'Now as long as you're just hanging there, pay attention. The only rules that matter are these: What a man can do and what a man can't'--Captain Jack Sparrow; Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
'Do us a favor. I know it's difficult for you, but just stay here and try not to do anything stupid!'-Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
'I often wonder if there's intelligent life on any other planet. I think there must be, because they haven't tried to contact us yet.'-(paraphrased) John Maloney, British Comedian
(Apropos to nothing) ::Girly shriek:: Mom! McDonald's can't balance on a chocolate orange!!! What were you thinking?!—David Felix, today
The tall, lanky man sat at the table with his large, work-roughened hands wrapped around a mug of some dark, rich brew. He wasn't a good-looking man, but he wasn't ugly, either. The best one could say for him was that he was 'plain'. Until he smiled, that was. His smile was large and open and friendly, warming those who saw him. He wasn't smiling now, though. What he was doing was alternating between staring into the depths of the steaming liquid and watching the door to the small shop he was sitting in. There had been a school owl from Hogwarts waiting for him as soon as he had entered the shop earlier, from the young woman who was causing the unusual uneasiness that was gripping him. A quick glance at his watch showed that she was late, but the churning in his stomach told him that he wasn't all that eager for her to arrive. As he looked longingly at his beverage, thinking of taking another gulp, the bell above the shop's door tinkled.
Catching his breath, he looked up to see the small, plump redhead enter the shop. Swallowing something between a curse and a sigh, he rose to his feet, smoothed his shop apron, and raised his hand. This was it, he thought. Do or die.
Ginny entered the shop somewhat reluctantly. She almost wanted to just slink away, but she'd promised the young man who worked here that she'd meet him. And Ginny needed to talk to him, anyway. There was something she had to tell him. When Bob rose and waved at her, a little smile on his face, Ginny took a deep breath and waved back. Forcing a smile, she straightened her shoulders and made her way to his table.
The smile he'd given her froze on his face as she approached. He was now staring at her head.
That was the first thing he could think of to say. Her long braid was gone and her hair was cut a little shorter than shoulder-length, in a wispy, impish style. It was very attractive, downplaying the longish nose and bringing more attention to the girl's beautiful eyes. His breath caught again as she stopped in front of him.
Ginny resisted the urge to reach for her braid. It wasn't there anymore. That was the 'errand' she'd had to run this morning. She had thought over and over again about what had happened with Pansy Parkinson, and what Malfoy had said after, in the library. And even though he was a great git and didn't really give a damn about her, he'd been right. What was the point in keeping her hair long if she never wore it loose? It was a great pain in the arse and she was better without it. But not having the familiar weight of it down her back and flopping onto her shoulder was a little unnerving, just like the way Bob was staring at her. Rallying her spirits, she pasted a grin on her face and addressed the tall man standing before her.
"Yeah, I know. I was kind of used to it, myself. But this is much easier to take care of, and I think it looks better. Besides, like someone told me before, I should cut it if I wasn't going to do anything with it."
He'd been staring at her hair and had even lifted one large, work-roughened hand to her head when her words stopped him.
"Whoever said that has a big, stupid mouth," he said flatly, dropping his hand. "The prat at school?"
Ginny shrugged, feeling uncomfortable now. "Does it matter? He was right. Besides, I like it." Then her brow creased. "Why? Does it look that bad?"
She'd thought it was an attractive style, but now she didn't know. Her fears were eased in the next moment.
"It's beautiful," Bob said honestly. "I just…it was a surprise! When…"
He trailed off, still looking at her. Now Ginny did reach up to pat at the new hairstyle. Grinning, she admitted, "I just had it done. Is it really all right?"
As though waking from a daze, the man blinked and really looked at her. Returning her smile, he took her hands. "Ginny-girl," he said quietly, feelingly, "you were pretty before. Now you're just prettier. Want to sit?"
Ginny allowed him to lead her to a chair, but she tugged her hands gently back as they sat. It would probably be better to get this over right away, she thought. She really wasn't sure exactly what this young man's feelings toward her were, but she didn't want him to get the wrong impression. Even if Draco Malfoy was the most unfeeling git in the world and didn't care for her as anything more than a friend, she had grown to like him very much, and she would not lead this man on, just because she was angry at the annoying Slytherin. Therefore, before Bob could say anything, Ginny cleared her throat.
"Um, it's great to see you again, Bob," she said. "It's always good to see friends."
Not very subtle, she thought, given the emphasis she'd put on the word 'friends'. He'd noticed as well, since he was eying her curiously.
"Yeah, it is great to see friends, Ginny-girl, especially when the friends are people who will listen to you when you have something important to say, right?"
Uh-oh, Ginny didn't like where this sounded like it was going. She spoke quickly to forestall him.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," she blurted out. "And I have something important to say. I just wanted to get it out so there aren't any misunderstandings, right? I just want to--,"
She got no further. The man sitting across from her broke in.
"Look, Ginny, there's something really important I have to tell you, too. Please just let me say it."
Ginny bit her lip, but she was determined. "Okay, Bob, but after I'm done. I really need to do it straight away, before I lose my nerve. So, it's like this. I know I'm probably reading more into this than there is, but I have to tell you that even though I like you, a lot, I care about someone else. You know?"
"Ginny, please," he interrupted, but Ginny plowed ahead.
"We got on really well, you know, at the holidays. And I really enjoy your company. But this other boy, not really a boy, actually, but not quite a man yet, and I know I'm babbling, but I really like him, even if he doesn't know I'm a girl, you know? I just didn't want you to think…"
Her voice finally faded away when she noticed Bob looking away, his expression bleak.
"Bob?" Ginny reached for his hand, but stopped before she could take it. "I'm really sorry," she whispered. "Maybe I should go."
"No," he murmured, bringing his gaze back to her. "Not yet. I still have something to tell you."
Standing, he paced toward the counter, and then back. "Just remember," he said when he was standing before her again, "I wanted to go first. Right?"
Ginny nodded even though she wasn't really certain why that made any difference. The man sat again, wrapping his hands around his mug. He even lifted it, but shook his head and firmly set the mug back down without drinking.
"Okay, it's like this," he said finally. "I wasn't completely honest with you before. I said I worked at the coffee house where we met, but actually, I own it. I own this one, too. I was going to open in Paris, but I decided to try Hogsmeade instead, when my manager said he didn't want to move out of England."
He paused, but Ginny only stared at him with wide eyes. He owned the coffee houses? Well, so much for Malfoy's smart remarks about him not having two sickles to rub together. Even as she thought this, something was niggling at the back of her mind. There was something wrong. Something was off about Bob's voice and the way he was talking. Her brow wrinkled as he continued.
"Anyway, my family's broke now, but I took the only decent advice my father gave me. He said to invest in real estate, so I took the small savings I had and I bought the coffee house. I spent last summer learning the business, but I also found a fellow who knows the business inside and out, and he manages the place for me when I can't be there."
Ginny still stared, trying to figure out what was wrong with this picture.
Giving her head a small shake, she said, "I don't understand. I never saw anyone else there. Just you. Who is this other person? And why are you talking different now?"
Bob stood again, this time grasping Ginny's hands and pulling her up. "It's complicated," he said. "When we met in London, I was…that is, I…oh, hell, this is harder than I thought it would be. Just remember, I did want to go first. So, anyway, I'm not just some coffee-house berk, right?"
Ginny's eyes widened as that phrase echoed familiarly through her mind. She'd heard something like it before, and recently, too.
"Look, Ginny, you're going to figure it out soon anyway, so just remember this, right?"
Wrapping his large hand around her neck, Bob pulled her close. Looking straight into her eyes, he said, "I love you, brat, right?"
Ginny struggled back, shaking her head. "No, you don't, Bob," she said, almost panicked. "You don't even know—WHAT?"
Her mouth dropped open as she realized exactly what the man before her had said. She closed it before saying slowly, "No, it can't be. You couldn't—he couldn't…not even he would do something that vile!"
Bob took a step toward her, but she retreated, putting the table between them.
"You just stay right where you are!" she blurted out when he started edging toward her.
"Come on, brat," he said, gripping the back of one of the chairs tightly. "You can't avoid me forever. I did try to tell you first! Don't I get some credit for that?"
"Try to tell me what?" she demanded. "That you made a world class fool out of me? That you pretended to be someone else so you could humiliate me? Why would you do that?"
"It was stupid, okay? I admit it. I just wanted to, I don't know, see if you really meant what you said about personality being more important than looks. I thought I'd tease you about it after the holidays. It was all planned, and then we had that stupid argument. And then you wouldn't talk to me. When you finally did, I couldn't tell you the truth."
Ginny glared at him. "I was wrong," she said hotly. "You can be that low. You were laughing at me the whole time! Every time I—bleated about the argument I had with my friend it must have been killing you not to laugh! You're—you're—oh, I still don't know a word bad enough!"
Ginny spun toward the door, but she wasn't even half way before he caught her.
"I wasn't laughing, Ginny," he said earnestly. "I was kicking myself in the ass! My manager kept forwarding your letters, and I kept thinking that if I didn't answer them, you'd just forget about the guy you met at the hols."
Ginny struggled but he was just too strong. "Let go, Bob, or Malfoy, or whoever the hell you are! If you don't, I'm going to kick you someplace you won't like!"
He only pulled her closer and wrapped his arms around her tightly. "I should have known better," he said as though she hadn't spoken. "Of course you wouldn't forget. You're a Gryffindor, after all. And, damn it, brat! Stop kicking! I'm not letting go until you promise to listen!"
Ginny had been trying to get a decent shot at his shins, but he was too close. She finally subsided. "All right, I'll give you two minutes," she gritted out. She had to agree; he was holding so tightly, he was practically smothering her!
Releasing her, he looked at her seriously.
"Whatever it is, though, it better be good, because you are officially number one on my shit list!"
The corner of the large mouth twitched slightly. "I only have one thing to say, really."
He wrapped his hand around her neck again, as he had before, but before he could speak, he let out a cry and collapsed to the floor.
"Shit, shit, shit!" he muttered.
Ginny stared in horrified fascination as he curled himself into a ball on the floor. His muscles seemed to be spasming and contorting. The dark hair began to lighten, and the broad shoulders narrowed. After what seemed like hours but was probably only a few seconds, Draco let out a gusty sigh and lay back. His eyes were tightly closed and his face still wore a look of pain.
"Good God, Malfoy!" Ginny breathed. "That looked painful!"
"Hurt like hell," he muttered, still trying to catch his breath.
"Good!" Ginny snapped, kicking him, albeit gently, in the hip. "You deserve it for being such a pathetic coffee-house berk!"
Then she knelt beside him and brushed the hair from his brow. "How many times did you have to go through that?"
Draco opened his eyes and smirked at her. "Worried about me, brat?"
"Not a bit," she stated, returning the smug look. "I just figured it was poetic justice for what you did to me. So how many times?"
He struggled to sit up, wincing at the residual soreness from his recent change in form. When he was sitting next to her, he shrugged. "Every day at the hols, except the last day, when I didn't see you. Today. That's about it. Not something I'd like to make a career of."
Ginny considered this. "I assume it was you who sent me that letter today. Why did you write, then, if you were hoping I'd just forget about you—Bob—whoever?" she finally asked, frowning.
"It was stupid, I know. My ego, I guess. I couldn't believe that you were still talking about someone you met months ago and who never wrote back to you. I just knew you'd come and tell me that you'd told him to get lost. I never expected you to—."
He broke off suddenly, giving her a hard look.
"What?" Ginny demanded.
"Would you have really 'snogged his brains out'?" Draco asked suddenly. "Some berk you only met once?"
Ginny's cheeks flushed but she replied steadily, "If I wanted to, of course I would have."
"But did you want to?"
"Look, Malfoy," Ginny snapped, standing. "You went out of your way to be Mr. Charming over the holidays. Don't start getting all high-and-mighty because your charm actually worked. If I'd known it was really you in there…" The sentence trailed off as she moved toward the door again.
Draco scrambled to his feet and quickly blocked her exit. "If you'd know it was me in there? Then what?"
"Then, it doesn't really matter, does it? You were trying to prove that looks and money are more important that a person's personality, but you didn't prove anything, did you? And, at any rate, it backfired, didn't it? You played a rotten trick on me and now it's over. I'm leaving. Now, move!"
She would have shoved past him, but he grabbed her arm. Ginny must not have wanted to leave very badly, because she didn't struggle. Draco took that as an encouraging sign.
"Look, brat, I know what I did was pretty low. But I learned a lot about you when you didn't think you were talking to 'the enemy'. So I'd do it again if I had to."
Ginny looked up into his face, wondering at the lack of his usual smirk. He'd done something really underhanded, but it hadn't really hurt her, had it? Suddenly she remembered what he'd said earlier. Worse, she remembered what she'd said about caring for someone else. Flushing hotly, Ginny looked away.
"I think I'd better go," she said quietly.
"Hang on," he said. "Just one more thing, and then I'll let you go."
He pulled her with him to the table, and then lifted a small bag. Taking a book from the bag, he handed it to her. "You left this in the library," he said.
Ginny saw that it was the romance novel she'd been reading that morning, with the letter from 'Bob' still inside. She looked up.
"Ginny-girl," he said softly. "I liked calling you that, you know? It fits you better than Weasley, but not as well as 'brat'." He couldn't help smirking again when she wrinkled her nose. "Anyway, I know this isn't what happens in your romance novels," he reached to cradle her neck again, tugging her closer. "But I do love you. And I'm sorry I tricked you. So if you meant what you said earlier, about caring about someone else…"
He trailed off again, seeming lost. Ginny swallowed. She should be angry, really she should, but how could she be with him looking so good and standing so close and saying such lovely things? But she couldn't make it that easy for him.
"Actually, I was talking about someone else," she said quickly, shaking off his hand. At his skeptical look, she continued. "I meant, uh, Neville Longbottom! He's really a very nice fellow, you know. And a much better wizard now he has his own wand!"
"That's it!" he said, advancing on her. "You're a scheming, sneaking, lying brat and I don't know what I see in you! You know you were talking about me. Now tell me you love me too, or I'll have to do something drastic and very like those trashy novels you read! Or maybe I'll just have to turn you over my knee and spank you like the brat you are!"
Ginny took offence at his threat, but he had his hand around her neck again and was pulling her closer. Placing a hand on his chest, she held him at arm's length. "Conceited, much?" she said, giving him a smug look. "You know exactly what you see in me, Malfoy. I am scheming. I'm as sneaky as you and I don't let you bully me the way everyone else does. And I don't fawn over you. And don't ever try to threaten me, Malfoy, or I might have to hex you!"
"You would, too, wouldn't you?" he whispered, smiling.
"I've done it before, haven't I?" she shot back, but she was smiling, too.
"That you have," he agreed. "I suppose that means I'd better not let you go long enough to pull your wand." He pulled her even closer and wrapped his arms around her. "So, Ginny-girl, am I forgiven?"
"Do I get free coffee if I forgive you?"
"Only if you kiss me," he replied, moving to brush her mouth with his.
Ginny pulled back only slightly, her eyes dancing with amusement. "Oh, well, if I must!"
The bell over the door rang, but neither Ginny nor Draco really noticed. They didn't notice when three seventh year Gryffindors entered, curiosity drawing them into the new shop. They didn't even notice the shocked gasp their amorous embrace elicited from all three students, but most especially from the tall red-haired young man. He fisted his hands and considered pulling out his wand, but decided against.
"Let's get out of here," he muttered to his companions.
The young woman nodded, her eyes drawn from his rigid face to the disgusting sight of Ginny Weasley kissing Draco Malfoy and back, but the other young man hesitated.
"But Ron," he said urgently, "it's Ginny and Malfoy!"
Ron dragged his eyes away and gave his friend a slightly sick look. "Yeah, and look how miserable she made me when I tried to tell her she couldn't be his friend! Forget it, Harry. I'll just owl Mum and let her handle it."