This was written for JulietteDeschemps in The DG Forum Fic Exchange - Summer 2018 by a member of our forum. For more details, please visit our page.


The Lonely Road

Part One: Detour

It was already dark when Draco arrived, apparating onto the middle of the quidditch pitch. Thank Merlin McGonagall had given special leave for him to apparate directly onto the grounds. He wasn't sure he could have brought himself to step foot through the front gates, for all to see.

The crack of his arrival echoed through the stadium, startling a flock of birds that took flight so swiftly he had to drop to the ground to narrowly avoid one colliding with his head. He supposed it was just his luck to be attacked by an animal no less than ten seconds into his latest assignment; it was just the latest piece of bad luck in a long series of divine maledictions. Adding insult to injury, it wasn't even a magical beast that he'd scarcely evaded.

"Bloody pigeons," he muttered to himself as the climbed to his feet, then rolled his eyes when he noted the grass and mud stains coating his previously pristine robes. He tugged at the cuffs of his sleeves, pulling the seams straight before they could bother him too much, then attempted to clean them with a questionable spell he taught himself a few days into his job - with visibly poor results.

Yet another fantastic start to another long night hunting beasts, Draco mused to himself. He could see the irony in ending up in such a profession, considering the grief he'd always given the Care of Magic Creatures professors in school - although he admitted to himself that his disdain for one Rubeus Hagrid largely stemmed from a place of jealousy than anywhere else. Regardless of the oaf's competence with animals, his blatant favouritism of certain Gryffindor students - even after his promotion - had been a constant source of irritation. Teachers should be above the taunts of a twelve-year-old, after all.

Draco took a moment to turn his head from shoulder to shoulder - one, two, three - giving his neck a brief reprieve from the knot that settled there a few days ago. With a quick spell, he set the stadium ablaze in bright light, keen to chase the shadows away. The war ended a year ago, but somehow dark corners still irked him, still put him on edge, ready to run from whatever demons lurked beyond.

There were many reports of the 'demon' he hunted tonight, and no one seemed quite decided on exactly what was currently running rampant through the deserted stadium; Draco, of course, had his own suspicions. If his hunch was correct, he needed only one dark corner to trap the beast.

If he was wrong? He'd return the generous retainer laid down by the Ministry earlier this afternoon, then spend a few days at the Hog's Head nursing his bruised ego. Perhaps he'd even find a witch to vent his frustrations on, if the right one walked into that dump. It was an unfortunate consequence that attractive witches were hard to come by at the Hog's Head, but it was a sacrifice Draco was willing to tolerate when it came to avoiding the very people he drank to forget. He'd much rather suffer in silence than subject himself to the scrutiny of the society he used to frequent.

He missed sinking into a woman's warm, supple flesh, though; draining his body until he forgot his name, his life, and the horrible choices that lead him to this miserable existence.

Multi-coloured banners flapped in the chill, evening breeze as Draco surveyed the arena, considering where to begin his search. Of the contractors on retainer with the Ministry, Draco was the most recent school leaver, which is why they reached out to him first when reports of a beast roaming the grounds of Hogwarts started to flood in. He'd be the most familiar with the school's landscape, after all.

The only saving grace of his job was that the Ministry of Magic employed him as an independent contractor; while he had none of the prestige of a fancy office and title, at least he could turn away assignments whenever he liked. Or, to be more accurate, he could wrangle a long-term deployment to escape the fortress of Malfoy Manor as the mood struck him, then spend the rest of his time drowning his bad mood in a bottle of firewhiskey and avoiding his father's scrutinizing gaze.

Draco's immediate reaction was to turn the assignment down; the last time he stepped foot in these halls, he'd vowed never to return. But after two weeks couped up at the Manor with his parents' disapproving sneers, and the last chill of winter deterring any beasts from rearing their heads, Draco was in desperate need of a distraction. He wasn't truly breaking his vow, he told himself as he pocketed the pouch of galleons the Ministry official handed him; the beast had only been spotted on the grounds. Under the Ministry's new regime, they weren't to interfere with the teachers' protection of the castle. Draco wasn't particularly interested in the politics of the whole thing, but this mandate suited him just fine. There was no need for him to enter the castle itself.

As Draco swept a detection charm over the stadium's bleachers, he absently wondered when he'd last stepped foot on the quidditch pitch. He was certain he attended a quidditch match during his farce of a seventh year, recalled sitting in the bleachers with Blaise Zabini, but he struggled to remember how long ago that had been. Before Zabini gave away his freedom for a pretty face, he was sure, and as Draco tried to count the months since Zabini's engagement to that Lovegood girl he realised it had been too long since he'd last been in contact with his friend.

Not that Draco really considered Zabini a friend - said as much to his face, in fact, when Zabini asked him to be his best man once they made the announcement. Draco didn't consider anyone he attended Hogwarts with a friend, if he were being truly honest. Perhaps he might have, earlier in his youth, but certainly not following those last hellish years he spent isolated and terrified thanks to his parents' actions.

His prospects hadn't really improved much for himself since the war ended, though.

Merlin, how can a year have passed already? Draco glumly wondered to himself, then shook off his surprise. The time passed so quickly - too quickly - but that was yet another reason to add to the list why he was better off on his own. Things seemed to move at a different pace for Draco, as though he were running in fast-forward, when everyone else was standing still. Yet he never seemed to progress - didn't want to progress - while the people around him pushed on with an irksome sense of determination.

As he continued to work, Draco absently acknowledged the fact he seemed to be particularly moody today. Perhaps he really did need to get laid.

It was as he completed his final sweep of the stadium's seats that the distant shatter of glass pulled him from his dangerous thoughts. Draco whirled around, assessing where the noise came from, careful to keep his breathing even; he'd learnt very early on it was important to stay in control of himself. While he gazed across the pitch to where the change rooms and storage closets were tucked behind the teacher's stand, he listened for any other disturbances to the still night air.

When no other noise followed save for the brisk staccato of his heartbeat, he bolted for the low standing building, casting a silencing charm on himself so he could at least maintain the element of surprise if he ran into the creature. The building was dark as he stepped inside, and Draco cursed. Using Lumos would alert the beast to his presence; he'd have to continue to work in darkness. His fingers clenched tight around his wand to steady his shaking hand.

He crept through the building, efficiently searching and clearing each room for anything amiss, then proceeding to the next, the darkness pressing tight around him. Draco wasn't claustrophobic by any means, but somehow the darkness made the small storage rooms seem utterly oppressive, as though the oxygen had somehow been sucked out of them. As he crept down the main corridor of the building, a flickering light in the darkness drew his eye and Draco slunk toward it like a moth called to a flame.

The door to the girl's change room was ajar, creaking in its frame as the hiss of the evening's wind battered against it. Candlelight flickered erratically in the room beyond, dancing as though possessed by some malevolent spirit, growing closer and closer to extinguishing before bursting to life again whenever the wind gave it a brief reprieve. The darkness seemed heavier, blacker, every time the light came closer to extinguishing. It was as though the gloom were a live thing pressing down against his chest.

Draco approached, his earlier spell muffling the sound of his footsteps, listening for movement in the room beyond. I am the predator, he told himself tersely. I am not prey.

Crunch.

Draco tensed at the noise, the muscles in his hand aching as he raised his wand in his clenched fist. The adrenaline coursing through his veins felt like electricity; he half expected sparks to start erupting from the tip of his wand of their own accord.

Crunch... crunch.

The wind hissed louder as he approached, as though protesting his very presence, while something stalked its way across broken glass beyond the door.

Draco nudged the door wider, watching as a boy - only a little younger than himself - sauntered across the room.

"You thought you were rid of me," The boy said, his handsome face grinning in the flickering light. The manic smile pulled his features taut, and his pale skin seemed to glow in the darkness. The face was familiar, as familiar as the green Slytherin robes he wore, but Draco couldn't seem to place that cruel, mocking expression. "I've come to claim what is mine."

A choked sob cut through the din, and that was when Draco saw the girl cowering before him, clutching a towel to her chest.

He shoved the door open with a swift jab, aiming his wand for the boy's chest. "Riddikulus!"

The boy whirled on him, dodging the spell easily, face and body morphing in a whirl of black smoke as it fixed its eyes on its next target. "Draco," the voice rasped, red eyes gleaming in the gloom, spindly fingers reaching for him. "You have failed me, Draco."

Cold sweat broke out over his brow as he backed away, ready to bolt back through the doorway. "Not real," he muttered to himself as Lord Voldemort pulled back his sleeve, revealing his Dark Mark.

"It's time to pay." Lord Voldemort hissed back at him, raising his wand, the tip hovering over the Mark.

Draco braced himself, ready for the searing, unbearable pain in his left forearm, the pain he thought he'd left behind when the Dark Lord had been vanquished.

Something crashed over the boggart's head, and it yowled in pain, it's form morphing again, the thing's body contorting between that of the young man and the evil wizard. It stumbled about - one, two, three steps - dazed, as though it wasn't sure who it was trying to scare.

The girl stood behind the creature, a beater's bat clutched in both hands over her head and her towel wrapped haphazardly around her small frame, looking every bit like a warrior from some forgotten myth. Her loose curls flashed like copper in the flickering light and Draco absently wondered if she was some ethereal creature, come to drag him to his death.

"Don't just stand there, gaping!" She demanded, her chest heaving with shaky breaths as she visibly attempted to calm herself. "Do something!"

Draco shook himself, then levelled his wand at the creature. "Riddikulus!" He tried again, more forcefully. His spell hit the thing squarely in the chest, the creature shrinking while its heavy robes sank to the floor. Draco took a hesitant step closer to peer inside and saw an infant nestled amongst the fabric, a rattle comprised of bones clenched in its tiny fist rather than a wand.

The girl leaned in as well, laughing when she caught sight of the infant. "Some Dark Lord you are, He Who Must Not Be Changed," she commented, and Draco couldn't help his own snort of laughter.

With a pop, the boggart vanished into nothingness, banished away to Merlin-knew-where. All that remained was the howl of the wind, slipping its way inside through the shattered window across the room.

Draco sighed, grateful the assignment was over so swiftly. He'd been worried he would be forced to trawl across the grounds for days - told his parents to expect as much, in fact - but now he could disappear for a few days without fear of his parents badgering him.

"Can I have a hand?" The girl asked, gesturing to the glass beneath her bare feet through the dim light, and Draco cast a spell to illuminate the room properly.

"Malfoy," the girl commented, startled, and Draco scowled when he recognised the spattering of freckles across her nose and shoulders, combined with those burnished, carmine curls.

"Weasley," he greeted her, as he crunched his way across the glass.

She started to pull away from him, likely shredding the soles of her feet even more, but he flung an arm around her and pulled her to his side before she could injure herself further; the last thing he needed was a complaint and a suspension at work because she'd bled herself to death.

"Put me down," She screeched when he hefted her over his shoulder, her body writhing so much he was worried he'd drop her. He swiftly hauled her across the room and deposited her on a bench at the far wall, stepping back and placing his hands in his pockets in case she got the wrong idea.

"A simple 'thank you' will suffice," Draco said, straightening the seams of his mussed robes and nodding to the twin rivulets of blood trickling down the soles of her bare feet. "You may want to visit the infirmary to get those seen to."

Weasley rolled her eyes at him, then thrust her chin towards an open locker at the far wall, where she'd been cowering minutes before. "Pass me my bag, please?"

Since she asked so politely, Draco acquiesced, crossing the glass in three long strides and dropping the bag next to her without much care. He was every inch the reluctant gentleman his mother taught him to be, after all.

Weasley reached inside, retrieving her wand, and set about casting a spell to heal the cuts on the soles of her feet. She let out a hiss from between clenched teeth when a few pieces of glass were pushed from the skin as it knitted itself together, falling to the floor like raindrops. In the meantime, Draco tried not to look too impressed as he observed her skills.

Once one foot was healed and she set to work on the other, she glanced up at him. "Could you get rid of the rest of the glass?"

"I'm not one for domestic spells," he replied arrogantly, raising his chin a little higher.

"They're not domestic spells," she snapped, then proceeded to repair the window and vanish the remaining glass herself with a wave of her wand. "They're life spells."

He sneered back at her, taking more offense at her tone than her words. "So, are you scared of all Slytherins, or just one in particular?"

"Why are you still here?" She asked brusquely. "Scratch that - why are you here at all?"

"The Ministry sent me to get rid of that boggart - which you still haven't thanked me for, I might add." Draco wasn't entirely sure why he was bothering to provoke her.

"Were all of the third years busy?" She asked with a dry tone.

Her remark made him bristle, but the fact he felt the need to justify himself to her at all made him scowl. Instead of a childish retort, he quoted the new department guidelines to her. "'All unregistered magical creatures on Hogwarts' grounds are the Ministry's responsibility to preserve, displace, or abolish.'"

"You didn't exactly do much," Weasley raised a brow, and he tried not to stare at the place on her thigh where her towel parted just slightly. He was clearly doing a terrible job, because a moment later she informed him "And I'm wearing knickers, in case that was of particular concern to you."

"Do you people always brag about your use of undergarments?" He asked her, trying - and, he was sure, failing - to maintain his imperious tone. "Maybe you should put some more clothes on."

"Maybe you should leave," Weasley snapped back, giving him one last petulant look before turning around and letting the towel fall to the floor. Draco choked as he also turned around - too late to avoid the image of her beige, cotton undergarments and the unblemished expanse of her back, bottom and legs from being burned into his retina.

"I need a drink," Draco muttered to himself, heading for the exit and determined to apparate straight to the pub.

"Wait," Weasley said, and he stopped, tilting his head slightly enough that he saw she was facing him again. Draco wasn't sure if he was annoyed or relieved that she'd covered herself with a long sleeve shirt.

She shoved her legs into a pair of baggy trousers, and he tried not to feel disappointed as the creamy skin of her thighs was hidden from him as well.

"Where are you going?" She asked him, her voice small.

It was a moment before he responded, unsure why he even bothered at all. "The pub."

"Take me with you?"


Ginny gazed at the short tumbler on the table in front of her, the firewhiskey still burning her throat from her last sip. It wasn't a pleasant sensation - it seemed that she never grew more used to it, no matter how frequently or often she tried to force the liquid down - but the heat searing her throat helped her feel present, like she was real, like she wasn't about to fade away at a moment's notice.

Most days were good days for Ginny. Most days, she felt like a normal person; like she was valued by those around her, loved by them. Today was not a good day.

As often as she explained it to him, Harry never quite understood how she felt, or her need to give way to her unbridled impulses - at least, he couldn't seem to grasp that they served any purpose. He liked to joke that she grew wilder with every year, told her he loved her for it, but for some reason his sentiments always made her stomach drop. She told herself it was only butterflies, even though it felt more like doing a Wronski Feint without a broom.

It was part of the reason she ended things with him after Christmas.

Tonight, Ginny sneaked out of the castle after curfew; needed to feel the cold air whip against her skin as she looped aimlessly through the clouds on her broom. It had been weeks since she'd flown, and the heavy walls of the castle were starting to feel overwhelming, making her throat close, as though she couldn't breathe - as though she was an 11-year-old girl trapped in that chamber once again.

It was ironic that she indulged herself and revelled in that catharsis, only to open her locker and be confronted with her worst nightmare. Tom Riddle, flesh and bone, come to life. And if Tom Riddle was alive… that meant she was not.

That kind of thing really fucked with her head.

Ginny didn't want to go back to the castle, not so soon after the incident, and she didn't feel like being alone. She needed something - something to prove she was here - and she wasn't quite sure how to go about finding whatever that was. Drinking seemed like a good place to start, though.

She slid a glance to her drinking partner, seated in the battered armchair across from hers as though he were a king, wondering how on earth he'd stumbled across her path. Fate must be mocking her.

Ginny wasn't exactly thrilled to be in the company of Draco Malfoy, but at this stage her only alternative was to stare at the ceiling of her dormitory, awake and alone, until she felt like screaming. Besides, Harry told her what Narcissa Malfoy did for him at the Battle of Hogwarts, and what Draco failed to do at Malfoy Manor.

Luna had mentioned that Blaise Zabini was expecting Malfoy to be best man at their wedding. That Luna and Blaise knew each other well enough to become engaged at all was nearly as shocking as discovering Blaise wasn't a total arsehole. Ginny might have some reservations about his character, but Luna felt no qualms, and Ginny decided that was good enough for her.

It had been an adjustment, interacting with Blaise Zabini, but that certainly hadn't been the scariest part of the whole situation. The thought that she'd have to spend at least a whole day in Malfoy's company made her feel ill, but she'd spent the last while acclimating to the idea. Perhaps tonight would be a good practice run for her. Ginny might not be forgiving, and that arrogant smirk of his might make her want to throw a bat bogey hex at him like she did back in fourth year, but she'd have to be civil to him if she didn't want to ruin Luna's day.

"So," she said, needing to fill the silence - needing to hear her own voice, to make sure she was still real. "You work for the Ministry?"

"Sort of," Draco Malfoy responded, his spine stick-straight as he threw back another glass of amber liquid. She didn't know how he kept the stuff down, let alone manage to school the expression of his angular face so neutrally while he did it. Ginny wondered if he needed to practice drinking, like she did, or if he'd just been bred not to have feelings. When she reflected on previous interactions she and her friends endured with the petulant little git - she suspected it was the former of the two.

She lifted her glass, tilted it so the ice rattled as it slid around the inside, then threw it back herself. The familiar burn made her grimace. "Do you deal with creatures other than boggarts?"

He sighed, neatly reaching across the low table before them to refill her glass, then his own. "Sometimes."

"You drink a lot," she commented, hoping a provocative comment would get more than two words out of him.

"I'm aware," he replied, his tone cold. "And I prefer to drink in silence."

She blinked at him, genuinely confused. "Why?"

"I prefer to drink alone because I find people irritating."

Ginny couldn't help her frown; she hated being on her own. Sometimes, if she were on her own too long, she'd burst into song or start chatting away to Arnold, her pygmy puff, just to make sure her voice still worked.

As the youngest of seven children, Ginny could understand being overwhelmed by people - could easily recall memories of being buried and forgotten amid all those competing voices - but she couldn't imagine finding it quite that bothersome.

She gazed at Malfoy again, his strange misanthropy intriguing her. "So, what do you do when you want to talk to someone?"

Malfoy narrowed his eyes at her, his spine seeming to stiffen even more, and she would have enjoyed his obvious irritation more if not for his response. "Has it occurred to you that you are irritating me?"

"Putting up with me for one night isn't going to kill you," Ginny told him with a wave of her hand, her wrist rolling loosely as she flung it about. She didn't care if she was an irritation to him; she was very nearly drunk, and Malfoy's opinion of her was inconsequential.

He sighed again, tapping the nail of his middle finger against the side of his glass three times before he threw back his drink and slouched down in his seat rather than answer her.

Ginny rolled her eyes at Malfoy, then turned in her seat to survey the near-empty pub, hoisting one leg over the arm of the chair to make herself more comfortable. The bartender, a hunch-backed old witch whose wrinkles ran deeper than the Great Lake, pushed a dirty cloth in circles across an even dirtier bench as she gazed absently at them. The witch hadn't seemed to be bothered at their arrival; Malfoy marched in, tossed her a demand for two glasses and a bottle of firewhiskey, then proceeded toward a pair of armchairs positioned before the lit fireplace across the room that were already occupied. Ginny trailed behind him, ready to tell him they could sit somewhere else, but the patrons took one look at Malfoy, picked up their things, and vacated the pub.

The bartender filled the glasses on the low table in front of them before Malfoy even settled into his seat, and happily left the entire bottle behind for him - hadn't even stopped to question Ginny on her age. That suited Ginny just fine, and she quickly realised that she was being given the 'five star' treatment with Malfoy when she noted they must have the only two clean glasses in the whole establishment.

Looking back at Malfoy now, she examined the harsh planes of his face, from his sharp cheekbones down to the stubble covering his pointed chin, and realised he was far leaner and paler than she'd ever seen him in school. Although his shoulder length hair was secured at the nape of his neck with a leather band, the ends were ratty, and a few lank strands had escaped to fall loose around his face.

They were small - nearly imperceptible - differences to her memories from school but when she took stock of them all together, she reached a frank conclusion about him. Draco Malfoy was a mess.

"Do you see something you like?" Malfoy asked her with a sarcastic tone when he noticed her watching him.

Ginny scowled, mostly annoyed because he misinterpreted her interest - as if she ever would be interested in him, in that way. "Don't get the wrong idea, Malfoy. I flashed you so you'd sod off, not because I fancy you."

"And yet here you are." He said, his sharp gaze fixed on her. "Why are you afraid of Slytherins?"

"Now who's asking too many questions?" Ginny quipped, pouring herself another drink with a shaky hand and downing it quickly.

Malfoy watched her slop a good amount of liquid across the table, then leant forward and plucked the bottle from her hands. "Don't waste it."

"Why not?" She asked him. "You'll just scare the bartender into giving you another one."

"I pay Cressida very well for the service she provides." Malfoy told her, brow raised, then lifted his glass for another sip.

Ginny snorted. "You make her sound like a prostitute."

Malfoy choked on his drink, his eyes watering, and Ginny tried not to look too pleased with herself.

She smiled at him while he coughed and fought to regain his composure. "You're vulgar," he told her, between coughs, his expression horrified.

"Don't act so surprised," she advised him, sagely. "What Weasleys lack in decorum, we more than make up for in interesting conversation."

"'Interesting' is not the word I'd use," Malfoy muttered under his breath, frowning into his drink.

Ginny watched him a few moments more, still trying to understand him. Despite her better judgement, she found Malfoy intriguing, and she wondered if she could make him crack if she gave up something of herself - put a foot through the door, so to speak.

Ginny chewed on her lip, debating. She could give him something small, something people already knew about. There was no risk in exposing her fears after her experiences in the Chamber of Secrets in her first year; no judgement or criticism that she hadn't already suffered.

"The Slytherin was Tom Riddle," she said in a rush, her voice rasping in her throat. Ginny coughed once, trying to dislodge the sudden lump there, then continued with some emphasis. "Tom Riddle; The Heir of Slytherin."

Draco's eyes glanced up, his grey irises glinting like liquid silver in the light of the fire as she saw him making the connection, before they darted back down to his drink.

She tried again. "We have the same boggart, technically speaking."

That seemed to catch his attention. "Us and the rest of the wizarding world," he snapped at her, then released a rough sigh.

"And mum always told me I was a special snowflake."

Malfoy rolled his eyes at her, but she didn't miss the way the corner of his mouth twitched. "Interesting, that you'd fear him as a teenager more than as an adult."

She paused, debating whether she should reveal more to him, but in the end she figured she really had nothing to lose. Malfoy was a self-confessed antisocial git, so it's not like he had anyone to tell - and she didn't really care what he thought of her, anyway. For that alone, sharing more with him somehow felt safe. "What happened in the Chamber - it sounds silly, but it felt worse than dying. Like the dementor's kiss, in a way."

Malfoy tapped the side of his drink three times with the tip of his middle finger in a precise manner, frowning, as though he was considering his response. "Like fading into nothingness?" He said quietly, more a statement than a question.

Speechless, Ginny nodded, wondering how he understood her so perfectly with so few words. As she watched him, the way he unblinkingly stared at the fire in front of him with an attentive gaze, she had a sudden moment of clarity. Draco Malfoy felt the same.

Malfoy cleared his throat, as though he were suddenly uncomfortable. "How did the window get broken, anyway?"

"The first time I tried to hit it with the beater's bat, I missed." She told him simply, more than a little relieved he was making an effort at conversation.

He choked on a laugh. "You're a witch, yet your first instinct was to beat one of the most powerful wizards of all time into submission?"

Ginny shrugged, unwilling to show any contrition for her reaction. "My wand was across the room."

In lieu of response, Draco simply arched his brow and sipped from his glass.

"And yet you struggled to subdue the boggart with your wand."

"My boggart is a soulless monster, and my parents all-but sold me into his service. Yours is a snivelling teenager."

She couldn't help but roll her eyes at his defensive response - as though his parents were responsible for everything that happened to him. "You're the one that certainly sounds like a snivelling teenager."

Malfoy's knuckles went white as they tightened around the glass in his hands, and she belatedly realised her comment was more than a little careless. "How dare you," he hissed at her as he placed his glass on the table in front of them a little too forcefully and got to his feet. "You have no idea what I've been through."

She regretted her thoughtlessness, but his abrupt anger made her pause. She couldn't forgive him his whinging; they were adults, and being an adult meant dealing with your issues and getting on with your life. Merlin knew she'd been struggling with her own for years, now - she was more than ready to move on. "No offense Malfoy, but we've all experienced bad things over the past few years. Why don't you try resolving your problems, instead of whinging about them?"

"As though you are dealing with your own so successfully," he told her, with a pointed look to her drink. "You'd rather spend time with me than be on your own."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Don't sell yourself short, Malfoy. I am sure you could buy an audience to whinge at if you wanted."

"This is why I like to drink alone," he responded, his tone flat, collecting his coat. "So I don't have to deal with pious little know-it-alls needling at me, then passing judgement on me."

Ginny frowned up at him, feeling like she'd just managed to slot the last piece of a puzzle into place. "You have no idea how to do this, do you?" She asked, incredulous.

"What?" He snapped back, his tone impatient as he pulled on his coat and tugged at the sleeves with more force than necessary.

"Have a friend," She answered, the observation slipping from her lips without her realising, and a moment later she realised what a cruel thing she'd said. Just one of many thoughtless things Ginny voiced tonight, she acknowledged.

The belated recognition bothered her.

Draco Malfoy's expression stilled, as though transfiguring to steel before her eyes. "Goodbye, Weasley. May we never cross paths again."

With that parting comment, he stalked out of the pub.

The bartender - Cressida - appeared beside the table so fast she might have Apparated there, while Ginny still stared at the spot Draco Malfoy had been a moment later with an open mouth. "How old are you?" the witch questioned Ginny with a narrowed gaze, her voice flooded with suspicion.

"You should probably ask that question before you serve people," Ginny quipped at the witch, then grabbed her coat and the near-empty bottle of firewhiskey and chased after Malfoy.

"Wait," she called to his retreating figure once she made it outside. She shrugged into her winter robes, grasping them shut with one hand to fight the cool evening air while she ran down the street, rounding a sharp corner and spotting Malfoy's retreating figure.

Either he couldn't hear her, or he was ignoring her, because he didn't turn back. Ginny suspected the latter.

She came even with him, her breath a little short in the cool night air, and she struggled to keep pace with his long stride. "I'm sorry."

"I don't care," he said, his steps not slowing.

"Well, I am regardless," she snapped at him in frustration. "But I think we should agree to be civil with each other. For Luna and Blaise's sake."

That seemed to stop him in his tracks, his breath fogging in the cool air as his chest deflated with a huff. "What in Merlin's name are you talking about?"

"The wedding?" she prompted, wondering if he was being purposefully thick.

"I won't be attending the wedding," he informed her with an eye roll, as though she were the thick one, then turned and continued walking.

She grabbed his arm. "What do you mean you won't be attending? You're in the wedding."

Malfoy tugged his arm from her grip, crossing them in front of himself. "Blaise asked me to be Best Man, and I turned him down."

Ginny blinked at him, shocked. "Why?"

"Because it's customary to ask your friends to be in the bridal party."

Okay, maybe she shouldn't have been so surprised, considering all the revelations that she'd had about Malfoy this evening. "That's a little patronising, to assume that Blaise Zabini doesn't understand basic wedding etiquette, don't you think?"

"I didn't think Weasleys could spell the word etiquette."

"Very funny," she said, tucking the firewhiskey under her arm to slow-clap for him. "Apparently Malfoys don't know the meaning of etiquette; it's pretty selfish of you to have said no to your friend."

"You don't seem to be taking my point, Weasley, so I'll explain it to you in basic English: I don't have friends."

Ginny scoffed. "It seems to me that you have a perfectly good friend trying to include you in his life, but you're determined to be a loner."

"Perhaps I like being a loner."

"Perhaps you like being stuck in a rut," she said, and when his nostrils flared she realised she was dead on target. "That's it, isn't it? You're in a rut, and you like being there because it's safe."

Draco Malfoy scowled at her. "You don't know anything about me, Weasley."

"I disagree," she told him, mirroring his pose and crossing her arms. "I think I understand you perfectly, Draco."

He gazed at her another moment then turned and walked away without another word.

Ginny watched him leave, not bothering to chase him and persist, her point clear enough. The callous attitude she'd adopted this evening still irritated her; she couldn't remember the last time she acted so self-centred.

She'd tried her best, though. Hopefully Draco Malfoy would see reason and wouldn't totally ruin her friend's wedding… or perhaps he'd see reason, and she ruined the wedding herself by encouraging such a miserable wizard to partake in it. But there was nothing more she could do about it now.

As Draco's retreating figure reached the boundary of Hogsmeade village, beyond the anti-apparition wards, his figure vanished for good. With a sigh, Ginny uncorked the bottle of firewhiskey she held and took a long swig - then winced as the burn in her throat was intensified by the cold night air.

She shook her head at herself. This wasn't her. It felt more like she was pretending to be something else; or like she was making choices that someone else put in her head. The thought made her shudder, memories of the Diary forcing her hand trying to flood back to her. With a frown, she walked to the nearest rubbish bin and tossed the bottle in, the glass clattering against the contents within.

She'd have to find some other way to battle her demons. Something that didn't result in her turning into the pitiful creature Draco Malfoy had become.


Part Two: Destination

Days later, Draco found himself pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace in his private quarters at the Manor, a glass of firewhiskey clutched tightly in hand.

Draco detested pacing - as his father liked to constantly remind him, pacing was a symptom of a weak mind - but he was restless, unable to do anything but fixate on his chance encounter with Ginny Weasley.

He couldn't seem to help it, though. All morning he'd been tracking back and forth; three long paces brought him even with the unlit hearth from the heavy, oak door that sequestered him away from the rest of the household. Another three paces onward brought him towards the tall windows overlooking the western garden. Every time he turned to retrace his steps, he swore he could see the Manor's shadow, cast far across the estate's frost-covered grounds by the dawn, inching closer and closer to him as the sun rose higher in the sky.

It was a rather apt metaphor for his current state, he supposed.

Thinking back to that evening in Hogsmeade made him break out in a cold sweat, the memory threatening to consume him just as the sun's rays consumed the looming shadow of Malfoy Manor like a hungry beast. In a scant few hours, Ginny somehow managed to wrap her calloused, freckled hands around his every insecurity and splay them across the ground for all to see. It had been humiliating.

I think I understand you perfectly, Draco, the last words she'd spoken to him echoed through his mind, the sound of his name on her lips making him shudder.

He was loathe to admit it, but he felt rattled by the encounter. Although he tried to convince himself it was due to the confrontation with boggart, Draco wasn't entirely reassured. He couldn't recall anyone ever reading him so easily, and the fact it had been Ginny Weasley - of all people - made him want to wretch. His father would be ashamed of him, if he ever found out.

Draco started, the train of thought stopping him dead in his tracks. He wondered, not for the first time, why he still held any concern regarding Lucius Malfoy's opinion. He'd respected the man against all reason, until the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts. The Malfoys had awkwardly huddled to one side of the great hall like a gawking gaggle of failures in the wake of Voldemort's defeat. Draco had truly felt the rose-tinted spectacles he donned for so long fall away in that moment, consumed by his parents' dereliction all at once.

All of the values his parents ever instilled in him had turned to ash that day, too. How could his parents drone on about pride and purity, as they crowded together amid all that debris like commoners?

Sanctimonia Vincet Semper - purity will always conquer. The Malfoy family motto was naught but a cheap fraud, had brought him nothing but misery; it had been a burden, working for all those years to uphold the Malfoy family name, only for it all to come crashing down around them when the Order vanquished Voldemort.

He dimly acknowledged that even if Voldemort had succeeded, the Malfoy family wouldn't be much better off. Since Lucius insisted Draco be brought into the inner circle, all the Dark Lord had ever done was subjugate his family; forced each of them into impossible circumstances that they were lucky to make it through alive. Draco had spent years excusing his parents' blind loyalty to Voldemort; he cut his teeth on tales of the majesty of the Dark Lord and the work he hoped to build for the privileged few, after all.

Draco had been proud of the prestige bestowed upon his family, until he discerned the price Lucius Malfoy had paid for it. It was at the Battle of Hogwarts that all that pretence had been stripped away and he realised Lucius Malfoy was a true hypocrite, nothing more than a sycophant.

Not that any of that mattered now. Lucius had exposed the Malfoy family to Lord Voldemort's every whim, all for naught. Nothing remained of the Malfoy family's prestige except a small sum of their fortune, and Malfoy Manor itself - not that the estate would last much longer without the vast coffers they used to maintain it with. It had only been a year and it was already showing signs of neglect; thick layers of dust gathered in the less-frequented rooms, the grand topiaries of the summer garden frost bitten and dead without the protective spells their gardeners used to cast on them.

Draco supposed he could try to tend to the house himself or learn the spells he needed to keep it in good order. Hell, he could take an interest as Lucius kept imploring him to in the various ventures the Malfoy's once used to grow their wealth. But his parents were yet to lift a finger themselves; if they didn't care, then why should he?

Why don't you try resolving your problems, instead of whinging about them?

Ginny's voice echoed through his head once more, and Draco braced a hand against the mantle of the unlit fireplace, dazed, wondering when he'd come to think of her as 'Ginny', rather than 'Weasley'.

He was loathe to admit it, but perhaps she had a point. He'd spent a lot of time over the past year fixating on their current state; watched the estate and his life fall into disarray, encouraged it at one time, even.

Draco didn't feel any better for it. If anything, the knots in his stomach seemed to pull tighter, the constant lump in his throat grew thicker, and it was all he could do to keep breathing.

The tightness came back now, full force, and he lifted the cut-crystal tumbler to his mouth with a shaky hand to down the remaining contents, exhaling slowly through his nose as the sharp burn in his throat loosed the unwanted protuberance.

Supposing he wanted to better his circumstances, where on earth would he start? He was utterly isolated, a pariah in society; even if he wanted his parents' support, their reputations were irreparable. He'd find no help from them.

Draco squared his shoulders, the feeling of isolation threatening to overwhelm him once more.

It seems to me that you have a perfectly good friend trying to include you in his life.

He cursed as Ginny's words echoed through his mind once more, but instead of the unease she'd been engulfing him in all morning, the words helped to soothe the mounting pressure in his chest. It irritated him to admit it, but she was right. Blaise Zabini seemed to think Draco had some merit left… and with a sudden burst of clarity, Draco realised what an arse he'd been to the man. His friend - if Draco wanted him to be.

Feeling like a first class pillock, he stalked towards the desk at the back of the room, gathering parchment and a quill. All he had to do was find the words, and hope it wasn't too late.


Ginny pushed her lunch scraps around her plate as she sat at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, feeling akin to a boat adrift in the ocean.

An overwhelming sense of guilt continued to plague her, all these days later, and she couldn't seem to rid herself of it no matter what she did. Every time her mind wandered, she thought of Draco Malfoy's grey eyes flashing like quicksilver in the light of the fireplace, widening as she unwittingly dealt blow after blow to him. Once, she might have said he deserved it, but after spending an evening with him she wasn't so sure of that.

Despite her misery following their encounter, she'd come to welcome the all-consuming guilt as an unpleasant distraction from the usual evanescence that haunted her.

With a sigh, she pushed the thought away; self-flagellation was not a solution to her problems. She needed to practice what she preached and find a better way to deal with the feelings she battled with. Maybe she needed to speak to a Healer, since no one else seemed to quite understand the bouts she suffered.

Although that statement wasn't entirely true. Draco seemed to recognise her affliction, at least on a fundamental level; even though he clearly wasn't coping with his own struggles, the fact she wasn't totally alone did reassure her a little.

While she struggled amidst her tumultuous thoughts, a flurry of activity above brought a welcome distraction. She grinned when one of the school's owls skidded across the table in front of her, returning a response to the letter she sent to Luna Lovegood a few days ago.

She missed having Luna at school with her something fierce, and the delays in their correspondence frustrated her, but she understood Luna's reasons for not returning to Hogwarts for her final year. Xenophilius Lovegood had struggled following Luna's abduction during the war, and Luna's devotion to him could only be overshadowed by her devotion to The Quibbler. Luna had been more than happy to help her father at the magazine, claiming it was too valuable not to survive after all they endured already. Ginny admired the other girl's dedication - although it was costing their friendship in the meantime - and she certainly couldn't be jealous of her friend's pursuits when it had connected Luna to her now-fiancé. The Zabini family had decided to invest in an ethical venture this past year, to help with their standing in society, and The Quibbler had proved itself to be a more-than-worthy candidate in recent times.

Distracted, Ginny scanned the contents of the letter, then paused as a series of words jumped out at her. She blinked at the pages of parchment clutched in her hands, wondering at the shock she felt.

The words were carelessly scrawled on the pages of the tea-stained, ink blotted letter, and Ginny couldn't help her small smile at Luna's predictable nonchalance to the news. Still, when she and Draco Malfoy parted last week on no uncertain terms, she truly believed that was the last she'd hear of him.

Apparently not, Ginny thought to herself as she read through the letter again, making sure she'd read correctly. Of course, the ink scrawled across the parchment hadn't rearranged itself in her dazed state, and it still announced clear as day that Draco Malfoy had changed his mind about being Blaise's Best Man.

Ginny wasn't sure whether she should be relieved that Draco accepted Blaise's offer. She wasn't foolish enough to believe their altercation influenced his decision, but she did hope he made it for the right decisions. For Luna's sake.

But now that they'd both made commitments to Luna and Blaise's wedding, she absently bit her bottom lip as she realised the implications. She and Draco would have to interact eventually - surely at the rehearsal dinner or some other event, if not on the day itself - and Ginny worried that the strain would cause more harm to her friend than good.

Uncertain of how to proceed, she wondered if she should write to him. She certainly couldn't turn up at Malfoy Manor, even if she could get away from school for that long, but it felt wrong not to address it. Cowardly, even.

Reaching into her backpack, she retrieved a quill and fresh parchment, then paused to consider her words before she wrote her hasty note.

Draco,

Luna told me that you've had a change of heart about the wedding. I'd like to put our last meeting behind us and start new, for Blaise and Luna's sake.

She took a moment to read over her words, feeling like she should say more. Ginny couldn't forget their encounter - the guilt that had been wracking her for days, the fear that her callous behaviour had somehow become a part of her without her realising.

I'm sorry for the other night. The way I spoke to you was careless, and I hope we can move past it.

Ginny

Before she could overthink her words to much, she attached the letter to the owl waiting patiently in front of her and hoped she hadn't made a mistake.


Draco scowled as he lounged on the uncomfortable settee in his private quarters, where he'd been innocently trying to enjoy a novel, before being rudely interrupted by an unwanted letter.

Reading the overly rounded cursive for what felt like the hundredth time, he wondered if this was a joke of some sort. Meanwhile, the owl that delivered the letter to him moments ago perched on the sill of his closed window as though daring him to respond.

He shifted in his seat, trying to ease the ache in his lower back. Draco hated the furniture in the house. It was filled with ancient pieces, more like a museum than a home, and by consequence most of it served for aesthetic purposes rather than functional. With a wry twist of his mouth, he made a mental note on his list of improvements to his life to replace the settee with something more comfortable. A sturdy, leather armchair would probably do the trick.

Drawing his attention back to the letter before him, he read the words again. He wasn't sure what irritated him more - Ginny Weasley's attempt at an apology, or the fact she was apologising for her carelessness, not the fact she'd stuck her too-freckled nose into his business. She was probably trying to lord his decision to reach out to Blaise over him, that she had influenced a Malfoy so thoroughly. The letter arrived just one day after he made amends - if you could call it that - with Blaise, and nearly managed to send him spiralling again.

He supposed he could simply ignore the letter, but the thought of Ginny being smug at his cowardice had him striding over to his writing desk before he realised what he was doing.

Draco dipped his quill in ink, his hand hovering over the parchment as he considered what to say. He supposed he could address her as Weasley, but the name felt wrong after thinking of her as simply Ginny for the past few days, and he tried to quell his irritation that she'd somehow grown into something more meaningful to him than her surname.

Ginny felt wrong too. It was too personal, and he wanted to keep her at arms-length if he could; certainly didn't want to encourage the contact she seemed to be seeking with him.

With a resigned sigh, he scrawled her full name across the page, feeling marginally appeased thanks to the formality of it.

Ginevra Weasley,

I am perfectly capable of behaving like an adult in society. You would do well to worry about your own behaviour.

I will endeavour to be civil during the nuptials, provided you do not provoke me, however I encourage you to keep your distance.

Your correspondence is both unnecessary and unwanted.

D. Malfoy

There - short, to the point, and most importantly without invitation for further communication. Draco made his way back to the window and thrust it open, ignoring the brisk afternoon air, and affixed the letter to the bird's leg.

The owl gazed at him, as though inviting him to change his mind about his response, but Draco had had enough of letter-writing for the day. He waved an arm about to shoo the bird from the ledge, then slammed the window shut.

Sighing a deep breath, Draco moved to sit on the settee again, then shook his head in bewilderment at the fact he was trying to persist with the thing. If he was going to replace it, he might as well do it now, and it wasn't like he had anything better to do except stew over Ginny's note. The Ministry didn't have any current assignments for him, and it's not like he was going to take supper in the dining room with his parents.

Draco returned home just a few hours later, satisfied with his successful purchase of a full-grain leather lounge and matching armchair. He wasn't particularly concerned that the strong lines of the tan furniture probably didn't suit the soft neutrals and blues of his living quarters; he now owned a comfortable chair to sit on.

His expression quickly turned to one of chagrin when he heard an incessant tapping at his window. He swiftly retrieved another letter from the owl, and this time Ginny's full, rounded script was practically dripping with sarcasm.

Draco Malfoy,

Thank you for your most esteemed response. I assure you I worry about my behaviour constantly, due to the fact certain people seem so determined to misconstrue my good intentions.

I will endeavour not to provoke you during said nuptials, however I may find it difficult if you continue to act like a brat.

Warmest regards,

Ginevra Molly Weasley

With a scowl, he scrunched the note in his fist, his knuckles turning white as he wrestled with his growing irritation.

He knew he should leave it, but he could practically hear her narky voice saying the words.

Draco marched to his desk to write another response.


She didn't know what possessed her to write a reply.

Ginny had been sunning herself in the main courtyard of the castle during her free period, enjoying the sun's warmth despite the chill of early spring, and casually writing a response to Luna's last letter when she received Draco's curt reply.

While she appreciated they hadn't ended their evening on the best of terms, she scowled at the rudeness of his letter. All she'd been trying to do was make sure there wasn't any awkwardness during their next encounter, and he met her with an utterly childish response. If there was any uncertainty about whether the words she'd spoken to him had an impact that night in Hogsmeade, this was surely confirmation of it; he was still behaving like a brat.

It incensed her, and she'd scribbled out an overly-formal reply and sent it off to him before giving it much consideration. If he was determined to act immaturely, she wouldn't stop him.

She'd been ready to go to bed when the owl appeared at her dormitory window. The other girls shot her irritated frowns at the racket, and Ginny quickly retrieved the letter. Rather than dismissing the bird and going to bed, she quickly scanned the contents.

Ms. Ginevra Weasley, his impeccable script began mockingly, and she couldn't help her snort of laughter at his increasingly formal address.

Nobody asked for your good intentions; I highly recommend you forego them in future, as your execution leaves something to be desired.

Per my previous letter, please do not attempt to contact me again.

D. Malfoy

Ginny couldn't help her grin. Rather than going to bed, she scribbled out yet another note to him. It was like she couldn't help herself, despite her initial good intentions - and subsequent anger - she was now determined to get a rise out of him. She was very nearly having fun writing these letters.

Mr. Draco Malfoy,

Happy to cease communication. When we next meet, I will go so far as to pretend we have never been acquainted in all our lives. I am sure Luna will find it a particularly enjoyable game when you escort me down the aisle.

Ginevra Molly Weasley

PS. For someone who claims to not want to talk to me, you seem to be enjoying it a lot.

She attached the letter to the owl's leg and sent it on its way, quickly scurrying to bed and turning the lights off before the other girls in the dormitory became too irritated with her.

As she was dozing off, a loud tapping started her awake, and she jumped out of bed to open the window. Sighing a deep breath, she glanced around the room, glad no one else had been disturbed by the owl. Only Ginny, with her persistent insomnia.

Ginny tip-toed back to bed, diving beneath her quilt with her wang and whispering Lumos so she could read his reply.

Ms. Ginevra Weasley,

I am sure Blaise and Luna can easily accommodate alternative arrangements, to prevent you from embarrassing yourself and me.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of your good intentions.

D. Malfoy

PS. I can assure you, your letters are neither enjoyed or desired.

It took a second for her to register the small smile on her lips. The caustic edge of his earlier letters was gone, replaced with the abrupt manner of speaking he used with her in person. She was barely concerned with the insult he'd thrown her way; he had a point, after all, and one Ginny had been made starkly aware of since their encounter.

Clearly we get along far better on paper than in real life, she thought to herself, clutching the letter to her chest and feeling more than a little silly for the sentiment.

She abruptly realised how strange it was, that they'd slipped into this easy correspondence. It made her long for… Well, she wasn't sure what, but when a yawn slipped from her mouth she dismissed the thought for morning. Sleep was often slow to come to her, and she'd be remiss if she tried to stay awake.


When Draco woke, he gained a rapid awareness of three things: firstly, he managed to fall asleep on his new armchair and secondly, he managed to fall asleep without trying too hard at all.

After his last letter to Ginny, he'd made himself comfortable in his new armchair, unsure why he was anticipating her response despite his demands for her to leave him be. He must have dozed off through the night, which was a surprise; sleep did not come easily to him on the best days, if at all.

The third thing he realised, albeit belatedly, was that Ginny never wrote him back.

Draco tried to quash his disappointment. Who cared if Ginny didn't reply to his letter? She was nothing more than a nuisance, clearly determined to torment him. And, as he'd instructed her repeatedly, Draco was equally determined for her to bugger off and leave him be.

Why was he so despondent that she acquiesced, then?

He felt his chest constricting, his heart beating a rapid staccato that made his head spin. It was growing harder and harder to breathe.

On instinct, he reached for the decanter on the side table next to him, eager to drown his anxiety as he was so used to. When his quivering fingers wrapped around it, he froze. When had alcohol become a crutch for him?

Standing on shaky legs, Draco stumbled to the window, flinging them open and allowing the cold dawn air wash over him. He braced his arms on the window ledge, closing his eyes to try and slow the violent rocking of the room.

I can move past this, he told himself, determined not to lose control. Trying to focus on something other than the apprehension that threatened to consume him.

Minutes passed. A chill wind rustled its way through the manor's extensive gardens. The warble of a wren sounded in the distance once, twice, three times.

I can control this.

Draco's breathing slowed. His fingers unclenched, the tired joints aching as the tension left his knuckles. He smoothed his hands along the window sill, his eyes opening to see the last of the evening's stars fade in a wash of pink.

It was a small thing, but it somehow felt momentous to Draco. Fighting had become tiresome long ago; he'd become content to numb himself in other ways, happy to avoid himself rather than oppose his traitorous mind. That he managed to find some order without much more than a stern word to himself was a revelation.

With renewed vigour, he took stock of himself - for the first time in longer than he could recall, he realised with surprise.

He smoothed his hands over his hair, pushing the loose strands away from his face and taking a moment to enjoy the scene before him. Although he'd always been accustomed to the Manor's well-manicured grounds, there was something charming about the frost-covered lawn, growing wild and unkempt.

Perhaps he'd take a walk.

Eager to avoid his parents he took the servant's exit to make his way outside. It was silly of him to worry, however, as the stillness of the halls told him that Lucius and Narcissa clearly weren't awake yet.

Rather than continuing to dwell on the subject, he strolled through the Manor's atrium and pushed through the grand oak doors that guarded the entrance to his ancestral home.

He set off at a brisk pace, wandering through the grounds that were so familiar - and yet so foreign, thanks to their neglected state.

The frost covering the overgrown lawns glittered as it bathed in the sunrise, as though someone cast a charm over the grounds while his family slept. Weeds grew high in the flower beds, and dead offshoots clung to dormant plants that sat patiently waiting for spring to take hold. It was a shame the gardens had fallen into such disarray - more so than the Manor itself, with so many of its rooms sheet-covered and closed off to the rest of the world. The gardens he was viewing now was only a small acreage of the land they held; in what state would he find the land beyond?

Draco couldn't help but feel a pang of shame that his family let the care of this land fall to the wayside. As though any of them had better things to do. It had been years since he last took herbology, but even if he destroyed the garden… it could re-grow eventually, as all living things did.

Still, he was hesitant to use magic in case he ended up doing something truly stupid - such as burn the Manor to the ground. Instead, he did something his father would be truly horrified to witness; he got down on his hands and knees and began yanking dead things from the ground by hand.

He wasn't sure how long he worked, but the sun was high in the sky when a distant bird call stilled his hand.

Draco gazed upward towards the disturbance, wiping the sleeve of his robes over his sweat-beaded brow without much care towards the already-dirty fabric. His stomach jolted when he spotted a now-familiar owl spiralling down towards him, and he retrieved a letter from the bird's leg with greedy hands when it landed next to him.

Mr Draco Malfoy, her letter began, and instead of the familiar spark of irritation her past greetings caused, Draco felt a peculiar pull in his chest at the sight of her looping scrawl.

It was akin to the strange tightness that constricted his throat just that morning, or when he hunted that boggart in the dark… Except this time, his body felt too warm, and his fingers itched to pull his robes away from his fevered skin. It wasn't a bad feeling, but it wasn't quite good either.

Shaking his head, he continued.

Blaise and Luna are truly accommodating people, considering their patience with our antics. Fortunately, Luna is appreciative of my good intentions, as any true friend should be.

Ginevra Molly Weasley

PS. Fancy a drink?

He pondered over the words she'd written him. Ginny said that a friend would appreciate her intentions; does that mean she reserved those good intentions for her friends? Is that what they were?

Frowning, he thought back to the first moment he really noticed her. When Ginny defended him against the boggart, looking every bit like a goddess descended from above. When she had the nerve to expose herself to him, without a guarantee he'd respond in kind. He thought back to when she stood on the streets of Hogsmeade, her eyes flashing at him as she peered into his soul.

The letters she wrote him, full of thoughtful words and witty prose.

Draco still wasn't entirely sure what he'd do with a friend, if he ever had one, but it certainly wasn't this.


Ginny smiled to herself as she read Draco's letter again, trying not to give his words more meaning than they held. It was difficult not to feel hopeful, though.

It took her hours to sort through her jumbled feelings this morning; she spent much of it trying to decide whether she'd been flirting with Draco Malfoy. She could acknowledge that she was a mess, but he was even more so; even if she had been flirting with him, it could only end in disaster. What was she thinking, trying to egg him on?

But he did understand her, on a level no one else seemed to quite grasp. His curt manner was refreshing, and something she found a joy to challenge. Drawing Draco out of his brooding had felt like a small victory when they spent the evening together at the Hog's Head.

She resolved that while she'd have to be mad to get involved with someone like Draco Malfoy… perhaps she'd be even madder not to see what happened.

More important than anything else, their brief time together sparked something peculiar in her. As though all their correspondence grounded her, stopped the feeling that she might float away dead in its tracks.

She saw Draco Malfoy. And Draco Malfoy saw her, too.

With renewed resolve, she'd written to him once more.

His reply had been as brusque as she expected, however she failed to anticipate the butterflies it would send careening through her stomach - the ones that told her she was likely as mad as she'd thought.

Ginevra,

Consider it a date.

Draco


Author's Notes:

Sorry for bending your 'Hogwart's Era' Must Have, but in my defense, you said the year doesn't matter? ;) I hope you enjoy where I took the prompt, nonetheless! Thank you to my beta for being such a great help and for their exquisite attention to detail.

This story features light substance abuse and trauma. Any reflections of mental disorders are not based on anyone in real life.


Julie's Prompt #1:
Basic premise: Draco finding Ginny when she's having a panic attack because of a boggart in the dungeons and is really curious as to why her worst fear is a Slytherin Head Boy whom he'd never seen before.

Must haves: Ginny Weasley recognised for the badass that she is. Draco Malfoy learning how to have friends. Hogwarts Era (the year doesn't matter).

No-no's: Bad ending that makes you wanna cry, Draco being shy and no Tom Riddle bashing.

Rating range: Preferably M. No need for any explicit smut, but shouldn't be a kids fic.

Bonus points: Draco Malfoy being a cute, clueless baby when it comes to actually having friends beneath all of his tough guy/bad boy exterior. "You have no idea how to do this, do you?"