...she won't be happy about me becoming an Auror, either."

"What brought all this on, by the way? You didn't say anything in your last owl."

"Because I've had it," she said. "I can't take it anymore. Dad keeps talking around me, and Mum keeps treating like I'm a baby, and Ron keeps making noises about how lonely Harry is and wouldn't it be nice if we all got together and went round to the pub, and Hermione making encouraging faces behind his back while he says it, and I can't stand any more of it. I want to be able to do what I want! Not what Ron wants, or Dad wants, or Mum wants, or anyone!"

Draco smoothed her hair with a sinking feeling. "Look, if it'd make things easier--"

"Don't even say it," Ginny said sharply. She pulled back and glared at him. "It would not make things easier if we stopped seeing each other. It wouldn't change anything, and it would only make me feel worse than I already do."

"But--"

"But nothing. Mum and Dad are just going to have to accept that I am old enough to make my own decisions, and that this isn't one I'm going to back down on. I don't care if they don't like you. The only opinion that really counts is mine, and I--" she bit her lip, and then smiled a sweet, wonderful smile. "I'm not taking you house-hunting for nothing, you know. Now come on, because I made an appointment to view a flat at one, and we're going to be late."

Draco smiled at her, his heart swelling with a strange, floating sense of something that felt like joy. "All right, then," he said, taking her hand and twining his fingers with hers. He wasn't sure which of her statements he was agreeing with; any of them, or all of them, or just her marvelous smile. "Let's go."

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

 - Sonnet CXVI, William Shakespeare

The End

A/N: This is the Story That Would Not End. I tried, I really did try to finish the epilogue in the month it normally takes me to write a chapter, and it simply would not be written. The chapter above is the result of 3 separate rewrites, which is part of the reason why it's taken so bloody long. And I am never writing another Hogwarts-era fic, ever, ever, ever. Ever. (This means no sequels. So don't ask.)

Cephalaea means "headache" in Latin. Gastrodia and linden are both herbs that are reputed to be good for headaches. Valerian and skullcap are sleep aides.

Antaios is an Egyptian god whose name meant "the two falcons" and was probably an early incarnation of the sky-god Horus.

As always, huge, huge thanks to my beta team: Emily, Banfennid, Mahoney, Beccafran, and Mynuet, without whom this story would not have been finished. I love you guys!