. o .
As class ended for the day, countless students surged out into the hallways of the great castle. Some were relieved to be out of the scrutiny of their teachers; the Gryffindors, if their haste was to be believed as they beat a path from the dungeons, certainly seemed glad to be out from under the critical supervision of the Professor therein. Others beat well-known trails to the library, the common rooms, the Quidditch pitch... but she turned from the path that most of her peers seemed intent on, turning down another hallway, unnoticed by most.
She was headed for her favorite place in the castle; her refuge, if you will. It wasn't much to look at; little more than a glorified closet with a small window nook on one of the uppermost floors. The view was mostly that of the Forbidden Forest and the grounds below, but as the redheaded girl wove through the otherwise preoccupied crowds of students in the hallway, a smile curved the edges of her lips at the thought of it. No, the little room wasn't much, she mused, but it was hers; hers to dream in, hers for a moment or two of peace. In the two years since she had found it, there had never been any signs of any amorous couples, or artistic leavings of mischievous younger Years, or even somewhat lost souls like her.
So, despite the fact that she knew she probably shouldn't, she began to leave small traces of her presence in the tower room. Never anything too large. Sometimes, a hair tie or a small novel would stay, forgotten on the window seat; once, cushions that she had sewn up last Christmas out of bright blue and red scraps. The redhead couldn't help but smile as she recalled how her mother's face had seemed to emanate confusion as she found Ginny, sitting cross-legged on the floor of her childhood bedroom cursing in a rather unchildlike manner over pricking her finger while sewing one of the cushions.
But the older woman's expression had merely melted into a smile when her daughter had told her they were for her room at school, for all that they both knew that Ginny's talents did not especially lie in the domestic aspects of life. These days, everyone needed something to keep their hands busy, if not their mind. Things were relatively peaceful at the moment, but the scars that everyone carried, both those seen and unseen, and the tension that seemed to crackle through the air sometimes were enough to say that the worst was yet to come.
Turning a corner, the girl winced as she recalled that not everything she left in her room enhanced it.
Standing testament to this was a series of scratches in the granite of the eastern wall. Although not very deep, they stood out in bleak, bright relief against the dark grey of the walls; they looked like scars, she had noted once. Positioned a little lower than Ginny's shoulder, and intersecting almost like the lines on one's palm, the girl had scored them into the rock soon after the horrors she had faced in the Department of Mysteries, almost half a year ago now. Half-blinded by emotion, she had maintained a relatively brave face until she could weave through the Aurors, and the well-wishers, and the parents, and the brothers, and the friends... All the people that she cared about, but just couldn't be with. She needed time to breathe. Alone.
That had been when she had found the room. Ginny supposed that it could have been one of the many guises of the Room of Requirement. but some instinct of hers dismissed that it was so mystical. She had found it completely by accident; because its entrance looked like another part of the wall, its slightly lighter coloring only visible in some light, she had leant against it, exhausted. Still furious, mind you, but the three flights of stairs that she had just stormed up were beginning to take their toll. And the minute that the majority of her weight had rested against what she had thought was solid, reliable wall, it had slid open, causing the girl to tumble through the door, her book bag that - someone - had handed off to her distractedly, almost instinctively falling into one of her hands, while the other extended to break her fall.
As the stone panel swung shut behind her, and Ginny rose to her feet, she looked from the wall beside her, and the bag in her hands, a tearstained grimace stretching her lips. Almost blindly, the girl swung the bag with no little strength against the wall; there was nothing breakable to throw, so this was going to have to do.
To her vague satisfaction, the metal clasp etched lines into the wall as she swung the bag back and forth; furious eyes teeming with tears as she slowly, ever so slowly, lost her fury and sunk to her knees... it wasn't fair, it wasn't fair...
As Ginny rose from the floor, tearstains marked her cheeks and shoulders like badges - badges she wore for Sirius, for Harry, and for everything that had changed in such a short span. New conviction flickered in her eyes; she had found her catharsis, but she had not yet healed. But she was alive, which was more than enough impetus for her to move on, if only to the window, where she curled up in the seat below, and fell into a half-delirious, exhausted sleep.
The sight of its door ahead shook the redheaded girl out of her thoughts; there were still two hours until dinner in the Great Hall; two hours where she could let her guard down.
For perhaps what Ginny liked best about the room was that it was quite possibly the one place where she didn't need to put up a brave face to keep up the spirits of those around her. Things were no easier than they had been in past years; yes, Dumbledore had returned, and that odious, frilly, pink Gorgon of a Headmistress had been deposed, but very little had changed in actuality. Ginny bit back a wry grin - years of being taught not to speak ill of the dead (one never knew when they might pop up as a ghost, and annoy you for the rest of your existence for such a slight) - warred against her grim satisfaction with what had happened to that Umbridge woman.
This time, her thoughts had carried the girl right to the door of her room. Smiling slightly, she turned to face away from it, and leaned against it casually, as if it was part of the wall. True to form, it swung inwards slowly, and Ginny moved backwards with it, so as not to fall as she had the first time.
But, for what had to be the first time, a strangled half-gasp accompanied the usual sounds of the sliding door.
She spun around immediately - the door had opened enough by then for her to slip into the room - and her gaze was rewarded by the sight of a tall, pale-haired young man, lounging almost carelessly on her pillows that were resting on her window seat. Any sign that he had been startled (such as the gasp that Ginny could have sworn she heard seconds ago) were well under wraps, and he looked across the room at her neutrally, his impression impervious. Still, she thought, he looked the slightest bit uncomfortable, and wondered at that for a moment.
"...Well, well. What brings you here?" His voice broke the tentative silence, even if they both were still frozen in mid-motion.
"I could ask you the same, Malfoy. In case you hadn't noticed, you're a little out of your territory; last I checked, the dungeons were that way." Gesturing downwards with one hand, she seethed as he only repositioned himself on the cushioned window seat, one eyebrow raised, half in question, and half in taunt.
"So they are, lioness. But this room isn't marked by any of the House colors, so you hold no right to remove me." At her snarl - he'd already been punched by one Gryffindor in his lifetime, and he felt no desire to add to the list - the blonde added, "...nor I, you."
As fun as this was, Ginny mused, it was far from the two hours of peace and quiet that she had been aiming for. "Here, I'll save you the trouble. I'll leave."
But his reply caught her in mid-turn. "Why would you go and do that? I wasn't... disturbing... you, now was I?"
She sniffed disdainfully. Merlin, he was giving her a headache. "Of course not. But this is my room, so you're trespassing."
"Now, now, my dear. You seem the slightest bit confused; one minute, you are telling me that you will leave, and now you order me to go?"
Ginny nodded once, tightly. Of all the people to have found this place, it had to have been him, hadn't it? Snarky, perfectly-groomed, damn-near impeccable Malfoy. And naturally, he had to have been here first, didn't he? Now she'd made herself look foolish, by ordering him to go; he wasn't going anywhere, and they both knew it.
This time, he pushed off of his hands, and moved off of the window seat to stand inches from where she was. Lowering his eyes to meet hers - and mildly impressed by the heat within them, he circled her once. So, the little Gryfflet had grown up after all.
Draco felt almost divided as he assessed the girl, seemingly frozen in her tracks, eyes just flaring at him. He noted her strong stance and her determined expression, and couldn't help but give her some iota of grudging approval. The redhead had grown a backbone, unlike her sap of a brother. Good. She'd need it, if there was even the smallest amount of truth in what he had been hearing recently.
Still, it would be a pity if those events destroyed this wisp of a girl, even if she was undoubtedly stronger than her slight frame indicated. He may have been sheltered, but sense dictated that she grew up with six brothers; she had to have been made of sterner stuff than she looked, or at least become stronger over time. Merlin only knew that he had to give her credit... she had survived years of living with six Weasley brothers. Mix in the temper that her auburn waves hinted at, flowing almost wildly over her shoulder blades, and you would have a right Fury, Draco thought.
This thought caused him to freeze in his tracks. Had he ever seen the Gryfflet with her hair down before? Certainly, at Balls, or some other function along those lines. . . and, he admitted, it was hardly as if he watched her. Still, he could have sworn it was almost always put 'up,' if messily.
Now - even as the rational part of his brain kicked the rest of it rather harshly - he had to wonder why she ever restrained it. Admittedly, it was a little wild for his taste, falling tousled around her face and shoulders. His father would have sniffed and called it uncivilized. But because she didn't really seem like the type of witch to spend hours on her hair to attain such a look, that left only one other option - someone had mussed her hair for her. Quickly squelching the strange feeling that presented itself when he thought this, Draco opened his mouth to tease the redhead, but she beat him to it.
Turning to face him this time, she raised her eyes to his. "Look, Malfoy. Surely you have something better to do, cause you're really starting to creep me out."
Draco couldn't help but agree - even if he'd never vocally admit it - it was scaring him, too. Malfoys did not stare at Weasleys, even rather pretty and fiery female ones, much less noticeably. It was quite simply Not Done. And yet, here he was, doing exactly that.
He couldn't deny it; he could tell just by looking at her that she would laugh if he tried, so he changed the topic. Smirking lazily, he questioned in turn. "You first, Red. Why are you up here? Hero Boy ignoring you again?"
"Sure." Replying carefully, she edged around him, intent on the window seat. However, she was drawn to a complete stop as she realized that he had entwined his fingers into a lock of her hair.
"Your hair says otherwise. He did this, didn't he?"
"Please... just drop it," she replied, not even turning around. "He didn't, and I can't fathom why you care in the first place - it's sub-par news where blackmail's concerned. Due to my absolute brilliance in first year, half the school figures I still like him, so it wouldn't even cause a ripple, Malfoy."
"I went flying at lunch, all right?" This time, she did turn, and he dropped her hair as she did so. "I did a few laps around the field; it's calming, you know? But I lost my hair tie somewhere along the way, and I haven't been back to the Common Room to pick up another one." Ginny was thoroughly confused by now; here she was, having a conversation that was nearly companionable with Draco Malfoy, and he was really looking at her as they did so. Not seeing her merely as a tagalong to the Gryffindor Trio, or 'yet another Weasley,' either. Just as her. Ginny. No more, no less. It was a novel approach to say the least, and while she wasn't sure what she thought about that, much less coming from him, it couldn't be all bad.
It was then that she recalled what this sort of conversation reminded her of: her days before she needed a mask to cover her emotions and bolster her strength. Sunny summer days, laughing with Charlie in the back yard of the Burrow over practically nothing. He had always been the brother who 'got' her best; there for her to talk to about magical creatures, or to run to when the twins' jokes got out of hand. Charlie never was too vocal, nor was he overly emotional, but she always knew that he cared.
One key difference between the two - the young man standing before her with eyes of molten quicksilver was certainly not looking at her as a brother did.
Without taking her eyes off him (Ginny had resolved that puzzling things seemed to happen recently when she did that) she took a step the window. This time, she halted as he reached into his pocket. Tensing immediately, Ginny let out an audible breath - albeit mingled with a rather puzzled look - as he pulled out a strangely familiar hair tie as opposed to his wand or something deadlier, from the depths of his robe.
He must have seen the question forming in her eyes, because he held up one hand, palm facing towards her, as if to ward off the question. "Look, Red, I'm not following you, or anything. I go walking sometimes, and I picked this up on the pitch today." Holding it out to her with his other hand, he gestured for her to take it.
She did, and her perplexed expression didn't change. "Uhm... thanks?"
He half-bowed, jokingly. "Malfoy, Esq. at your service: honorable, valiant, extraordinary. . ."
". . .delusional, unique, self-centred. . . " she cut in teasingly. This was too good. Ginny swore at this point that she was going to wake up and find herself in her bed in the Common Room, head aching from all the Butterbeer that she must have ingested to be having a dream like this one. Still, for the life of her, she couldn't remember drinking any of the aforementioned beverage. . .
"Not quite what I was going for, I'm afraid," he replied, his eyes dancing. "But I'll take 'unique,' thanks."
Shaking her head in disbelief, Ginny couldn't help but return his smile. "Whatever floats your boat." Moving to the window seat, and fluffing the pillows that he had squashed, she pulled her brush out of her bookbag, the new clasp shining muted silver. Frowning slightly, she mused over what she was about to ask him. . . but, figuring that the last ten minutes had been strange enough to warrant at least one strange request from her, she raised her brush to her hair, and addressed Draco.
"What?" Walking over to where she sat, he settled himself on the opposite side of the window seat, unasked, and his eyes just daring her to say anything about it. There was enough space for them to sit, backs against opposite walls, her legs tucked under her, his casually crossed at the ankles, but it was fairly close quarters. Leaning back against the part of the wall that curved out to meet the window, he continued. "Well?"
"This is going to sound absolutely crazy, but... pinch me."
So, without more than a moment's hesitation - he'd had worse requests from uglier witches, if not stranger ones - he leaned forward, hand extending over her waist, and did exactly that.
Her eyes widened. "I - I meant figuratively, dimwit."
He only smirked, highly amused. "I know."
"You're insufferable, y'know?"
Inclining his head in agreement, he picked up where she left off. "Also evil... calculating... completely diabolical..."
Chuckling despite herself, Ginny paused in mid-stroke, as her brush encountered a particularly stubborn knot. Swearing under her breath, she then answered Draco. "Funny, I always saw you as more the 'morally ambiguous' type."
He seemed surprised by her comment, but recovered quickly, eyes hooded. "Shades of grey, Red. We're all the same."
She couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at that comment. Poetics? From Malfoy? They had to be reporting record temperatures in the Arctic by now. Contemplating whether she could hit the pond below if she hurled her brush out the window - the knot simply wasn't untangling - she figured that Hades had just about frozen over when he reached out, plucked the brush from her fingers, and gestured for her to sit beside him.
"You have got to be kidding me."
"Completely serious. If you'd prefer, you could continue to tangle with that knot and swear under your breath for the next twenty minutes..."
Ginny only shrugged and moved to sit beside Draco, if cautiously. What was one more act of foolishness in a day that made no sense? Besides, the four walls were their only witness, and he would have little to gain from telling those around him that he had brushed her hair.
...And oh, she would never tell him, but as he ran the brush through her hair, carefully, but with intent... it was incredible. His hand seemed to know exactly where the tangles took up residence, and would set upon those with a gentle expertise.
Relaxing almost unconsciously, she slumped into his shoulder, and he curled so that her back was cradled by his chest, still running the brush through the strands his ministrations had smoothed. A small, seditious part of Ginny's brain sent out rather loud warning signals at the new liberties this Slytherin was taking, but she blatantly ignored them. It had been so long since someone had done anything to comfort her without expecting anything for it. But now, even though the bringer of comfort was unexpected, to say the least... she hadn't felt this relaxed in years, and wasn't about to argue.
She supposed she should have guessed that he would know how to take care of her hair; his was always immaculate, but where he had learned how to brush a woman's hair was anyone's guess. She somehow doubted it was part of any of his attempt at seduction with girls at Hogwarts; bring a girl flowers, chocolate, woo her with those eyes, that hair (that money, she added wryly), take her to the Astronomy Tower some starry evening... oh, and brush her hair along the way. Hardly.
So she asked him.
He stiffened slightly as she did so. "My mother," he began, and then stopped.
Ginny cringed. After he had comforted her, this was the last thing she wanted to do. Even an hour before this, she would have delighted in the ability to make him sad, but now, it just wasn't right. "I'm sorry," she murmured, shifting so she could squeeze his shoulder companionably. "You don't have to say anything more."
Their eyes met then - cinnamon and quicksilver - and he did not break her gaze. "No, it's all right. I'd just never really thought about it before. Back when I was little, she would go to all these functions, and she would get me to brush her hair beforehand. It was 'our time', I guess. Lucius never really approved, but back then, she had him wrapped around her little finger, so nothing changed."
Smiling, Ginny replied. "Merlin strike me down for saying this... but that's really sweet."
His tone was gruff, but he couldn't hide that his eyes were shining slightly. "That's it?"
Ducking his eyes, he continued. "Come on... I tell you a story like that, and all you tell me is that it's 'sweet?' I would have at least gotten a comfort kiss out of most witches for that."
Glinting gray eyes looked up, mildly startled, as she tried to push her way out of his arms at his comment... when that had happened, Draco wasn't sure. He couldn't remember dropping the brush, much less enfolding this wisp of fire and shadows into his arms. He was sure, however, that he didn't want her leaving in a huff over something so ridiculous. Karma was going to come around someday, and slap him upside the head awfully hard someday for this, but it had felt... nice. Companionable. And Draco Malfoy never gave up what he liked without a decent fight. Tightening his grasp on her - and a good thing too; she was stronger than she looked, and had almost liberated herself - he tugged her back. "I was kidding, Ginny."
Oh, she huffed, and puffed, and rolled her eyes, but he could tell that she wasn't really, really mad at him. Still. "Have I told you yet today that you're insufferable?"
"Only once before. Should I be getting used to it?"
"Probably." She turned, and this time, her eyes sparkled, the shadows that he had seen within them earlier banished for the moment. "You're braiding it to make up for that comment, you know."
"I'm not your hairdresser, Red."
"Oh, really," she replied archly. "Tough." Turning around to make his work easier, she shifted a few of the cushions, revealing a large, leather-bound sketchbook underneath one of the largest pillows. DM was engraved across the front in a large, semi-Gothic script, and she flipped the cover open. He hadn't said anything yet, so she figured she was safe. Feeling the slight pull on her hair as he divided it into sections to braid, she turned to the first page.
As she did so, he pulled quickly on the hair he had been holding. Twisting slightly, she was taken aback at the completely unfathomable look on his face.
"Laugh at any of them, and I'll make such a mess of your hair, you'll spell yourself bald."
She only smiled disarmingly in reply. "I wouldn't dream of it..."
But while she may have answered jokingly, the thought of laughing was banished as soon as she looked at the first drawing. He certainly had an eye for landscapes; looking out the window beside her and then down to the book, she realized that it was the inspiration for this one. The lake, the Forbidden Forest, the sky at sunset was all represented beautifully in a rather masterful pencil sketch. Wondering idly when he had discovered her room, and berating herself for not noticing before, she looked through the rest of the sketchbook. Familiar faces looked back at her; he had an eye for candids, she noted: most of his drawings of people probably had been done without their knowledge. A few more landscapes, an interesting perspective drawing of the Quidditch pitch, a character sketch or two... Ginny felt her eyelids grow heavy as she continued to look through the book, which was unusual. Usually, when people did her hair, she was fully awake; yowling due to a forgotten tangle that had been found, or wincing because her hairdresser pulled too hard. But here she was, nearly lulled into sleep...
Draco, who had been carefully watching the redhead's reaction as she looked through his sketches as he twisted her hair into a French braid, couldn't stop the smile that quirked at the edges of his lips at her every smile, or chuckle at a more caricature representation of a mutual acquaintance, or rapturous gaze between the view at the window, and the one he had captured. He wasn't sure whether he should be insulted or honored as he felt her slump more and more against him, but he decided on the latter as he finished the braid, tied it deftly, and removed his sketchbook from her napping form. Smiling softly, he propped her head up on the pillows laying against the wall, and slid out from where he had sat beside her. Carefully, as not to wake her, he rearranged her cloak to act as a blanket before returning his book to his own bag and slipping quietly out of the room.
"Our little secret..." he whispered. And while he wasn't one to normally believe in such mush, he could have sworn that just as he said this, she smiled in her sleep.
. o .
. o .
DISCLAIMER: The Potterverse doesn't belong to me; it belongs to J.K. Rowling and affiliates.
Sabriel's Scribbles: Tiny Q and Lallie. . . this one's for you! (the great D/G shippers that you are) Thanks for everything, Ladies. . . (and TQ, for looking at my art and not laughing, although I don't know if I could really follow up on Draco's threat!)