Disclaimer: I own none of the characters mentioned in any of the books written by J.K. Rowling. I do own my OC's—Jonathon, Gareth, Melissa, etc etc. :)
Ginny slumped down in her chair and blew a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. "Again," she said firmly. "Swish and flick. You're not attacking the feather with your wand, Gareth."
He gave her a half-hearted glare before he eyed the feather narrowly. He raised his wand and twirled it, then pointed it dramatically at the feather before shouting, "Wingardium levio!"
The wand trembled for a moment, then exploded, leaving Gareth with a faceful of disintegrated feather. Ginny eyed the strand of hair that had fallen in her eyes again and plucked a piece of feather out of it; then she reached to the table beside her that was stacked with feathers, and gave another one to Gareth. He placed it on the table before him and regarded it warily before picking up his wand again.
He took a deep breath, but before he could shout out his incanation, Ginny stopped him. "Hold on a second, before we kill another feather. Why don't I show you?"
"I know how to do it!" he snarled at her, and she snarled back at him.
"Well obviously not, because with the feathers that you've already blown up you could very well feather a naked chicken!"
He glowered at her before irritably shoving his wand into her hands. She rolled her eyes at the obstinacy of men, then primly pointed her wand at the feather. "Wingardium leviosa," she said calmly, and the feather began to levitate, floating gently toward the ceiling.
She glanced over at Gareth, and saw he was glaring at the feather. She handed him back his wand. "Leviosa," she stressed. "You've got the first part right. Try it again."
He transferred his glare to her. "If I'd have known how much a pain in the arse you would be, I wouldn't have even gone to Diagon Alley," he mumbled, and she smacked him.
"Well you're not exactly a treat either! Now do it!" She pointed imperiously at the feather, and Gareth pointed his wand at it, his eyes irritated. "Wingardium leviosa!"
A moment later, the feather trembled for a breath, then shot straight up at the ceiling and hovered there, bumping against it impatiently, as if it wanted to break through the whole ceiling. Gareth stared up at it, gaping, and then glanced at Ginny as if to say, Well, what now?
Ginny frowned. In first year Charms she had never seen anyone's feather go absolutely ballistic as Gareth's seemed to be doing. Was that because Gareth wasn't an eleven-year old, or because something was wrong with his spell? Ginny nibbled anxiously on her lip, and when the feather started to zoom around the room, she pointed her wand at it and commanded, "Finite incantatum." Immediately the feather stilled, then floated peacefully to the floor.
"Why did it do that?" Gareth asked, baffled, staring at his wand. "Is something wrong with my wand?"
"I don't think so," Ginny said slowly. "I think that you're putting too much power into it."
"What does that mean?" Gareth asked her cautiously, seating himself in a chair. They had chosen the less-used parlor for Gareth's lessons, and Ginny was grateful they hadn't chosen a room that was used more often. Charred feathers littered the floor, and she reminded herself to clean them up before they left. No sense in giving the house-elves more work than necessary.
Ginny seated herself in a chair opposite him, and mulled over the problem for a moment. "Well, this is what my Magical Theory professor told me: magic is like this great big well inside of you. It's everywhere inside you—in your fingers, in your belly, your throat. When you use your wand and cast a spell, you're pulling that magic from yourself. That's why you get so tired when you're in battle—not only because it's physically draining running around, and emotionally draining to see your friends get hurt, but also because you're sucking out your magic a little bit at a time." She had to pause for a moment and bite her lip. She had felt that drain from battle—she had seen friends fall before her, had wept tears that slid through the dried blood on her face.
Viciously, Ginny shoved away those memories. They didn't fit with her life now. The war had gone on for two years before Harry had killed Voldemort. Two years of desperation and pain. She didn't want to think on them anymore. Involuntarily, her mind conjured up the image of Dean Thomas's face, and Michael Corner's. Michael's death had probably had hit her the hardest. He had died protecting her. He had harbored a silly crush on her from Hogwarts, and when they had been faced with a Death Eater, he had taken a curse meant for her.
Ginny shuddered as a cool wind brushed over her skin. She hadn't seen the ghosts of Malfoy Manor since she had first come here, but she felt their presence. Cool fingers on the back of her neck, the feeling of being watched, and yet not at the same time. If she went back to that battlefield, would she see those who had fallen? Would she see Michael, blood still leaking from his mouth, a dazed look in his eyes before the spark faded from them?
Abruptly she realized that Gareth was calling her, his brow furrowed in worry. She shook herself, then smiled weakly at him. "I'm sorry—I was just thinking. What was I saying?"
"You were saying that battle drains you magically as well as physically and emotionally," he said slowly, eyeing her in concern. "Virginia, are you all right?"
"Yes," she said, forcing her voice to be brisk. "Yes, of course. To continue—when you use your wand, you're instinctively pulling some of that magic out of you and through your wand. Your wand is the conduit that makes raw magic into what we see all the time. And what you're doing is you're pulling out too much magic."
"So how do I not do that?"
Ginny pursed her lips. "I'm actually not too sure. Practice, I suppose. Most people learn magic when they're young and more in touch with themselves and what they feel. Therefore from the first time that they do magic, they learn how much strength to channel into their spell. I suppose you'll just have to learn through practice. And that's not something I can help you with." She smiled wryly. "Once you have your balance down, then we can work on actual spell-casting."
Gareth's face fell, as if he were a child who had been denied a piece of candy. "Oh, all right," he grumbled. "And how am I supposed to figure out my balance?"
She smiled wryly at him and laid her hand on the pile of feathers on the table beside her. He glanced at her hand, and he sighed heavily. "Fuck," he muttered, and made her laugh.
"Don't be a baby," she teased him. "You're the one who wanted to learn."
"Yeah yeah yeah," he mumbled. "Don't remind me. I was just fine before."
"Yes you were," she told him cheerfully, rising from her chair. She turned toward the doorway, then stopped in surprise. Draco was standing there and watching them in silence, his eyes narrowed.
"Draco?" she blurted out before she could hold her tongue. His eyes immediately went to her, and went hot. His gaze moved leisurely over her, and she felt a wave of heat crawl up her throat and into her cheeks. From any other man she would have kicked him in the balls for looking at her like that. But when Draco looked at her like that, her tongue suddenly seemed too unwieldy and heavy to speak.
"Hello, ma chaton," he murmured, and saw her eyes dilate slightly in pleasure. Draco studiously ignored Gareth, who had remained seated, his eyes on Ginny. The second that Draco had stepped into the room, Ginny had completely forgotten Gareth's presence.
"Hi," she whispered huskily. He moved sinuously toward her, and Ginny watched him in utter fascination. He was so graceful that it was like watching a ballet to watch him move. Not that his movements were anything feminine—on the contrary, he glided as though he were a tiger—deadly, silent. He reached her, and skimmed his fingertips over her cheekbone.
"We must go to a dinner party tonight," he said softly. "Do you have something to wear?"
"Yes," she whispered, staring up at him with searching eyes. He dropped his eyes from hers instinctively—he felt as if she could see into his soul. And that was something that he definitely didn't want her to see. He nearly jumped when he felt her gentle fingertips brush hesitantly over his face, reciprocating the gesture that he had used a moment before. His eyes shot back to hers, and he saw the heat in them. But he backed away, even as he wondered why the hell he was doing so. "Be ready at eight o' clock," he said curtly, then strode out of the room, leaving a very frustrated and confused Ginny behind.
At eight o' clock, Ginny walked downstairs to find that Draco was impatiently waiting for her, glancing at his watch every so often. She paused for a moment to observe him when he wasn't aware of her. She bit her lip. He was one of the most gorgeous men she had ever seen, and one of the most confusing. Most of the time it seemed as though he was exactly the person that society had portrayed him to be. He was cold and ruthless, and if he wanted something he went after it without a qualm. But then sometimes—sometimes there was such vulnerability in his eyes that it made her heart ache. But those times were rare; he didn't show her his softer side very often. She wasn't even sure if she wanted to see his softer side. It was infinitely easier to believe him to be a former Death Eater because he didn't threaten her safety that way. She knew that he wouldn't harm her physically—not only was she capable of protecting herself, but she was positive that Jonathon had taken precautions. She was more worried about her emotional safety. Draco called to her blood in a way that she wasn't sure she liked. She hadn't been involved with a man for a long time. She didn't know if she wanted to be.
As she stepped down off the last stair, he turned to look at her. For a long moment he merely stared at her, scrutinizing her as if he were deciding if she looked presentable enough. Just the thought made her bristle, even as she wondered what he saw when he looked at her. She knew that the simple black dress set off her pale skin and bright hair well, and that the dress bared smooth shoulders she had always been rather partial to. Beyond that, she hadn't fussed too much with her appearance. Her makeup was minimal—merely sweeping a soft plum shade over her eyelids to darken her eyes and darkening her eyelashes. But for all that, her mouth was still unpainted, a pale curve of solemn pink that had thinned at his blatant perusal.
"Well? Do I meet muster?" she asked bitingly, and saw his eyes flicker for a moment before he made a dismissive gesture with one long, elegant hand that set her teeth on edge.
"You'll do," he said coolly.
There was a long silence in the hallway, broken only by the faint sound of one of the various grandfather clocks scattered throughout the house. On one of the rare occasions that Draco had spoken to her about the house, he had told her that his ancestors had loved the damn things so much that it was now a family tradition for every heir to buy at least one in their lifetime. When she had pertly asked him if he had already bought his, he had given her a scornful look and left her.
Ginny shifted awkwardly from foot to foot, a little uncomfortable with the long silence. She felt as though she should fill it with something, but couldn't think of any words that didn't sound remarkably stupid. Finally she blurted out, "You didn't tell me who we were going to be dining with tonight."
His gaze slanted toward her from where he had been intently studying a Ming vase that sat on a Chippendale table on the other side of the room. Shades of aristocracy, Ginny thought with a sad pang. And here she was—just as pureblood as he, but without the money. For one moment she allowed herself a little twinge of self-pity, then he was speaking. "We're dining with the Notts tonight."
Ginny blinked several times in quick succession. "As in Pansy Parkinson's husband?" she blurted out. "As in—your ex-wife?"
"The very one," he said, his voice heavy with irony.
"Why are we going over there? That's a recipe for disaster if I've ever heard one."
He smiled at her mockingly, the soft light in his eyes that she had seen earlier gone. "Why, we are trying to prove that we are a love match, are we not? Who better to know me than my ex-wife? If she believes, so will others. And if she believes, everyone else will know about it by morning. Pansy is a master at the art of gossip."
"Yes, so I remember," she murmured. She inhaled deeply and then blew out the breath in a sharp gust. "Well then. Let's be off. Don't want to be late," she said cheerfully, and could have sworn she saw him grimace for one moment.
"Indeed," he replied, then offered her his arm. She stepped forward and slid her hand into the crook of his elbow and nearly gasped. He was so warm! The man was like a walking furnace. How had she not noticed it before? She resisted the sudden urge to curl up against him and just let his body warm her. Sometimes she felt as if she could never be warm in this mausoleum of a house. She loved the beautiful architecture and the grounds, but she could never feel warm, or even alone. Even when she slept she felt as if people watched her and whispered behind ghostly hands. Their murmurs filled her ears as she slept and invaded her dreams, and she was slowly becoming accustomed to it although she still hated it.
"Do you know where the Notts' is?"
That straightened her spine in an instant. "Of course I know. I'm not stupid, Draco."
He wisely bit his tongue and was grateful for it when he saw her give him a narrow eyed glance. Since he hadn't said anything, she let her spine relax slightly. Once he was sure she wasn't going to rip into him, Draco said coolly, "Very well then. I shall meet you there."
Then he was gone with a loud crack, leaving the bones in her arm tingling with the aftershock of his Apparation. She sniffed loudly. "Prat," she muttered to the empty hallway, then Apparated herself.
She appeared a moment after Draco on the Notts' doorstep and only had a moment to smooth her hair with one nervous hand while she slipped the other through Draco's arm. He barely glanced at her as the door opened to reveal a stoic man in a butler's uniform that looked as though he could have been a contemporary of Albus Dumbledore. Before she could speak, Draco said coldly, "The Malfoys."
The man made a slight bow, and Ginny could have sworn she heard bones creak and pop as he did so. "Yes, sir," he said in a robust, deep voice that was belied by his frail frame. "If you'll come this way, sir. Mrs. Nott asked that you be seated in the parlor."
Draco swept inside, nearly dragging Ginny along with him. She tripped once at the quick pace and glared at his back before she regained her feet and strode along with him. She felt his quick glance but ignored it, tilting her nose into the air to show that she was firmly irritated with his high-handed behavior.
The butler was rather spry for an old guy, Ginny mused as they wended their way through the corridors of the huge Nott mansion. Despite Draco's quick pace, the butler was invariably three steps ahead of them and didn't show any signs of being tired. She was so caught up in her thoughts and wondering if the butler lived off Pepper-Up potions that she didn't notice when he stopped and opened a door. She kept right on walking and would have run into the butler had Draco had not jerked her back and hissed a warning.
Ginny blinked and then smoothed her face just as the butler looked at them again. "The parlor, sir," he said calmly, and Ginny could only hope that he hadn't noticed how out of it she was. Get it together, she told herself sharply, very aware of the waves of irritation that were flowing through the physical contact she had with Draco. She couldn't afford to be stupid tonight. By tomorrow everyone in the wizarding world would have the judgment on Draco and Ginny's marriage, and she had to make it a good one.
She blew out a soft breath and straightened her spine and tucked her body a little closer to Draco's. She felt his quick spurt of surprise, then his hand slid over hers where it lay upon his arm. Before she had time to be surprised at the protective masculine gesture, he was leading her inside the parlor.
She looked around, trying desperately not to gawk. Malfoy Manor was a gorgeous home, but Nott House was just as beautiful. The elegance was tastefully understated, the furniture and artwork priceless. Ginny felt quick envy that someone could decorate something so beautifully. She was absolutely dismal at such things, more caught up in her stories and dream worlds than the real one to know enough about antiques as to decorate with them.
Draco leaned down and brushed his mouth against her ear. She shivered convulsively and felt his fingers tighten on her hand. "Don't gawk," he murmured in her ear, and the feel of his warm breath made her shiver again. He lifted his head slightly away from hers, and she turned her head to look at him, bringing their mouths close together. She lifted her eyes to his and saw them heat.
"Do I disturb you, little one?" he whispered, his breath puffing against her lips.
She stared up at him and felt something in her stomach shudder with a feeling she recognized as pure lust. "Yes," she whispered, and her eyes slid closed as his mouth moved closer to hers.
She could feel the heat of his mouth sear her lips, he was so close. "Ah, Draco!" Someone said from the doorway, and Ginny's eyes snapped open and she whirled in surprise.
She blinked once or twice as she stared at Pansy Parkinson Nott. The hard-faced, pug-nosed girl that she remembered from Hogwarts was gone now. Pansy had a perfect cap of shining gold hair that swung at her chin. Her nose seemed normal now, and Ginny briefly wondered if she had had that Muggle plastic surgery that her dad was always raving about. Although there was a hardness in her face, it only made it all the more unusual. Pansy wasn't a beautiful woman, but she was certainly a striking one. Her cornflower blue eyes seemed perfectly innocent, but Ginny could see the glitter in them.
Naturally, she was elegantly attired in a vibrant crimson suit that matched the color slicked on her lips. It swept down into a deep V between her breasts that left Ginny feeling decidedly frumpy in her simple black dress. As if he had sensed the thought, Draco's fingers squeezed hers for a moment before he spoke. "Pansy, you're looking lovely, as always." Despite the compliment, his voice barely skimmed the edge of polite. He knew just as well as Ginny did that Pansy had worn that ensemble to see if he was still tempted by her. Fortunately for their deception, just looking at her made him want to curl his lip in derision. He glanced down at Ginny and saw that she looked slightly vulnerable as she stared at Pansy, so he squeezed her fingers again in warning. "Pansy, may I introduce my wife, Virginia Malfoy?"
"Charmed," Pansy said, baring her teeth in a parody of a smile and holding out her hand to shake Ginny's. "I'm Pansy Nott. But I'm sure that you remember me from Hogwarts."
Ginny bristled at the woman's arrogance, and her spine straightened with a snap. She echoed Pansy's hard smile and shook her hand, then released her swiftly, flirting with the edge of rudeness. "Naturally," Ginny purred, slipping her arm through Draco's again and cuddling up against his side just to watch Pansy grind her teeth. "You were quite the personality at Hogwarts, Mrs. Nott."
"Please, call me Pansy," the woman nearly snarled, and Ginny had a moment of selfish satisfaction that she had so easily unsettled the other woman.
Unfortunately, Pansy quickly recovered her dignity as another man stepped into the room. Ginny studied him, seeing the remnants of the quiet, dignified Theodore Nott that she had glancingly known back at Hogwarts. His deep brown eyes were still thoughtful and assessing of the world around him, his face more of a poet's than a warrior. His hair was long and shaggy, curling over his nape in a style most unbefitting a business man. But then, Theodore had always played by his own rules and no one else's. That was one thing that Ginny had always liked about him. There had always been a quiet reserve about him that Ginny liked; he kept his own counsel, which was something she could admit that in the past she had sometimes lacked.
But Theodore had been involved with the Order. He had gone under an assumed name and altered his appearance, but Dumbledore had known who he was. And after inadvertently overhearing a conversation between Theodore and Dumbledore, she had known as well. She was proud to say that it was one secret that she had faithfully kept, not even whispering it to Hermione in the darkness. Theodore had been a lot like Snape, from what Ginny had understood of the bits of conversation she had once heard. He had joined the Death Eaters as well as the Order and passed along tidbits of information. Snape had never liked him one bit, but then Snape didn't like anyone.
As Theodore appeared in the doorway, Pansy's face seemed to soften magically. "Teddy," she cooed, and he shot her a hard, speaking glance that clearly said they had had a conversation about the use of that particular nickname. She ignored it and hurried toward him and slipped her arm through his. "Draco, may I present my husband, Theodore Nott?"
Draco nodded curtly and stepped forward to briskly shake Theodore's hand. "Yes. I remember you, Nott."
"And I you, Malfoy." Ginny had to swallow hard at the sound of Theodore's voice. It still had that husky, rumbling timbre that always seemed to shake down into a woman's bones and make her shiver. Before she could think too much on it, Draco touched her hand. "Nott, this is my wife, Virginia Malfoy."
She could have sworn that she saw a flicker of recognition in Theodore's eyes, but he merely bent over her hand and perfunctorily kissed her fingers as if they were perfect strangers. "Enchanté," he murmured.
"Heureuse de faire votre connaissance," she replied automatically in perfect French. She blinked rapidly and saw that everyone else seemed to be just as surprised as she. She covered her surprise and tried to smile naturally at Theodore, but it was hard. Where did that come from? She wondered. She had only taken a few months of French from her mother before Molly had completely given up. Ginny's accent was atrocious, and she could have sworn that she hadn't retained any of her mother's teachings. Certainly not to have replied so to Theodore, or with a perfect accent. For one moment, it had seemed as though she were someone else and somewhere else, holding onto another man's arm in another age. She felt a cool wind brush over the nape of her neck and shivered. Someone walking over my grave, she thought, and shivered again.
"You speak French, Madame Malfoy?" Pansy asked her in ill-disguised surprise.
"No," Ginny responded automatically, and frowned. "Or at least I didn't think I did."
She saw the glance that Pansy exchanged with her husband and resisted the urge to look up at her own husband. She wasn't sure what he thought of her new, unexpected talent, but she was sure she didn't want to find out here.
There was a loaded, uncomfortable silence in the hallway until Theodore said calmly, "Shall we dine?"
"Of course," Draco said smoothly, and slid his arm around Ginny's waist. He steered her firmly toward the dining room as Theodore and Pansy whispered together in front of them. Braving Draco's possible displeasure, she glanced up at him through veiled lashes. He was watching her with a considering look in his eye that made her wonder apprehensively he was thinking of. "What are you thinking?" she hissed at him, hoping that the Notts couldn't overhear her.
"That you're quite the enigma, Mrs. Malfoy," he said thoughtfully, and saw her eyes widen in response.
Before she could think of an appropriate response, Pansy was ushering them into the dining room. Ginny did her best not to gape, and her fingers tightened unconsciously on Draco's arm. The room was gold, was all she could think. Everything was gold. The tapestries on the walls looked as if they had gold embroidered in them, the long, gleaming cherry wood table had gold filigree around each of the curved feet, the candlesticks on the table gleamed, and the rich burgundy curtains were strung on golden rods. It should have looked gaudy and tasteless. Instead it positively screamed wealth and prestige. Despite that, she liked the quiet elegance of Malfoy Manor's rarely-used dining hall much better.
Draco gave her hand a little squeeze, and she came back to herself. Society manners, she reminded herself. "This room is absolutely gorgeous, Pansy."
"Isn't it though?" she purred, curling her husband's arm closer to her body. Ginny instinctively glanced up at Theodore and saw that he was glancing around the room with derision in his eyes. She wouldn't have even caught the emotion had her shields not slipped as a result of her surprise over the room. Just as she slammed her shields back up, she saw the emotion vanish from Theodore's eyes as if it had never been.
Before she could wonder at it, Draco asked smoothly, "Is anyone else going to be joining us tonight, Pansy?"
"Not a soul, darling," she purred, and Ginny saw irritation flash in Theodore's eyes again. She sensed more than saw that Theodore's fingers tightened on Pansy's wrist in warning. Pansy's eyes flickered for a moment, then she was the smiling hostess once more. "Please sit," she said with more graciousness than she had shown yet.
Wary of trusting the other woman, Ginny allowed Draco to lead her to a chair and seat her. She refused to allow herself to be surprised at how natural it felt to have Draco seat her, and the ease in which she had started to accept his touch. It's just for tonight, she thought a little sadly. Tomorrow we'll be back to hissing and spitting at each other like always.
Before she could dwell on the thought, house elves scurried into the room carrying steaming food. Even as her mouth watered at the smell of the food, Ginny had to gape at the house elves. She had never seen house elves really in action—the Hogwarts house elves had always remained in the kitchen, and her family didn't have any. Despite the creatures' small size and seemingly frail bodies, she saw one of them easily carrying a tray twice his size.
She squirmed slightly in her seat, a little ill at ease with watching the poor things scurry about. They didn't seem to be afraid of Theodore; he ignored them and they offered him the same courtesy. Pansy, however, they veered around, shoulders hunched as if they expected a blow. Draco put his hand on her thigh, and she immediately stilled beneath the touch, more from surprise and sudden lust than from real restraint from him.
When the house elves had all gone and he felt her still, Draco slowly removed his hand. Unable to resist the temptation, he slid a fingertip along her thigh and watched in delight as the pulse her throat hammered and her body stiffened. Pansy's voice broke the quietness, and Draco could have happily strangled her. "So how are your businesses doing, Draco?" She sounded as if she were gritting her teeth, and Ginny looked over at her.
Pansy was smiling, but the smile was all sharp edges and teeth instead of real amusement or politeness. Her innocent blue eyes promised murder as they stared holes into Ginny. Ginny paused for a moment to get her breath back from Draco's unexpected caress, then lifted her chin and quirked one eyebrow at Pansy in challenge. She watched in delight as Pansy's jaw clenched, and she was sure she would have heard the woman's teeth grind if Theodore hadn't inadvertently tapped his fork against his plate.
Ginny's eyes went to him in response and saw him watching her. She stared back at him, offering him the same challenging look that she had shown to Pansy. But instead of Pansy's outrage, Theodore merely smiled faintly and started up a calm conversation with Draco about business.
Ginny let out an invisible breath of relief. There had been a small bit of tension between the two men since they had greeted each other, and Ginny couldn't figure out why. Perhaps there was unfinished business between them from Hogwarts. Or even afterwards. Ginny didn't know if Draco often crossed Theodore's path, but the two men seemed very different. Where Draco was brash and cutting, Theodore was quiet and watchful, although with his own kind of danger. Draco rushed in; Theodore calculated the odds then made his decision. With a small, wry smile Ginny realized that perhaps she had married the right man after all—she would have driven Theodore mad within a week. Upon the heels of that thought she wondered why on earth he had married Pansy. There were hundreds of eligible women in Britain who would have jumped at the chance to marry Theodore Nott, but he had chosen Draco's ex-wife instead. Was that the reason for the tension? Ginny wondered absently. Was it all over Pansy? Oddly enough, the thought stung her.
She lifted her head and saw that Pansy was staring at her, calculation in her eyes. Ginny smiled at her—the same smile that Pansy had used earlier—and deliberately slid her fingertips over Draco's thigh. He jerked convulsively and his head snapped around to stare at her. She just grinned at him as he gave her a half wild look.
"And what do you do, Ginny?" Pansy asked, her voice brittle and sharp as nails.
Ginny removed her hand from Draco's leg, feeling smug. Not only had she put Pansy in her place about lusting after Ginny's husband, but she had unnerved Draco. It was turning out to be a nice night indeed.
"I'm an author," Ginny told her serenely, smiling absently down at the house elves as they removed her bowl of half-eaten soup and replaced it with the next course. They offered her a toothy half-smile in return, but at Pansy's muted hiss they scurried out of the room again.
"An author?" Pansy asked her, folding her hands decorously on the table. "How very fascinating for you. What do you write about?"
"I'm a romance writer," Ginny told her, an amused, sardonic smile curling her lips. Despite that she wasn't particularly socially adept, she was greatly amused at how easy it was to annoy Pansy. She had never liked the woman anyway.
There was a moment of silence at the table, but Ginny refused to let it worry her. She had dealt with small minds before—people who didn't think she was a decent writer simply because of her genre. "A romance writer?" Pansy asked delicately, her nose wrinkled as if she had smelled something bad. "Is there much market for that sort of thing?" she asked sympathetically, and had the pleasure of seeing Ginny's mouth harden into a fine line.
A moment later Ginny bared her teeth at her in a parody of a smile. "Why yes, actually. I do quite well for myself," she said demurely, a Dumbledore-like twinkle in her eyes. She wouldn't mention that with the proceeds from her second book she had been able to buy her own tiny cottage out by the Burrow and furnish it quite comfortably.
"Well that's veritably charming," Pansy declared, although her eyes said it was anything but. Sensing that she wasn't getting anywhere with Ginny, Pansy turned her attention to Draco. "And how is Rosemelda, Draco?" she asked politely, her eyes narrowed and glittering.
Beside her, Ginny felt Draco stiffen up like a poker even as she saw triumph finally glitter in Pansy's eyes. Rosemelda? Ginny wondered absently, and glanced over at her husband. His face looked as though it had been carved from marble, and only his eyes were alive. And they were burning with fierce anger as he stared at a smug Pansy.
"I wouldn't know," he said coldly. "I haven't seen Rosemelda since I was married to you, Pansy."
She gasped audibly and surged to her feet. "Why you brute!" she raged. "How dare you say such a thing? Teddy, aren't you going to say something?" she demanded furiously, whirling on her husband.
He stared up at her with steady brown eyes that had gone as cold as Draco's. "I told you not to call me that, Pansy," he said quietly, his voice flat with sharp edges that slashed and jabbed.
"That's all you can say?" she asked furiously, stamping her foot as if she were a little girl. "He's insulting me! Aren't you going to defend my honor?"
Theodore stared at her silently. "We have guests, Pansy," he said finally. "Would you really like to discuss this now?"
"Yes!" she shrieked. "I would! Hit him! Insult him! Call him out! Just do something!"
Theodore was silent for a long moment. "Very well." He glanced over at Draco and measured him with his eyes for a moment, then nodded slightly to himself. "Malfoy, would you accompany me outside?"
Despite Ginny's reluctantly restraining hand on his thigh, Draco rose gracefully from his seat. "I will, Nott."
Ginny shot to her feet, her eyes flashing. Both men looked at her, and Pansy ignored her as she glowered furiously between Theodore and Draco. "I'm going with my husband," she declared firmly. When Theodore arched an eyebrow and opened his mouth to speak, she cut him off. "No, Theodore. I'm going."
She looked up at Draco and saw that he was watching her with an odd look in his eyes that she couldn't look away from. Finally he sighed. "You know you shouldn't be going to see this, Ginny," he told her, his eyes trying to tell her something.
She frowned slightly as she tried to figure out what he was trying to tell her. She considering just touching his arm and pulling the emotion from him, but rejected it. She didn't want to feel Draco's emotions under any circumstances. She was already too vulnerable to him; there was no need to give the man more weapons. Instead she merely lifted her chin. "I'm going," she said stubbornly.
Draco sighed. "Very well then."
Before anyone could move, Pansy drew herself up to her full height. "Well then! If this is going to be settled, I'm going upstairs. I refuse to be involved in this any more than I already have been," she said dramatically, and then swept out of the room without saying goodbye to the other three.
There was a moment of long silence, then Theodore swept out his hand in a courtly gesture. "Please precede me, Lord and Lady Malfoy."
Draco nodded curtly and held out his arm for Ginny. Her face grim, she slid her arm through his and allowed him to steer her outside. Theodore closed the door at their back and walked forward into a small copse of trees and then stopped. He withdrew a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. The moon was merely a pale sliver in the sky, lending little light to the small grove. Ginny shivered and looked around, then stepped a little closer to Draco's body. He ignored her, staring at Theodore. Theodore was nearly encased in shadow, with red end of his cigarette sporadically lighting his face.
"I must apologize for my wife," Theodore finally said quietly, taking a drag from the cigarette. "She's high-strung and quite often very competitive."
Draco, wisely, did not speak. Ginny had no such qualms. "Indeed she is," she agreed, and earned the attention of both men immediately. "She certainly wasn't shy about the fact that she saw me as a threat. As a threat to what, I'm not sure."
"Me," Theodore admitted, and Draco's head whipped around to stare at him in immediate fury.
"And why would that be?" Draco asked softly, and Ginny stared at Theodore in surprise. Was he going to mention that he was involved in the Order?
Theodore glanced at her, and she started. He knew. He knew that she knew that he had been a part of the Order. But what did that mean? Was he going to reveal something about her part in the Order, or even the Order itself? Finally Theodore said quietly, "I knew Ginny very glancingly a few years ago. I admired her and her bravery. I must have mentioned it to Pansy, and she saw you as a rival."
Ginny felt her cheeks heat in a furious blush, and she bit her lip to keep back the delighted smile. Since she had known it was Theodore who was the double spy for the Order, she had always had a tiny crush on him. He had been a romantic figure for a girl, no matter what her age. Hell, he still was. He fit the profile of "tall, dark and brooding" to a tee.
She forced herself not to smile and instead say solemnly, "I'm married now, Theodore. I don't think I qualify as a rival, if I ever did."
"No," he said slowly. "You don't. You didn't. But there was something about you that I wanted to know, Miss Virginia. Something about you that were hiding."
Ginny stiffened and had to tighten her fingers on Draco's arm to try to hide the sudden trembling. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said, hoping that her voice was calm enough to make him believe her.
He was silent for a long time, and she felt his dark eyes burning holes in her. Finally Draco burst out, "What's this all about, Nott? When did you know my wife, and why are you harassing her?"
The end of Theodore's cigarette burned brighter for a moment as he took a leisurely drag. "I'm not harassing her, Malfoy, and if you don't know then she should be the one to tell you."
Draco took a threatening step forward, but allowed himself to be stopped when Ginny tugged anxiously on his arm to keep him at her side. "Stop making it seem like we had some raging affair," Ginny snapped at him. "We both know that we barely even knew each other, Theodore."
The acrid smell of cigarette smoke wafted to her nose, and she angrily swatted it away as she glared at his shadowy form in the darkness. "I didn't know I was making it sound like that," Theodore said mildly, and Ginny glared at him again.
"You know you did," she said curtly. "I know who and what you are, Theodore. Don't play with me."
"But I'm not, ma cherie," he said lazily. "I am playing with your husband."
"Don't do that either," she said coldly. "I'm not quite sure what game you're playing, Theodore, but it doesn't have any appeal for anyone besides you."
"I don't think that I've ever played a game with any other purpose, Virginia," Theodore drawled. He dropped the cigarette to the dirt and casually ground it beneath the toe of his boot. He shoved his hands into his pockets in a movement more casual than any Ginny had seen from him yet. He was silent for a long moment, then he said abruptly, "Everyone has secrets, Virginia. You should think on that."
Ginny pursed her lips, then nodded. "I will," she said deliberately. "And you should think on the fact that some secrets are very, very dangerous."
"Are you threatening me?" His voice didn't show that he was worried. Instead it was the same lazy drawl as he always spoke in.
Ginny shook her head. "No, I'm not threatening you. It would be pointless. You're not a man who caves into threats. But I am warning you, Nott. Some secrets are dangerous. Some secrets should stay secrets."
"I always did enjoy digging up things that should stay hidden," Theodore said nonchalantly. He nodded his head cordially to both Draco and Ginny. "And this is where I leave you. Au revoir." Then he strolled away and into the house, leaving Ginny and Draco in the darkness.
"What the hell was that all about?" Draco asked dangerously.
Ginny nearly sighed in exasperation. She was surrounded by idiotic, sharp-tempered men. "I honestly don't know. We were talking in riddles around each other and poking at each other. But I don't even know why we were doing that. After all, he came out here to talk to her. Speaking of which, who's Rosemelda?" She lifted her chin and looked up at him, her velvet brown eyes quizzical.
"Secrets, remember?" he taunted, and she rolled her eyes.
"Don't be a smart arse, Draco," she said impatiently. "She's the one that started this conversation. Who is she, and why did Pansy get so irritated over her?"
Draco sighed, then his head came down so swiftly that she nearly jerked back before she caught herself. "If I tell you, will you tell me the secret that Nott is holding over your head?"
"Theodore doesn't have anything over my head," she responded automatically, and felt the quick whuff of his irritated breath on her cheek. It made her shiver.
"Don't be stubborn, Virginia. Just tell me."
"There's nothing," she repeated, trying to forget all the secrets which Theodore could be talking about. The biggest one was her empathy. She didn't think that anyone in the Order had known about it—her family didn't even know—but maybe Theodore had found out somehow. The thought made her shiver in dread. Empaths were few and far between in the wizarding world. She would be poked and prodded for scientific experiments, dissected until she was nothing more than a specimen.
Draco stared at her for a long moment, then said coolly, "If you don't intend to divulge your secrets, Virginia, don't expect me to do so."
"Fine," she snapped, goaded. "Are we done here? Can we go home?"
Draco blinked, the movement lost in the darkness that separated them. He was mildly surprised that she had called Malfoy Manor home. At some point while he had been at work or avoiding her, she had adopted his home as hers. He didn't want to think too closely about the tingle of pleasure that the thought gave him.
"Yes," he said slowly. "We can."
She nodded curtly. "Very well. I'll see you at home then." Then she vanished with a soft pop, leaving Draco alone in the grove.
A slight frown pulled at the corners of his mouth as he stared at the small tendril of smoke that still emanted from Theodore's crushed cigarette. She was getting to him. He wasn't sure how, when she was such a pain in the arse. But she was worming into him and getting her hooks into him. He wasn't sure he liked the thought. He huffed out an irritated breath at his own introspection. By nature he wasn't a man who liked to consider himself too closely, but Ginny seemed to arouse it in him simply by her complications. Shaking his head, he Apparated himself back home.
"Stop! Stop! Honoré, stop it!" The woman's shrieks echoed through the house, interspersed with shrill giggles and the sound of masculine laughter. The servants downstairs shook their heads disapprovingly even as they smiled behind their hands. Upstairs, Honoré grinned at his wife and circled around the bed. Giggling madly, she darted the other way, her dancing green eyes on his. "Don't do this, Honoré," she warned. "What on earth could the servants be thinking?"
"That I'm going to catch you in a minute," he said breathlessly, his grey eyes lightened to mercury silver. "You've put up a good fight, Rosie, but you're no match for me."
"Is that so? We'll see about that!" She made a rush for the door, but he caught her before she had taken three steps. His arms snaked around her waist and tumbled her back onto the bed, his body following hers down. As soon as he had her pinned down, he mercilessly tickled her as she shrieked for mercy. Finally he merely laid on top of her, grinning madly and trying to get his breath back.
He propped his elbows on either side of her head and brushed his nose against hers. "You're quick, Rosie," he said with a grin. "But not quick enough, I'm afraid."
She sniffed indignantly, her chest still heaving with exertion. "Is that so? It took you quite a while to catch me, Honoré. I'd say that you're not too spry anymore. Are you getting old?"
"Wench," he growled, pressing a kiss to her mouth. "You shouldn't talk about your husband like that."
Her eyes twinkled. "Why not? We're reaching middle age, my dear."
"Don't be ridiculous, Rosie! I'm twenty six! That's hardly middle age," he scoffed, and saw her grin unrepentantly at him.
"Well you would think we were, considering how little we act like children anymore," she sighed. "Sometimes I wish we had never left France, Honoré."
His face sobered, and he absently wound one of her auburn locks around his finger. "You know we had to, Rosie," he said quietly. "It wasn't safe there anymore."
Her eyes filled with quick tears. "But what about all our friends, Honoré? What will happen to them?"
He sighed heavily, and she could feel his heart beating heavily where his chest pressed against hers. "I don't know, my love. We must pray for them, and hope that God is as kind to them as He has been to us."
She nodded, her eyes still bright with unshed tears. She pressed her cheek against his shoulder and rubbed against his shirt as if she were a cat. She saw his eyes lighten with amusement for a moment. "My little kitten," he said fondly. He tugged on the strand of hair that was still wrapped around his finger and tilted her chin back. "Let's think no more of sad things," he whispered against her lips. "Let us only think of the blessings that we have."
"Yes," she breathed. "I have you. That is all the blessing I need."
His eyes blazed for a moment as if they were two stars contained in his face. "And I you," he said roughly, crushing her mouth under his. He slid his fingers through her hair and let himself bask in the peace that held him whenever he touched her.
When Ginny woke, she found that she was smiling. She blinked open her eyes and then squeezed them shut almost immediately as the sun streamed through the windows. She turned on her stomach and buried her face in the pillow to block out any stray sunlight, then drifted into a half-doze. What was I dreaming about? She wondered absently. She could only remember snatches—the feeling of a man's body warm over hers, breathless laughter followed by breathless passion and all mixed together with the turbulent feelings of love as well as grief.
She was jerked out of the pleasurable reminiscing as someone banged loudly on her door. She jerked up in bed, her eyes promising dire death to the person on the other side of the door. "What do you want?" she shouted, thumping her fist on the mattress in mute irritation.
"Wake up, Virginia!" Gareth called cheerfully. "It's time for lessons."
"Bugger lessons," she mumbled.
"What was that?" he asked brightly, still on the other side of the door. "Come now, Virginia. You really shouldn't laze about in bed all day."
"But I want to laze," she whined, and heard his chuckle. She scowled at the door and burrowed back under her covers. When he started to speak again, she said irritably, "For goodness sake, just come in the room. I refuse to shout through the bloody door at you."
She peeked from beneath the blankets and saw him step almost hesitantly into her room. He shut the door behind him but hovered near it, as if he would bolt at any second. "Don't look so scared," she muttered grumpily. "I'm not going to attack you."
"That's good," he said dryly. "I would hate to have to hurt you."
"Whatever," she mumbled. "C'mon, Gareth. What time is it, anyway?"
"Eight o' clock," he said triumphantly, and grinned as he heard her muted wail come from beneath the blankets.
"Eight o' clock? I haven't been awake at eight o' clock since I got out of Hogwarts. This is absolutely ridiculous. No one is meant to get up at eight in the morning. It's a godforsaken hour, I swear it is. I'm sure that's in a book somewhere. Which makes it true, and which makes the idea of me getting up now absolutely ludricous."
"Nope," he said cheerfully. "That's not written anywhere. And besides, lots of people with jobs get up at eight, Virginia. Not all of us have the luxury of being able to work whenever and wherever we want."
She glared at him out of one bleary eye. "So now you're ragging on my job too? You're not starting off well this morning, Gareth."
"Just trying to be of some assistance, darling," he murmured, smiling wryly. He snagged one edge of the blanket, but her fingers wrapped around his wrist in a flash.
"Let go of the blanket," she said quietly, her eyes glittering at him. He grinned challengingly at her and tugged on it experimentally.
"Don't make me hex you," she warned, her other hand grabbing her wand from the bedside table. She pointed it warningly at him.
He looked at her for one moment, then burst out laughing. He released her blanket so that he could brace his hands on his knees as he howled with laughter.
Disgruntled, she merely watched him, her eyes grumpy and sleepy. "If you're going to carry on so, at least go away," she grumbled.
Still grinning broadly, he swept her a wide, overzealous bow. "As my lady wishes." He went toward the door and opened it, then glanced at her over his shoulder. "If you're not awake in an hour, I'm coming back, Virginia."
She let out a little scream and tossed her wand at the door. He shut it behind him quickly so that the wand bounced off the door. She heard his delighted laughter from the other side of the door and snarled curses for a solid minute as she pulled the blankets over her head. To her disgust, she couldn't go back to sleep.
Finally she threw off the covers and stumbled into the shower, still mumbling dire threats as she washed her hair. When she got out, she didn't bother with a towel or a robe. Gareth wasn't coming back in, and Draco was already gone to work. Who was going to see her? She walked into her room, feeling the cool air dry her damp skin. She was halfway across the room before she heard a sharp inhalation of breath.
She shrieked and spun around, then froze. Draco was standing just inside the door, his eyes glued to her body. She had one moment where she felt the heat scorch her cheeks and crawl up her throat, then she yelped, "Get out! Get out!"
Instead of leaving, he deliberately closed the door behind him and leaned nonchalantly back against it. "I think I should be here," he drawled. "Don't be shy, Virginia. I'm your husband."
"No you're not," she snarled, lunging for the bed and hurriedly wrapping a sheet around her. She thought she saw a flicker of disappointment in his eyes, and sneered at him in response.
Instead of sneering back at her, he flipped the lock on the door. Her heart surged into her throat and hammered there so that she thought she would choke on it. "What are you doing?" she asked hoarsely, her fingers tightening on the sheet where she held it protectively against her throat.
"I'm going to kiss my wife," he said casually.
She drew back a little and bumped back against the bed, stopping her flight. "I'm not your wife, Malfoy," she said nervously. "We've had this conversation, remember? This isn't real."
"But it is real," he said softly, his eyes oddly intent. "We're really married, Virginia. Just because it's supposed to be a sham doesn't mean that it is."
"Yes it does," she whispered, her eyes huge in her pale face. "Why are you doing this? Are you doing this just to play with me? I didn't know that you had sunk so low as to—" Her words were abruptly cut off as Draco crossed the distance between them in two strides and wrapped one arm around her to press her against him, then crushed his mouth against hers. This wasn't the gentle man she had kissed at the Ministry. He was rough, and his hands bruised her arms were he held her. His mouth savaged hers, nipping and taking precisely what he wanted and dragging the reluctant pleasure out of her.
She couldn't help the moan that slid out of her throat, and she wasn't aware she had fisted one hand in his hair until she felt it slip between her fingers. One hand held up her concealing sheet, but her fingers were loosening, pleasure sliding through her veins and making her lean more heavily against Draco.
She had one lucid thought of—I really shouldn't be doing this—before she was pressing her mouth back against his, her hand unwinding from his hair to fall to his shoulder and grip. She broke her mouth from his to trail her mouth over his throat, feeling his stifled moan rumble beneath the fine skin. She tested that smooth column with her teeth, and felt his hands tighten on her in response.
"Ginny," he whispered, his breathing shaky. She wasn't much better, especially not after he began peeling the sheet from her limp fingers. Intent on testing how loudly she could make him moan by nipping at his neck, she wasn't aware that he had pried the sheet from her and let it drop to the floor until his hand skimmed up her bare back. She jumped, and immediately heard his deep, very masculine chuckle. "Did I startle you?" His voice seemed huskier than normal, and she was momentarily annoyed at how unbelievably sexy it was.
"Yes, you did," she said tartly, and then one of his fingers traced the curve of her shoulderblade, making her shiver against him.
"You're beautiful, Virginia," he whispered roughly before he picked her up and dumped her on the bed. She couldn't prevent the startled, undignified squeak, and then he was laughing, a full, joyous sound that she had never heard from him before. It made her mouth curve in response before she could will it not to, and then he was on the bed with her, pressing open-mouthed kisses to the pale skin of her chest. She couldn't prevent the quick arch of her body toward his mouth, and felt as his mouth curved against her skin in a smile.
She could feel the heat flush her body, and her eyes slipped closed. "Honoré—" she whimpered, and there was a moment of stunned silence before the room exploded.
"Who the fuck is that?" Draco snarled, his hand wrapping around her upper arm in a way that was definitely not lover-like or tender. "How dare you?"
Her eyes snapped open and she stared at him in confusion. He seemed to be a little hazy before her eyes—as if a picture of someone else was superimposed over his face. "Draco?" she asked him, squinting her eyes to try to make that fuzzy vision go away.
"Who did you think it was, you little bitch? That bastard that you wear that ring for?"
Despite that Ginny's vision was still a little fuzzy, it was obvious that Draco was in a towering rage. She had one moment to actually be frightened before she shoved at him. "Get off me!"
"Gladly," he snarled back. "I don't need a woman who whispers another man's name. I can find a woman who will scream my name!"
"Well then why don't you go find one of them!" she hissed. "Because I don't want you, you selfish prick!"
"That's not what you said just a minute ago, baby," he said cruelly, and his hand covered her breast for a moment.
She exploded. Her fist caught his eye, sending him sprawling backwards from the unexpected blow. She made a lunge for her wand, sitting so innocently on the bedside table. She stretched out her fingers, ready to curse him into next week, but then she was slammed into the mattress as he pressed her down, pinning her just inches from reaching her wand. His breath was hot on her neck, and even though she was furious—utterly furious—it was still enough to make her shiver in reaction.
"You bitch. I'm going to have a fucking black eye!"
"Serves you right!" she flared, despite the fact that she could barely breathe beneath his weight. "How dare you treat me like—like—some whore?"
"Because apparently that's what you are!" he hissed back. "How dare you whisper another man's name when I'm fucking you?"
"How dare you speak to me like this! Jonathan is so going to hear about this! And you are such a conceited jackass!"
"So that's how you solve your problems these days, princess? Run to your family?" He sneered at her.
"I don't need anyone to solve my problems for me! And besides, what would you know about it? It's not like you have a family to go to."
There was utter stillness in the room for several seconds, and when the echo of her own words went through her head, Ginny winced. "Draco—"
"No." His voice was totally remote and frigid. "I don't want to hear another fucking thing. You will be out of my house by nightfall, or I will forcibly remove you. I will be speaking to the Minister of Magic very soon, and this farce of a marriage will be ended."
"I don't want to hear your pretty lies, Virginia. I just want you the fuck out of my house."
But then his weight was gone, and she pressed her face into the mattress and cried tears of remorse as she heard her door shut behind him very, very softly.
She wasn't sure how long she had lain there before she heard someone rap cautiously at the door. "Go away." His voice was muffled from still being pressed into the mattress, and the tears had stuffed up her nose.
"Virginia?" Gareth cautiously opened the door, completely unready to see a naked Virginia Weasley Malfoy sprawled out on her bed. He convulsively jerked back, as if he would shut the door to give her privacy, but then she raised her head and looked at him with the saddest eyes he had ever seen. "Gareth?"
He hovered on the threshold, his eyes averted to the floor. He would have liked to look at those slim curves and pale skin, but he couldn't. It was torture to be so close and not be able to touch.
"Gareth?" she repeated. "Are you all right?"
"Virginia, you're a little unclothed. It's disconcerting."
"Disconcerting?" she repeated, then barked out a laugh harsh with tears. "It's disconcerting. How bland, Gareth. Are you always this trite?"
His head came up at that, his eyes lingering on the curve of her spine even as his eyes flashed. "Whatever your problem is, Virginia, don't take it out on me. I haven't done anything to you."
Her eyes welled with tears, which was almost as horrifying as having to restrain himself from touching her body. "I'm sorry," she sniffled. "I—Draco wants me to leave."
"Leave where?" Gareth asked stupidly, his eyes smoothing like hands over her body. She hadn't bothered to throw a blanket over herself, but at least her front was pressed against the bed; he still had that seductive curve of back and arse and gloriously long legs to admire.
"Malfoy Manor," she sniffled, and his eyes went to her face in surprise.
"But—you're married. He can't kick you out. That would defeat the purpose of this whole charade."
"Tell that to him," she said miserably.
"I seriously doubt he gives a shit about my opinion, Virginia. I think you're going to have to fix this one on your own. What did you say that set him off?"
"Why does it have to be my fault?" she pouted, and Gareth barely resisted rolling his eyes.
"Because it just is, Virginia. What did you do?"
"I—" She frowned, chewing her lower lip. Gareth shifted uncomfortably in the doorway. "I don't know, honestly. We were—we were—" Unaccountably, she felt heat rise to her cheeks. Why was it so hard to tell Gareth exactly what she had been doing with Draco? Like he said, Draco was her husband, whether they liked it or not. And a woman had a right to do certain things with her husband, didn't she? Perhaps it was because Gareth looked so awkward suddenly, as if he would dearly love to flee the room at this juncture in the conversation. So for both their sakes, she glossed over that part. "Weweremakinglove," she said in a rush, "and I whispered someone else's name."
Gareth's mouth opened slightly, and his eyes widened. If she hadn't been so miserable, she would have laughed. Gareth looked like she had smacked him in the face with a wet fish. "You said another man's name?" Gareth blurted out. "Merlin's balls, Ginny."
"Thanks. You're really good at this comforting thing. But Gareth—I don't know whose name I said. I've never heard of this guy's name before. Why would I say his name when we were doing—that?"
Gareth frowned. "I have no idea. You're the one who loused it up."
She buried her face in the blankets. "You're a peach, Gareth. You should write condolence cards. Could you try to help me with my problem, here?"
"Well, Merlin's balls, Ginny. You've royally fucked yourself over. No pun intended."
"Would it were," she grumbled into the blankets, and Gareth had to shift uncomfortably again.
"I really didn't need to hear that," he said mildly. "And really, Virginia, I'm only a man. You need to clothe yourself or you really are going to be whispering another man's name when you make love with Draco."
She made a face at him. "That confident?"
"Just that horny, Virginia."
"Fine, fine," she grumped. "Turn your back, then." Obediently, Gareth turned his back; a moment later he heard the rustle of sheets as she slid out of bed. He squeezed his eyes shut, clenching his fists to prevent himself from turning around and reaching for her.
"I'm decent," she said after a long pause, in which he had tortured himself by straining his ears to hear the soft sounds as she moved around the room. He turned, pathetically grateful that she was now wearing a pair of jeans and Weasley sweater. The fact that he could tell she wasn't wearing a bra would just have to be his problem.
"Much. I don't think the house elves would have enjoyed seeing your bare arse, either."
"Oh shut up, Gareth. What am I going to do about Draco?"
"Why do you want to do anything?" he asked impatiently. "You never get along, and you didn't even like him in the first place. He's doing you a favor—you get out of his marriage and it's really not your fault."
"I suppose that's true," she whispered, twisting her fingers anxiously. It was true. She and Draco did argue constantly, but something had…changed. She didn't hate Draco anymore. Had she ever hated him? Hating someone required knowing them, and she had never really known Draco. Maybe Ron or Harry might be able to hate Dracothey had been contemporaries in school, and rivals to boot. But she hadn't been his rival, and she didn't know him. Still didn't, actually. Draco didn't seem mysterious, but once she thought about how little she really knew about him, she realized what a mystery he was. And the chemistry between them was annoyingly undeniable. Which made it all the more frustrating that she had said another man's namelet alone a man she didn't even know.
Frowning, she abruptly remembered the strange feeling she had had just as she had said the other man's name. What had it been again? Honoré. That was it.
French, Ginny mused. Why French, I wonder? And who he hell is he? Maybe Fred and George are playing a prank on me? She couldn't think of a good reason for this kind of prank, and it didn't seem like the twins' style. but she couldn't think of another reason.
But that look…like someone's face laid over Draco's. How odd...
"Virginia." She started when Gareth called her name impatiently. He had an odd look on his face. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," she said quickly. "I'm fine. I think I'll go downstairs and have something to eat, though. I'm famished."
"Want some company?" he asked casually.
"No, thank you." She smiled to take the sting out of her rejection. "I think I just need to be alone for a while to think."
"All right," Gareth agreed with barely concealed reluctance. "I'll be out in the greenhouse if you need me. One of the house elves said one of the garden elves is being a pain in the arse."
Ginny blinked rapidly. "A house elf said that?"
"Well, not in so many words," he admitted. "But the concept's the same. See you later." Then he vanished out the door before she had time to answer him.
She shook her headshe did have such peculiar friendsthen headed downstairs to get something to eat and think.
Two hours later she was still in the kitchen, staring sightlessly down at her empty plate. Gareth had popped in earlier to inform her that the house elf situation was solved, then had left just as quicklky. She had been wracking her brain for two hours, and she still didn't know what she was going to do. It should be simplethis marriage was supposed to be a parlor trick so people wouldn't go out hunting Death Eaters in lynch mobs. When had it become something more than that? And what had it become? She wasn't in love with Draco, and he wasn't in love with her. She didn't deceive herself in that aspect.
She was attracted to him. That she would admit. It would be foolish not to, since every time she saw him she had to resist jumping him. And he was attracted to her. Men didn't focus on a woman the way Draco did on her unless he was very interested. So what did they feel for each other?
Lust. Competition. Anger. A hesitant tenderness. But was that fledgeling tenderness enough to help them weather this? She didn't blame Draco for his angerif he had moaned another woman's name when he was making love to her, she would have castrated him. She figured Draco had shown admirable restraint, actually.
"Honoré," she whispered to herself. Who was Honoré? Was he a ghost that had just wanted to play a trick on her? A joke the twins had made up? All she knew for sure was that she didn't know any Honoré, so there was no reason for her to have whispered his name with such...need. Even aside from Draco's reaction and the muddle she now found herself in, the emotion in her voice as she had said Honoré's name unsettled her.
She shivered slightly as a warm breeze
brushed across the nape of her neck. She twisted sharply in her
chair, heart hammering wildly and half expecting to see some ghostly
specter floating behind her.
But there was no one there. No matter how sternly she told herself she was being silly, her skin crawled. Before she could think too much about it, she heard the front door slam.
Draco, she thought with a resigned sigh. Now the trouble would really begin.