The Devil's Triangle
Chapter 21: Through the Fog
"No way, I want nothing to do with this. I'm going home to kiss my wife and babies; I'm going to thank the Gods that I'm not one of you two sots. Then I'm going to floo my sister and warn her about this détente that's taking place, so she'll be prepared for whatever hair-brained plan you two come up with," Ron paused, looking down piteously onto his best friend and his best enemy, already hard at work on their second bottle of whiskey. "You know, back in school I used to worry about you two trampling over Ginny's heart. I was right to worry, since I've wanted to kill both of you at various times over the years. But at least it's heartwarming to see that you've both done as much damage to yourselves as you have to her," Ron Disapparated.
"Superior git," spat Draco.
"Just 'cause he's managed to live happily-ever-after, he thinks he has all the answers," grumbled Harry.
Harry removed his head out of his whiskey glass briefly and looked around the room for the first time. He squinted through the darkness to the wall at his left, there was a picture hanging there that made him pause. Two figures were waving enthusiastically at him from within the frame. He shook his head to clear it and took another swig from his glass and then refocused on the picture. There was no denying it this time, Harry was looking at a picture of himself and Ron arm-in-arm, hung on a prominent wall of Malfoy's flat.
"Bloody hell," he grumbled. And then he further surveyed the room.
"For Merlin's sake, Malfoy! You haven't changed a thing in here since Ginny left! There are pictures on the walls here that are currently hanging in her cottage. What did you do? Transfigure copies of everything before she moved out?"
"Sod off," Draco grumbled. He was unable to properly respond to Harry's attack, as he was currently trying to keep from spiraling out of the room as it was spinning so quickly. He sat up and wrested his head firmly between his two hands which were braced against his knees. That was better. He could open his eyes now.
"Seriously, Malfoy! You have a picture of Ron and me hanging on your wall! That's bloody twisted!"
Draco's gaze move to the picture in question and a soft smile befell his face, suddenly he forgot about his gravitational issues.
"Oh that. It is a horrifying sight isn't it?"
"Why is it on your wall?"
Draco shrugged. "When I look at it I don't see you two gits waving at me; I remember the row Ginny and I had when she hung it on the wall."
"Why is that a good thing?"
"Let's just say she made it worth my while to live with the picture," he said with a satisfied smirk.
Harry chuckled. "Used sex as tool, did she? She does that."
"Exceptionally well," Draco sighed, leaning back comfortably and allowing himself to escape into his memories for a moment.
"I remember a time…" Harry began, "well, no, you probably don't want to hear it."
"No, go on," Draco said surprising even himself, he was so desperate to hear news of her even questionable stories from Potter were welcome at this point.
How had he sunk so low? In every other aspect of his life he had succeeded brilliantly. He never questioned his place amongst the leaders of Wizarding society because that was where he belonged there was no doubt about that.
When it came to Ginny however, doubt was commonplace in Draco's mind. He loved a woman whom he could never possess entirely. She belonged with Potter, he knew that. And yet now, as Draco sat half-listening to Harry's stories he had to ask himself: if she belonged with Potter, then why was Potter sitting across from him now? Seeming to be just as drunk and miserable as him?
Draco watched Harry, barely clinging to consciousness, even as he continued to talk. He was lounging sideways in his chair with his drink in one hand and his head in the other. This sight wasn't entirely unfamiliar; Harry had spent many evenings here when Ginny was in residence.
"Why are you here, Potter?" he asked quietly.
"Ron made us come here," Harry grumbled, while continuing to fall asleep.
"No. Why did you drag me out of my office and make me skip down memory lane with you tonight?"
"I wanted to tell you to bugger off, move on, and leave us alone…" Harry's hand relaxed and his drink spilled down his shirt and onto his lap. Harry didn't notice; he was in a semi-conscious stupor.
"Us?" Draco asked, suddenly quite lucid and invigorated by Harry's forthcoming information.
"Ginny 'n me…" he slurred.
"You said you were barely friends anymore," he continued to prod.
"What's that?" Draco asked urgently, the tone in his voice reviving Harry slightly.
"Asked her to marry me." Harry's head slumped back onto the chair as he finally slipped from consciousness.
Draco couldn't say he was surprised by the news. He'd been expecting to hear of Ginny's marriage to Harry from the day he'd left her life. But the reality of what he was hearing hit him harder than he'd ever expected.
It was over now. Truly over.
Draco had been fighting a continual battle in his brain over the past two years: part of his brain screamed at him to go to her, apologize for his foolishness, beg her to come home and then take whatever heartbreak that decision would inevitably bring. But the other side of his brain warned him that the magnitude of the heartbreak would be beyond what he was prepared to endure.
But now the end was in sight. Ginny's marriage to Potter would quell both voices forever. Of course a third voice of recrimination would take over places and begin its daily barrage on his mind.
As Draco drifted into his own unconscious state, a new set of questions emerged. Would Potter have come on this half-baked mission if Draco were no threat? If Ginny were given a chance to choose between himself and Potter, once and for all, who would she choose? Could he live with the result of that decision?
What if she did choose him? What if a life with Ginny were still a possibility? What if they really could have forever? Could she forgive him his idiocy?
If only he had a sign. Even just the tiniest sign that he still had a place in her heart would do. At that moment, for the first time Draco knew he was willing to risk everything for a last chance.
"Potter?" he spat, throwing his glass at the centre of Harry's chest and dibbling even more liquid down his front.
"What?" Harry snapped, semi-conscious again and cringing from the excessive volume of Draco's voice.
"Ginny. Have you ever… have you ever kissed her left shoulder blade?" he said, finally asking a question that had nagged him for years.
Harry snorted at the silly question, but he didn't open his eyes. He grinned contentedly. "I've kissed her everywhere." And then he drifted out again.
Draco's heart sank. It was truly over.
Harry snorted awake again. "Wait… shoulder… her ticklish spot… she doesn't… like… touching… there."
Draco heart soared. This was it. The sign. He knew what he had to do…. later….. sleep first.
The first ray of morning sun pounded Draco like a railroad spike between the eyes. His first sight upon waking up was Harry still lounging in the same position in which he had passed out. But Harry was awake and staring at him.
"You still here?" Draco's voice crackled, one eye barely open.
"I haven't tried moving yet. I think it'll hurt," Harry croaked.
"Look at yourself! You've spilled half a bottle of fire whiskey down your front and you smell like a still." Draco knew he wasn't in much better shape, but that wasn't the point. "Shower's that way! Go bathe!"
Actually that sounded like a wonderful idea to Harry, if only he could move without his head exploding. The decision was made for him when the sun shifted in the window, hitting his eyes, and motivating him towards the shower.
Draco reveled in the sudden peace in the room, now absent of Potter's horrific snoring, and he quietly drifted back to sleep. But his peace was not to last, as a subtle shift in the energy of the room and the hair on his neck standing erect alerted Draco to that danger was near. But this still wasn't enough to force Draco's eyes open.
"I know you're here, and if you try anything you're dead," he drawled smoothly.
"I'm hurt, dear brother… why would you assume I was here to do harm?" Astrid plopped herself on the opposite end of the sofa which Draco inhabited, thus causing a painful ripple in his peaceful world.
"Sneaking in with your wand drawn was my first clue," he peaked at her though one eye. "Remind me to fire Quigley on Monday."
"You won't fire Quiggles, you'd be lost without him and he knows it. He only has your best interest at heart. Besides he's dying to know what happened as much as I am. I'm on strict orders to report back to him. So?"
"So what went on last night?"
"Not now, Monster," Draco groaned. "I'm wrecked."
Astrid crawled up the sofa towards Draco and drew her wand. Draco cringed away from her.
"No Astrid, please! I'm in enough pain already, I promise."
"What do you think I am? Stop squirming!" Astrid snapped, while swishing and flicking her wand over Draco's forehead. Instant relief flooded his senses.
"Ohhhhhhhh, Merlin, that's better," Draco sighed, relaxing as the throbbing in is head subsided. "Thank you, Astrid."
"There. I fixed you. Now, tell me what happened last night," she said, returning to her primary objective for her visit.
"Seriously, Astrid. Later."
Astrid's eyes flared, but then found a new focus as Harry reentered.
"Say Malfoy, I need to steal some clothes; I can't charm the stench of whiskey out…"
"Now there's a sight a girl could wake up to every day." Astrid's head rose from her position on the sofa with Draco to spy Harry clad in a small towel exiting the bath.
Her eyes locked with Harry's as she drawled. "Draco darling, did you know you have a rather nude Harry Potter roaming about the flat?" She spoke in a manner that left no doubt she'd spent far too much time in the company of Draco Malfoy.
"Potter, put on some clothes," Draco snapped without bothering to move from his comfortable spot.
"I'm trying!" he snapped back, still staring at Astrid, his hangover stricken mind not firing on all synapses…this extraordinarily lovely woman was so familiar.
The shower had helped Harry's hangover only minimally, as he was always rather bad at performing healing charms on himself. He usually had Hermione or Ginny around to take care of these things for him.
"That way," Draco pointed towards his bedroom, indicating he should go find something to wear.
Harry started towards the indicated direction, reluctantly breaking eye contact with Astrid.
"Wait!" Astrid cried, "What went on here last night? I must know!" Astrid stalked toward Harry. "Did you two finally bugger each other senseless and get it out of your systems?"
A hearty "Ha!" came from the sofa.
"WHAT?" reacted Harry. "BUGGER? NOBODY BUGGERED ANYBODY!"
"Don't bite Potter!" Draco chuckled. "It's what she wants. You won't win."
Astrid sent a chilling glare over her shoulder towards her brother and continued. "You know, now that I'm thinking about it…that's not a bad idea…if the two of you could work something out…you could probably get Ginny in on a threesome or something…I'm sure she'd be up for it at this point."
"THAT'S IT!" Draco was off the sofa like a rocket. "Don't be disgusting! You've gone too far, Monster! Stop!"
Astrid grinned at Harry and her huge violet eyes glowed in triumph. Harry couldn't help but grin back because he always appreciated an enraged Malfoy. Then, the uncertainty began to lift from his brain.
"Hang on… you're Astrid?" Harry asked, still confused by her identity.
"Brilliant, Potter," Draco spat as he collapsed back onto the sofa. His brief explosion had completely depleted him, and he needed to rest again.
"How do I know you?" Harry asked quietly.
"You've known her since she was eleven, you idiot," Draco supplied.
Harry shook his head. "But how do I know you?" he repeated.
Astrid smiled coquettishly, "You've seen me around. I work in the Department of Mysteries with your friend Hermione Weasley."
Harry's eyes suddenly lit up with sudden recognition and he grinned evilly. "And last summer at the summer holiday picnic, I offered to buy you a drink. You told me to shove off…you didn't want to join my fan club."
"That would be me," Astrid had the decency to grimace a bit.
"That's my girl," Draco supplied from the sofa, but neither of them heard his comment.
"I've often wondered about that… women will usually have one drink with me before they tell me to shove off. But now it makes sense, you're Malfoy's… friend."
"That, I am," she agreed.
"Potter, would you mind putting on some clothes now?" Draco snapped, pointing towards his room again.
"Right," he agreed and Harry exited to search for something suitable to wear amongst Draco's clothes.
Upon his exit Draco immediately sat up, full of energy and vigour which hadn't been displayed seconds before. Now that Astrid had so effectively rid him of his hangover, he remembered his mission for the day.
"Astrid, I need you to do something," he said waving her over.
"What's that?" she asked warily.
"Keep Potter occupied for a few hours. I need to go out for a bit."
"Astrid! Just do this for me," he pleaded.
"Why? Where are you going?"
"I have to see her…"
"Don't you see… it's my last chance to make it right!"
"Draco… let her go."
"You don't understand! He's told me he's going to marry her! I've been an idiot! How many times have you told me that?"
"I can't count. But what do you think he's doing here? Why would he come here and tell you…YOU of all people that he's engaged to Ginny Weasley?"
"Because he wants to warn me off…."
"Draco, you're an idiot."
"So you've said. But it's my only chance."
"I'm afraid you've used up all your chances with Ginny. Don't you see you're playing right into his hands? He wants you to go running over there. Why else would he come here?"
Draco paused momentarily and tried to view the situation from Astrid's point of view. "What do you mean?"
"I'm saying he probably sees you as the last possible threat to him living happily-ever-after with Ginny and he needs you out of the picture once and for all."
"I don't see how my seeing her again would accomplish that."
"Don't you? You're not going to like this Draco… but I'm sure Potter has always thought your interest in Ginny was at least somewhat motivated by the fact that she was his. And there might me a little bit of doubt in Ginny's mind as well…"
"No! She knows better!"
"Does she Draco? Does she have a clue how you feel about her? The way you dumped her would leave doubt in anyone's mind! Idiot!" Astrid spat, clearly disgusted.
Draco exhaled heavily. "And if I go running over there, it'll look like I'm trying to take something away from Potter."
"Thus proving suspicions about you once and for all."
"Damn. But if I don't go, she marries him and I lose her forever."
"Draco, you lost her forever a long time ago, by your own hand. You've always said this was inevitable."
"It doesn't matter!" Draco decided. "I have to see Ginny. Do this for me?" Draco hissed, close to the end of his rope.
It wasn't easy for Astrid to see Draco in this state. She knew he was heading for even more self-inflicted heartbreak. But the truth was he rarely asked anything of her, and she would do anything for him.
Suddenly, Harry's voice emerged from the bedroom. "Is there anything in here that won't make me look like a poof?"
Astrid sighed loudly. "Well if I'm right, and he wants you to go running over there, then he'll make this easy for me, won't he?"
"Thank you! I'm going to jump in the shower… get him out of here."
"I guess I'll go and help dress the fittie in your bedroom. Any idea where I can find a Slytherin Quidditch shirt?"
"Bottom left drawer," chuckled Draco, rising slightly unsteadily as he headed towards the bath.
Harry was sitting like a lump on the edge Draco's unslept-in bed, his hips still wrapped in a too-small towel. He'd found one of Draco's plain white Oxford shirts from the cupboard, but it was far too close in the shoulders and the chest would barely button. The pain of his hang-over was apparent on his face; he looked like death.
"Doesn't your pigeon-chested boyfriend have any normal clothes?" he grumbled.
Astrid recovered a sweatshirt from the drawer which Draco had indicated, and she found a suitable pair of jeans and boxers. She placed them on the bed next to him.
"Draco's not pigeon-chested," she began quietly, "he's just lean, and he doesn't spend his days in the manly pursuit of evildoers like you."
Astrid lightly held Harry's shoulder, and he started at the sudden contact.
"Keep still, I don't bite," she whispered, and then she flicked her wand above Harry's head and muttered a charm he'd never heard before. His head immediately cleared and was followed by a burst of energy which made him feel as though he'd woken up from a full night's sleep.
"Wow, that's brilliant. Thank you. What was that?" he asked reaching for the pile of clothes next to him.
"Just something I've been working on at the office," she said, as she made herself comfortable on the bed and watched him intently.
Harry suddenly realized she had no intention of leaving the room to allow him to dress, so he took temporary refuge in Draco's private bath. "The Department of Mysteries is researching hangover cures now?" he chuckled, as he dressed.
"No, it has another purpose which I can't talk about; hangover cure is just a happy accident."
"Too bad. You could make a fortune bottling that spell, selling it to unwise wizards."
"Well yes, but there is one tiny side effect."
"How do I look?" Harry asked suddenly, with a smirk emerging from the bath.
Astrid laughed at the sight of Harry Potter with a Slytherin serpent emblazoned on his chest. "Like a proud son of Slytherin!"
"Better that than a poof, I suppose. It doesn't say 'MALFOY' on my back, does it?" he asked trying to get a look at himself in the mirror. "Hang on…did I hear something about a 'tiny little side effect'? Given your reputation, I'll admit I'm a bit concerned now."
"My reputation? I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about." She grinned widely. "I torture Draco because he deserves it most of the time. But I can be perfectly charming when I choose to be."
"I can see that," he said smoothly, leaning against the bedpost. "But…erm…what's the side effect?"
"Nothing really…you just have to eat… soon… within thirty minutes or the hangover comes back two-fold."
"That's not a problem. I'm famished."
Astrid studied Harry carefully. "I'm quite hungry, as well. Would you care to join me? There's a lovely little breakfast bistro just across the street."
Now Harry had been chasing dark wizards and uncovering plots and sub-plots far too long to be duped by an innocent invitation from a beautiful witch. His face remained neutral as his mind quickly passed through a series of states. But in the end, he could foresee no danger in letting Astrid complete her mission, as it seemed her plans didn't interfere with his at all.
"Sounds good," he said after a momentary pause, and he followed Astrid out of the bedroom.
Harry heard the sound of the running shower and just to confirm his theory, he paused before they left the flat.
"Why don't we wait until Malfoy's dressed. Maybe he'll join us?"
"Oh no, let's not bother. It'll be much more fun with just the two of us." Astrid answered smoothly, looking deeply into his eyes and flashing him a smile which stirred him far more deeply than he cared to admit.
She was good.
Harry had to continually remind himself that he was being played during the meal they shared together. He had never known two hours to pass so quickly. Strangely enough, their conversation flowed without a single mention of either Ginny or Draco. Astrid was a fascinating woman. She spent her professional career deep within the bowels of the Department of Mysteries, but she still made time to work with the Weasley twins in developing some of their most successful and gruesome products. Harry had no idea that she was still such close friends with Fred and George.
This woman was full of mysteries and inconsistencies, and Harry was pulled by a desire to learn about each of them.
Long after they'd finished their breakfast, they remained at the café sipping coffee and talking with an intimacy Harry could have sworn felt quite genuine.
But again… he had to remind himself they both had other agendas. This was just a game for both of them and he mustn't fall victim to it.
"Do you mind explaining something to me?" he asked tentatively.
"We both know why we're here. I find it rather odd you're willing to cover for your boyfriend while he pursues another woman."
Astrid smiled a devious smile, of which Harry was quickly becoming rather fond. "Aaaahh, is that what you think is happening?"
"Am I wrong?" he said, matching her devious grin and leaning towards her.
"I'll explain if you explain something to me. Yes?" She quirked an eyebrow in challenge.
"I agree we both know why we're here. And I find it rather odd that you're willing to while away hours and hours, and I dare say flirt a bit, while another man is pursuing your fiancée."
Harry sat back in his chair with a smirk. "Aaaahh, is that what you think is happening?"
"Am I wrong?" she asked, leaning towards him.
"I'll answer that…but you first," he said waving to the waiter for another pot of coffee; it didn't seem as though they'd be leaving anytime soon.
"My explanation is simple. I owe Draco everything… I love him, but he's not my boyfriend."
"I'm sorry, is 'boyfriend' too prosaic? Lover? Is that better?"
"Draco's neither… Draco's my brother." Astrid sat back and relished the array of emotion playing across Harry's face.
"In a symbolic sense, you mean?"
Astrid shook her head. "In the sense that Lucius Malfoy is my father. You're not naïve Harry. You know what goes on when Death Eaters are allowed to run freely."
"No, of course I've heard the accounts… I've just never…" The horror on Harry's face was evident.
"Met one of the products of such an evil union?"
"How long have you known?"
"Since my first year at Hogwarts, shortly before my parents were killed. Draco and Ginny have known almost that long as well. Obviously, it's not something I publicize about myself."
Harry mind was blank. "I'm sorry, I didn't know…. of course. I never imagined... Ginny knew? She's never said… no, she wouldn't, would she?"
"Not the happiest subject I'll admit… let's move on. Your turn…"
"Well, my explanation isn't nearly as dramatic. Ginny's not my fiancée.
"Pardon? Draco thinks she is."
"He said you told him you're going to get married."
"Oh, did he?" Harry smirked. "No, he got it wrong."
"Got what wrong? What are you up to?"
"In my drunken state I may have told him that I'd asked Ginny to marry me, but I never said she'd accepted," Harry chuckled.
Astrid furrowed her brow; what she was hearing made no sense to her.
"Pardon me for saying so, but you don't seem terribly broken-up about the prospect of losing the woman of your dreams."
"But I haven't lost her," Harry said matter-of-factly. "What Ginny and I have is-what-it-is and our connection doesn't change in relation to our status as lovers or not. It never has and it never will. That's part of our problem actually. I think Ginny finally explained how she feels in a way I can comprehend. Although I'm not sure I believe it… not entirely, anyway."
"I'd understand if you didn't want to tell me, but I'd like to know what she said."
When Harry began talking, he didn't know why he felt so comfortable speaking to this woman. Suddenly it seemed important that she understood what he told her. He had no reason to trust her with his secrets and yet he did trust her…almost. Somewhere in the depths of her beautiful eyes he felt at home.
"Ginny used puzzle pieces to explain it. Do you know how she likes puzzles?"
"Yes, I knew that."
"She showed me two puzzle pieces. It was a garden scene, and the two pieces had bits of flowers on them. They were almost identical and they fit together perfectly. She said those two pieces were her and me. We'd used that analogy for each other before, actually."
"That's sweet," Astrid commented, her Malfoy snark exposing itself the tiniest bit.
Harry chuckled. Why was he finding that a tone which was so completely offensive from her brother, utterly charming from her?
"And then," Harry continued pointedly, "she pointed to the tops of the pieces. You know the little hole, where another piece will fit."
"The void?" she asked.
"The bits of puzzle pieces that make them fit together are called nubs and voids."
Harry laughed. "How in bloody hell do you know that?"
"I read a lot," she shrugged.
"Another Hermione, lovely."
"She's a bit slow, actually."
"I'll be sure to tell her you think so," Harry laughed.
"Go on, finish your enthralling puzzle piece story, I'm on the edge of my seat."
Harry glared at her softly, and she flashed her eyes at him. He knew that she sincerely wished him to continue.
"Ginny pointed to the voids in the top of the two puzzle pieces and she said: 'See, although they belong together, both pieces are missing this little bit of sky up here. Neither of them have it, so no matter how much they want to, they can't give it to the other.'
"The logical conclusion being, she thinks my brother is her little bit of sky?" she asked in a doubtful tone that made Harry laugh again.
"I think at one time that's what she thought. But her point was there's something else out there that we don't give each other. She might have gotten a taste of it with Draco, I don't know. I've never experienced what she was talking about."
Harry took sip of his tepid coffee and wondered if it was still too early in the day to order a firewhiskey.
"Have you, Astrid? Have you ever been in love like that?"
"Definitely not," Astrid shook her head solemnly. "I know what she means though. I remember watching them when I was on holiday breaks from Hogwarts. They were so happy. Even when they were fighting they made each other laugh. I think it's because they were so different, and so they had to work hard at their connection. Maybe that's what Ginny means; the two of you have a connection that is natural to you but maybe when you choose to build and nourish that sort of bond, it must feel different."
"It must," Harry agreed.
"Harry, I'm confused. You wanted Draco to go see her. Do you want Draco and Ginny back together?"
"No. I want Ginny happy. She says she's happy, but she forgets I can feel what she feels, to some extent. She has unfinished business with him and she's not going to be able to move on until it's resolved."
"And you admit it may resolve itself by them getting back together?"
"I'd rather they didn't. I realize he means the world to you, but he causes her too much heartbreak."
"He does seem to make poor choices when it comes to Ginny," she admitted. "But he makes other that are rather fine. Did you know… when I was little, not long after my parents had died, Draco went to see his father in prison. He confronted him and told him about me and he told him he'd taken me in."
"How'd Lucius react to that?"
"Not well. He called me an abomination of nature. He told Draco I should be… purged… was how he put it. He said Malfoy blood could never be diluted and it was Draco's responsibility to ensure the line's purity." Although she usually displayed a self-assured exterior, Astrid was visibly shaken by the telling of her story. Without thinking, Harry enfolded her hand in his with a confidence that surprised and comforted both of them. She took a deep breath.
"And do you know what Draco did?" she continued.
"He obviously didn't purge you."
"No, he didn't. He walked away from his father and never went back. Draco takes family obligation and tradition very seriously, but on that day he chose me. He made me his family. And then he made it official, he drew up the papers that made me a Malfoy as though I was his full sibling. I could take the name if I wanted to, but I prefer to honour the parents that I remember and love."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because you only seem capable of seeing the worst in Draco Malfoy. I think there are things in the past which you need to put behind you too. Draco's a good man, even when measured by Harry Potter standards. You need to know that."
"Maybe if I knew more about why he walked away from Ginny, I'd have a better understanding. She's never told me what really happened, you know?"
Astrid chuckled. "I don't think the details behind that would particularly endear him to you. Quite the opposite, actually."
"So you know? Tell me, Astrid. Please."
"Harry, it's difficult. I think he loves her so much that he can't even imagine the possibility that she loves him just as much. And that terrifies him and makes him do stupid things."
"What stupid things?"
Astrid paused and pondered her next move. She'd already said too much, and to continue even further would come dangerously close to betraying Draco's confidence. But the time had come to open up this can of worms and end the secrets. She plunged forward.
"I can tell you this…" she began "the spring when they broke-up, I was still at Hogwarts. I received an owl from Draco saying that he had to leave the country for a number of months on business and that I was to see Quiggles… er, Mr. Quigley, if I needed anything. I didn't think much of it; I was a teenager and all wrapped up in my own dramas. It wasn't until two days later when Ginny visited the school that I realized the implications of Draco's note."
"That he'd left her?" Harry asked.
Astrid nodded. "Yes. Ginny was frantic, she didn't know what had happened, but I couldn't help. I didn't know any more than she did."
"Hang on…are you saying Malfoy just disappeared? He didn't even have the decency to talk to her?"
Astrid shook her head. "From what I've gathered, he moved her to that cottage and had one of his solicitors tell her it was over."
"No wonder she's never talked about it!"
"I'll kill him!" Harry growled.
"Brilliant, Potter! Thank you! Don't you think that might be the reason Ginny couldn't confide in you? She was sick of the death threats thrown back and forth between the two people she loves the most?" Harry started to calm down at those words.
"I see your point," he sighed.
"It's time to step back and let them work it out for themselves."
"I'd have never sent him over there if I'd known it was that bad."
"Doesn't matter. You said it yourself, they have unfinished business. And Harry?"
"You might want to think about trying to forge some sort of adult understanding with Draco… for the good of everyone."
Harry grimaced, but nodded in agreement. "Malfoy and I have never played well together. Especially when Ginny wasn't there to mediate."
Astrid giggled suddenly. "I don't know, I sort of remember one moment when you two were friendly… rather friendly, indeed."
Harry was confused for a moment and then he grinned broadly. "The prefects' bathroom?"
Astrid nodded enthusiastically.
"What a horrifying memory," Harry shuddered, "but I have to admit that was the most brilliant piece of revenge ever imagined! Ginny nearly jumped off the Astronomy Tower!"
"How did it all start?" she asked. "Draco won't talk about it. He says he was scarred enough by being naked with you in the bath; he doesn't want to relive it."
"I'm not too keen on the memory either… but… for you… I suppose it all started after Voldemort was vanquished. We returned to Hogwarts after Christmas of our seventh year, absolutely giddy. The weight of the world had been lifted from our shoulders and it was time to play.
"Somehow Malfoy and I decided it was time that Ginny pay for the Valentine's fudge from the previous year. I think it was Hermione who actually came up with the concept, believe it or not. She said something like: 'What if that fudge really did spark feelings between you two? Wouldn't that put Ginny's knickers in a twist?' And a plan was born!"
"Yes! And?" Astrid squirmed excitedly in her seat, waiting for more.
"Well the brilliance was more in the set-up. It took weeks to prime Ginny's curiosity and paranoia."
"First, I started being a very bad boyfriend. I'd not show up when I'd promised. I always seemed distant and forgetful. I pretended to lose all interest in touching her. I'd fall asleep when she was talking. She wasn't at all amused! I'm lucky I wasn't chucked right then.
"The second phase involved her catching Malfoy and I gazing longing at each other from afar, whenever Ginny was there to notice it and Hermione was there to help plant the seeds of doubt.
"And then Ginny would catch us together, whispering in various dark corners of the castle. Very soon her curiosity was fully stoked and we were sure she would follow us when given the opportunity.
"The last bit was easy. Ginny caught us together in the Prefects' Bath in a very compromising position! And all hell broke loose!"
"Brilliant," Astrid laughed and sighed, "couldn't have done better myself!"
"High praise," Harry conceded. "Although I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else. We're going to have to order another meal if we sit here any longer. We've been here forever and the waiter is giving us the evil eye."
Astrid nodded. "I think we can call our missions successful, don't you?"
"Extremely. I didn't need to eat immediately after that hangover charm, did I?"
"No, you were fine," Astrid smirked.
"I'll have to keep my eye on you."
"Please do," she said, but then quickly looked away from him as she began to gather her belongings together. Harry reached into his pocket and threw down more than enough galleons to cover their meal.
Harry stood and helped her with her coat. She was tall now; her shoulders almost even with his. Her long, soft hair brushed his hands as he helped adjust her collar. Somehow his body was refusing to step away from her and his brain flailed, trying to think of an excuse to see her again. But then once again he remembered this was all just a game, he had no way to be sure what was real and what was ruse.
"Well, goodbye, Harry." Astrid smiled at him and walked away, apparently she wasn't having the same mental issues as Harry.
Draco Apparated outside Ginny's garden gate. He hadn't seen this place in many, many months. He remembered that first time he saw this cottage, and he knew Ginny Weasley was meant to live here. Of course at the time he had planned to be here with her. Not full-time of course, but Ginny had mentioned that she didn't consider weekends at Malfoy Manor to be escaping to the country. Apparently, Draco had mused at the time, her peasant stock craved something more rustic. This lovely little cottage would suit both of their needs.
He had meant to give it to her as a gift of love, but then everything had fallen apart… insurmountable walls could no longer be ignored and the unfortunate cottage had become a gift of parting instead.
The knots in Draco's stomach reminded him that nothing had really changed. Everything he was unable to say in the past seemed to remain just as impossible.
"Woof!" The attack came from behind. Draco was snapped from his reverie as he tumbled to the ground. A huge force pushed him from behind, thus buckling his knees and forcing him to land in a lavender bed just inside Ginny's gate.
He cringed in pain as the dried remains of the summer's flowers broke on impact and the sharp straw-like reeds poked his eyes, ears and neck. His predicament was not helped by the massive grey dog which had him pinned to the ground and was currently licking the exposed side of his face.
"Faustus?" he croaked, trying to roll onto his back and sit-up, but the weight of the joyful dog prevented much movement. Despite the indignity and pain of the situation, Draco couldn't help but chuckle, for he was as happy to see Faustus as the dog was to see him. "What does your mummy feed you Faustus? You're huge!" he said, as he managed to begin to pry the dog off of him and sit up.
"Faustus! House! Now!" Both the dog and Draco started at the chill in Ginny's voice and the dog slinked away without another slurp.
Draco's first glimpse of Ginny was startling; upon first sight of him, there no sign of warmth or welcome in her eyes, nor could he read anger or pain. For Draco, Ginny's eyes had always acted as a beacon, either welcoming him in from the cold, or warning him of rough weather ahead. However today she might have been a stranger standing before him, a stranger with expressionless eyes.
Ginny gathered her bathrobe around her tightly. It was a very chilly morning, but she had run out to the garden when she heard the ruckus from Faustus. She'd thought he was trying to eat the garden gnomes again. She should have been prepared for the sight she found instead; after all she had just spent several hours discussing this exact possibility with Hermione. For a brief second she considered running into the house to dress properly, but then she resisted the urge; this was an uninvited and unwelcome guest and she owed him nothing.
"Hi," Draco said carefully as he stood, his eyes still searching for a spark of something he recognized in Ginny's face.
"You're covered in mud and you have lavender grass in your hair. You should be more careful." Ginny turned and stalked away. "You may as well come inside to clean-up."
Ginny carefully scanned her home as she re-entered. Hermione had been here less than two minutes before. Apparently, she'd read the sounds of Draco's arrival as her cue to Dissapparate… coward.
Draco hurried behind her and through the door she'd left open. Ginny pointed to a large wall mirror, but remained by the cottage door.
A scourgify charm made quick work of the mud on his new robe and then Draco began picking the grassy bits from his hair. Draco worked uncomfortably under Ginny's intense scrutiny; he wished he could think of something to say. There was so much he needed to say, but where to begin? All of this grooming gave him time to think.
He had almost finished putting himself right again when Ginny finally spoke first.
"I suppose I should thank you…" she began, an emotionless chill was the overriding tenor in her voice. "I've been meaning to send you a fruit basket or something."
"What? Thank me? Why?" Draco stopped his preening and turned to her.
"The Malfoy Foundation is giving five million Galleons to the hospital. Neville and I will finally be able to do the research we've always dreamed of."
"Oh… that… well, yes…" Draco had forgotten about that. He didn't allow his mind to dwell on the thought that he'd made that donation in the pathetic hope that it would force his and Ginny's worlds back onto the same plane. Faustus had nudged Draco's hand and he began to unconsciously scratch the dog's head while calculating his next move.
"I just thought I should thank you personally as the Director of the department which will benefit the most. Surely you knew?"
"Yes, of course I knew. Congratulations on your promotion. I know how important your research is to you," he said softly.
"Thank you," she said stiffly, and silence descended over them again.
Ginny stared at him blankly, as if daring him to speak, but his mind was reeling. This was his one chance; he had to make things right now or never.
Draco inhaled as if about to begin a sentence, but then stopped and said nothing. He repeated his attempt and failed again. The silence in the room was beyond uncomfortable.
"Well, thank you for stopping by, but I've only just gotten home from a long shift and I need to get some sleep," Ginny said moving toward the door and opening it for him.
"Good bye, Draco."
"Good bye, Draco," she said more firmly, only the tiniest quiver in her voice belied her steely manner.
Draco shook his head and sat in the nearest chair.
The front door of the cottage slammed shut with a force that shook the rafters and sent Faustus running from the room.
"WHAT?" Ginny exploded. "WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY SAY TO ME NOW? JUST SAY IT AND LEAVE!"
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, finally able to breath a bit easier. Ginny's explosion had reignited the fire in her eyes and finally there was something familiar about this woman.
Ginny's fury he could handle.
"YOU'RE SORRY?" She laughed. "WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU SORRY FOR, DRACO? WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO BEGIN?"
"Where would you like me to begin?"
Ginny was quivering with fury, but still she paused. Here in front of her stood a man she loved beyond all reason, but who had also caused her pain beyond all reason. She wanted to cover his face with kisses. She wanted to wrap her arms around his neck. She also wanted to wrap her hands around his throat and throttle him. She wanted to slap him until the contrast of colors between his face and his hair resembled a candy cane.
But all those desires were drowned out by the desire for information. Here he was, ready to apologize and give answers. She needed those answers so she could move on with her life, and slowly her anger began to diffuse and she began to compose herself once again.
Begging for those desperately needed answers was a sign of weakness. And weakness, she knew, would only lead her straight back down the path of heartbreak. "Draco, you have 5 minutes."
"Thank you, Ginny," he breathed, seeming genuinely appreciative.
Before she realized it, she found herself sitting in a chair opposite him, her head was a muddle but the questions spilled out anyway.
"Why? What did I do? I thought we were happy… why didn't you tell me you were unhappy?"
"I was never not happy," Draco began slowly. "Just the opposite. Everything was too perfect."
"Doesn't make sense," Ginny shook her head.
"I'm afraid I don't have good reasons for my behaviour Ginny, I got scared. I never expected us to last as long as we did or to be as happy as we were. I always expected you to figure out that you didn't really belong with me and leave, but I convinced myself to take what I could get while I could. Before I knew it three years had passed and it wasn't enough anymore."
"Wasn't enough? What do you mean?"
"I wanted you to be mine, completely. I wanted forever. I wanted a family with you."
"Kicking me out and leaving the country is an odd way to express…"
"I know… I told you I didn't have good reasons."
"You were afraid?" Ginny spat. "You were afraid I might leave you so you left me first? And then you were afraid to do it yourself so you had someone I'd never laid eyes on do it for you? You're not that big a coward, are you? I don't believe it! I've seen you in battle! You've faced Voldemort, just as closely as any of us!"
"Voldemort could only kill me; it's not the same thing. I thought choosing a life without you would be less painful than having you leave me. But I was wrong. I've been living in a kind of purgatory without you."
"For someone busy worrying about your own pain, you were rather cavalier about causing pain."
"I wasn't trying to hurt you. Honestly, I wanted to make everything as easy as I could for you; I made sure the house was comfortable and that you had Dribbles and Faustus. It's stupid, I know. I guess I figured you'd be alright… you had Potter. You always had Potter."
Recognition lit-up Ginny's face. "This is about Harry, isn't it? The whole time we were together you were waiting for me to go back to Harry? Just like everyone else." She slumped back in her chair, numb. Tears brimmed her eyes. "I thought you understood. You never said anything… I thought you were the only one who understood." Draco looked at her with a puzzled expression. "I thought you knew that I loved you for you Draco Malfoy, and that love had nothing to do with Harry." Ginny nodded slightly. "You were right to leave then. You went about it wrongly, but if you didn't believe in what we had then it couldn't have lasted."
"No! I was wrong! That's my point. I forgot something..."
"My head was so congested with my own jealousy I forgot to trust you."
"Yes, you did. And that's one of the lamest lines I've ever heard… 'I forgot to trust you.'"
"But it was only for a moment! That's all it took to put into motion events that I've regretted ever since."
"What do you mean? You couldn't have found this house in just a moment."
"No. I had already bought the house as a gift… but before I could give it to you… well, let's just say I discovered the advantage to running an empire and having a vast staff to cater to every spoiled, petulant whim. Of course, that advantage allowed me to be completely selfish and delegate the less desirable tasks to somebody else. Quigley would have nothing to do with it by the way, he would want you to know that. He very nearly left me over this; as it was he barely spoke to me for six months."
"Something must have triggered this Draco… we were perfect!"
"It was something stupid, I heard some old crones gossiping. It was an evening when I was supposed to meet you for dinner. You'd been doing something with Potter that afternoon and when I arrived at the restaurant the two of you were… doing what you do when you're together."
"Talking?" she asked dryly.
Draco nodded and smirked in spite of himself. "Talking, laughing…cosily…as though the rest of the world had disappeared. And that old soul mate aura was back at work again."
"I'd become used to Potter hanging about the flat and I didn't mind so much when it was just the three of us, because you always managed to include me somehow. But like I said, I was just entering the restaurant, it was crowded and I became trapped behind these women in the doorway. They'd recognised you and were talking about the two of you. Saying how lovely you were together, and remarking on how beautiful your children would be. Things like that."
"They're just silly old women…"
"I know, but something snapped. I'd been thinking about our children so much that it broke my heart to hear people talking like that. Thinking what was mine belonged to him, especially when I'd always believed it myself."
"Why didn't you just tell me this then?"
"I couldn't bear the thought of you choosing him. I definitely couldn't hear you speak the words."
"What do you want from me now, Draco? I know what you and Harry did last night. What did he say that made you come here today?"
"It's not so much what he said. I've been trying to find a reason to see you for months."
"What did Harry say, Draco?" she repeated sternly.
"He said you were getting married," Draco admitted reluctantly.
Ginny's eyes went wide, but her expression was unreadable.
"He did? He shouldn't have said that."
"I just wanted you to know, before its too late, that nothing's changed for me."
"Draco, don't do this…" Ginny shook her head slowly.
"I need you to know that I've never stopped loving you. I've never stopped dreaming about the life we could have together."
Ginny's tears, which had been bubbling ever since Draco arrival, finally overflowed.
At the sight of her tears Draco rose and went to her. "Draco, stop!" His hand reached for her tear stained cheek. "DON'T TOUCH ME!" Ginny cried, and moved away so that a large dining table was situated between them. "HOW DARE YOU DO THIS TO ME?"
Draco realized this wasn't going at all well.
"This is sudden, I know," he said calmly, "and you're over-tired."
"I need a chance to talk to you, to explain further… after you've had a chance to absorb the situation."
"Next Saturday night, 7 o'clock, at The Barleymalt."
"GET OUT!' she bellowed, picking up a heavy vase from the sideboard, while searching desperately for her wand which was nowhere in sight..
"So, it's a date then," he smirked. But it was only a façade, hiding his genuine despair as he retreated swiftly from the cottage.
For some inexplicable reason Harry found himself in the Department of Mysteries at noontime on Monday. He told himself he was there to have an impromptu lunch with Hermione and he was currently grumbling his way through the labyrinth of security surrounding Hermione's workplace.
"You'll have to wait here, Mr. Potter. I'll have someone fetch Mrs. Weasley for you," said the security witch. Harry hadn't heard her, his attention drawn by a tall, very blond witch passing him in the corridor. The witch sensed that someone was staring at her back and she turned and smiled at Harry. Harry returned the smile briefly and then looked away… she wasn't anyone he knew. And then Harry grinned to himself. It wasn't Astrid, he thought. The snarky witch had wormed her way into his head and he was dying to see her again.
"Hmm?" he asked the security witch, who then repeated her request to have him wait.
"Yes, of course. I'll wait here," he answered distractedly. "This is a stupid idea," he grumbled to himself as he took a seat in the waiting area. "What am I doing?"
Astrid was in her small office reviewing the data from her latest round of experiments when she felt it: he was in the building. It always happened like this; the presence of Harry Potter caused a wave of energy throughout the wizarding world. Witches and wizards alike whispered his name like a chant, foreshadowing his appearance, wherever he went. This fact sent her brother up the wall on a regular basis and hence Astrid had developed a potent immunity to the Harry Potter fever which gripped most young women of her age.
But something had changed.
Harry Potter was no longer an abstract icon, living on the perimeter of her existence. He was now a very real flesh and blood man, with naughty green eyes who had been plopped directly in her path and who hadn't left her thoughts for two days.
"Oh! Sod it!" she cursed, pushing her work aside and gathering up several parchments as she hurried from the room.
"Harry! What a nice surprise!" Hermione greeted her old friend with an awkward hug as she appeared through the barrier separating the Unspeakables from the rest of the Ministry of Magic.
"How are you Hermione? You're looking brilliant as always."
"Thank you, I think, for a woman who's seven months pregnant. But I hope you're not here for lunch. I'm flat out today."
"Oh, that's too bad, I was just in the neighbourhood… and all, in between catching bad guys."
"But," Hermione continued, "we must talk soon! Somebody has to tell me what's going on between you and Ginny! One minute you're engaged, the next your not… I swear I can't keep up!"
"No engagement, Hermione," he said distractedly. His attention had left his friend and had once again found a tall, blonde woman just over Hermione's shoulder.
"Mrs. Weasley, excuse me. These parchments need your approval," Astrid spoke to Hermione, but her eyes brightened and locked with Harry's.
"Thank you, Ms. Simons," Hermione quickly reviewed the contents of the parchments. "Oh my goodness Harry, I'm sorry but these need my attention right away. I'll owl you later in the week…" Hermione's head emerged from her documents, but was not so distracted she didn't notice the sight of Harry and Astrid both looking lightning struck. "I'll see you later, Harry," she said with a furrowed brow. "I definitely can't keep up," she mumbled to herself, waddling away.
"Hi Harry," Astrid finally said after several seconds of intense staring.
"Hi… erm… funny thing… I've just been turned down for lunch… apparently.
"That's too bad."
"Would you have an hour? Are you… hungry? Lunch?" Harry managed to sputter.
"I'd like that."
Silence descended over them as they walked to a nearby café popular with Ministry employees. The staff seated Harry far in the back to avoid curious eyes as he dined with a new companion.
However, the conversation today was far more difficult than on their previous meeting when they openly teased and flirted as a diversionary tactic; today they both seemed to be in a bit of a muddle and at a loss for words. But eventually, the conversation began to flow freely and again Harry was enthralled with the woman in his company.
As much as they found to talk about, it was impossible to avoid the topic which haunted them both.
"So, have you seen Ginny since our last meeting?" Astrid asked curiously.
"Oh yes." Harry grimaced. "She's not at all pleased with me at the moment. After I left you on Saturday, I stopped by her cottage to see that she was alright. I didn't get much information out of her. I was too busy dodging flying objects and hexes. I don't think it went very well for your brother either."
"No, I'd say you're correct there."
"You saw him?"
"Yes, of course. You're right, it didn't go well…"
"What did he expect? Did he think she'd fall into his arms?"
"I don't know what he was thinking. But I had to tell him…"
"Tell him what?"
"I told him that you and Ginny aren't really engaged."
"Oh, I'm surprised Ginny didn't tell him that."
"From what I gathered Ginny didn't say much. He was practically despondent when I found him. He said it was hopeless, and that he'd lost her forever. I couldn't stand to see him like that, so I told him."
Just then their meal arrived then and the conversation shifted toward lighter fare.
Far too soon they found themselves walking back to the Ministry.
"I have a confession to make," Harry admitted.
"What's that?" Astrid asked with interest.
"I came to the Ministry today hoping to see you again."
"Really? Another mission? Was it successful?"
Harry shrugged. "Not done yet. I need more time."
"Well, maybe I can help. What's the mission?"
"I enjoyed I our time together on Saturday and today. I'm trying to determine how much was real and how much was diversion."
"Oh, that is a dilemma," she admitted with a smirk. "How will you resolve it?"
"I think we need to go to out this Saturday and do further research."
"That sounds wise. I think I could be recruited for that."
Harry grinned widely. "Good, 'til Saturday then." Harry had walked her as far as he was allowed and so he turned to leave.
"But Harry…" Astrid called him back.
"Saturday's five days away… seems like an awful waste of valuable research time."
"What are you suggesting?" he asked, his eyes sparkling in a way that would turn any girl's knees to mud.
"I have to eat lunch tomorrow, don't you?"
"Indeed I do. 'Til tomorrow then."
Soon tongues throughout the Ministry of magic were wagging from both ends. Much to Astrid's amusement, she was receiving death glares from witches she'd never laid eyes on before, and all because of a few lunch dates with the oh-so-eligible Mr. Potter!
One lunch had turned into two, then three, and then somehow it was just assumed.
For Astrid's part she felt eerily happy. She'd learned at a young age that boys found her physically attractive, and she'd learned to use her rather intimidating intellect and sometimes prickly personality to send most of them running for cover. But a select few had penetrated her formidable defences; these boys were usually self-assured, independent types who never bothered to follow the crowd. But even with these boys there was invariably something missing and she always suspected they were a little afraid of her.
But from Astrid's initial conversations with Harry she was having a very difficult time finding anything missing about him. Well, he was a bit old, but he was so hot one could forgive that. And Harry Potter was most definitely not afraid of her, not in the slightest! What was even better… Harry thought she was funny! The only boy who ever thought she was funny was Draco, but he didn't count. Well no, there were the Weasley twins too… but they were positively ancient!
Astrid's growing interest in Harry seemed to be fully reciprocated. As the weekday lunches flew by, he'd progressed from sitting opposite her, to sitting across a corner from her, and now, on Friday he had requested the far corner booth and was sitting next to her. The occasional contact of their thighs caused a delicious distraction for both of them.
Although their meal had long since finished, Astrid was currently prolonging it by keeping Harry both amused and horrified. She'd been causing minor disasters at neighbouring tables for Harry's amusement. But when she began causing a man's toupee to twitch and spasm on his head Harry was forced to intervene.
"Astrid, no!" Harry whispered, trying to suppress his chuckles.
"Oh! But I don't like him! He's a prize twit!"
"Astrid!" Harry gasped, while trying to get a better look at the man. "Oh Bloody hell! That's the Minister of Magic! Astrid… NO!"
Harry reached under the table and tried to wrest the wand from Astrid's hand. Astrid resisted this manoeuvre, as no one ever touched her wand. However, as they continued to wrestle under the table, Astrid finally quieted Harry's fighting by holding his hand against her thigh. Suddenly Harry relaxed and seemed to forget his mission of gaining control of the wand.
"Really, Harry," she began quietly, in a sultry voice which drew Harry even closer to her, "you're ruining a golden opportunity for me. I'm sitting at a table with Harry Potter… no one would suspect me. I've never had a better cover in my life."
Harry didn't hear a word she said; he was too busy watching the movement of her full lips and wondering how they tasted. His finger began to make little circles on the delicate fabric covering Astrid's thigh, until her hand covered it and stopped its movement, while she suppressed a sigh. Astrid could feel Harry's warm breath on her temple as he imperceptibly moved closer. She closed her eyes and her pink tongue flicked over her lips.
"Pardon me, is there anything else I can get you today?" The waiter's words came as a bucket of iced water over the table and they both withdrew with a start.
"We should go," Harry admitted reluctantly and accepted the bill.
"It's past time for me to get back as well," Astrid agreed.
Their Friday lunch ended with high expectations for the success of their Saturday evening date.
However it was not to be, for on Saturday as they were happily walking toward the theatre they were planning to attend, they passed The Barleymalt and through the large window Astrid spied Draco, alone at a table.
"Hang on, Harry," she paused, squeezing his hand to slow him down.
"Did you want a drink or something?" he asked, peering into the pub.
"No look, it's Draco. He's all alone. He was hoping to meet Ginny here tonight. She should've been here an hour ago."
"I was wondering if she'd come. I'm not surprised she didn't." Harry watched Malfoy sitting miserably at the table, with a bottle of wine in front of him along with two glasses, one full and one empty. In his excitement about his own date he'd completely forgotten about Ginny's.
Harry imagined Ginny sitting alone in her cottage in much the same shape as Draco.
"Harry, I can't just leave him like that," Astrid admitted quietly, the disappointment evident in her eyes.
Harry nodded. "I should probably check on Ginny as well."
"We'll do this another time?" Astrid asked backing away toward the restaurant.
"Of course, I'll owl you tomorrow."
Harry watched Astrid for a moment through the glass. It took Draco a few seconds to realize she was there, but once he did a relieved smile bloomed over her face and he stood and enfolded her in his arms, giving her a warm kiss. The love and intimacy between the siblings was evident as Astrid sat close to him and they buried their heads together in conversation.
Harry felt a twinge in his heart which surprised him. "I'll be damned," he muttered to himself before Apparating to Ginny's cottage.
As he suspected Ginny was alone in her cottage, staring into the fire.
"Room for one more?" he asked.
Ginny's focus shifted to Harry slowly, but then gave him a wan smile and shifted in her chair, making room for him. They were soon in a position they'd been in one thousand times before with Ginny on Harry's lap, her head resting on his shoulder and his arms wrapped tightly around her.
Ginny relaxed against him, feeling the relief of being close to Harry. On the other hand, Harry had to grit his teeth as Ginny settled in. He could feel the pain and conflict within her; it was unlike anything he'd ever felt in her before. He felt guilty because he was the one who'd instigated the events which stirred up this pain in his friend.
"I happened to see Malfoy, pouting alone in a pub before I came here. Why didn't you go?"
"Shhh… don't… let's talk about something else. What's new with you? We didn't get a chance to chat last time I saw you."
"That's because you were trying to kill me, my friend," he chuckled, planting a soft kiss on her forehead.
"Mmm, I'm still pissed off with you, by the way. Just don't have the energy to kill you," she said as she snuggled her nose into his neck. "So tell me… what's new? Help me return to the land of the living."
"I met a girl… well no, I didn't meet… I always knew the girl… I just hadn't seen her recently…" Harry stammered.
"Is this some sort of puzzle?" Ginny giggled.
"She grew up… I met a woman."
Ginny smiled, "You meet woman everyday Harry. Are you saying you met someone special?"
"I think so… very special."
"Harry! You're glowing. Anyone I know?"
"Astrid," Harry sighed dreamily, but then he pictured the scathing glare Astrid would give such a burst of sentimentality, and he chuckled.
"Simons?" Ginny asked, suddenly sitting up straight. "Draco's Astrid?"
"The very same… and thanks for never telling me she was the git's sister! You just let me think Malfoy was a perv all these years."
Ginny giggled. "It wasn't my secret to tell. And Draco thought it was funny. But don't stop there! Details please!"
Harry shrugged, "Nothing to tell really, just a few lunches… but she's… I don't know… we'll see."
Ginny was staring at Harry, her eyes softly glowing as though she had a secret.
"What?" Harry asked.
"Nothing Harry, nothing at all," she said nestling back into his neck. "You said you saw Draco? Why where you in that part of London?"
"I was going to the theatre with Astrid, our first real date. She didn't want to leave Draco alone."
"Oh Harry, I'm sorry!"
"But something strange happened to me just then."
"Well, I stood there for a minute or two and watched her greet Draco and I watched them settled down into immediate intimacy… and I was jealous."
"What do you mean Harry? He's her brother…"
"I know, but still, I want that kind of easy intimacy with her and it hasn't been a week since I've discovered her. I couldn't help but imagine what Draco feels when he watches us, it can't be easy."
"What are you saying?"
"Just making an observation."
"Don't assume you know what I want. I don't even know."
Their quiet conversation lasted late in to the night. So late, in fact that Harry spent the night, but for the first time in a long time Harry slept in the guest bedroom. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
The next morning Harry was dressed and preparing to leave Ginny's cottage when Faustus began whining, sniffing the air and scratching at the door.
"Want out, Boy?" Harry opened the door to release the dog, only to find that Faustus didn't want out; he wanted the person standing reluctantly on the other side of the door.
"Malfoy," Harry nodded, stepping back and allowing Draco to enter the cottage.
"Potter," he returned the greeting coolly as he entered.
"Nothing happened here last night," Harry heard himself saying, and the surprise on his face matched that on Draco's.
"Since when do you start explaining you and the Weaslette to me?" Draco smirked.
It was a valid question and Harry racked his brain to find an answer. Again the answer surprised both of them just as much as the question.
"I… I just don't want you running and telling tales to your sister," Harry answered with a challenge in his voice.
"Is that all?" Draco chuckled apathetically. "Where's Ginny?"
"She's in the bath. Don't you care?"
"'bout what? I'll wait," he said removing his jacket and helping himself to the breakfast tray Ginny had prepared earlier.
"Don't you care that I'm pulling your sister?"
Draco chuckled and sipped his tea; his calm was exceedingly disquieting to Harry.
"Pulling my sister…" he repeated to himself, mostly because he enjoyed the phrase. "I suppose I should be upset, shouldn't I? Considering that up until recently I was under the impression that you were engaged to Ginny."
"Really? Who told you that?" Harry asked with a smirk.
Draco ignored him and continued on his train of thought. "Astrid's informed me otherwise. She's also mentioned the two of you had been spending time together. Quite disturbing, really," he chuckled.
"Well, now that we've got that cleared-up, I'm off. I just remembered something I need to tell Astrid," Harry said as he prepared to leave.
"Potter, let's get one thing straight. If anyone does any 'pulling' it's going to be her. Never fool yourself that you're in control with that one. And I must say… I'm looking forward to the inevitable day when you piss her off! She has hexes that make Ginny's Bat-Bogey feel like a tickle-fight."
Harry's face lit-up and he grinned widely. "I look forward to that too. I like challenging women. That's one thing we've always had in common, Malfoy."
Harry Apparated into the Wizards-only lobby of the building where Astrid lived; it was another Malfoy-owned property not far from Draco's flat. Astrid loved her brother, but she also liked her own space.
He hadn't quite clarified in his own mind why he was there. But that didn't stop him from finding her door and knocking.
Harry's heart skipped a beat when the door opened. There she stood with a freshly scrubbed face and a long, loose braid falling down her back, wearing comfortable Sunday morning clothes and stocking feet. And yet, Harry thought, she wouldn't have seemed out of place in a palace.
"Harry…this is a surprise. I was expecting an owl later… but please, come in."
"Hi," he said suddenly tongue-tied.
Astrid gave Harry a puzzled smile. "Is everything alright? I'm sorry things didn't work out last night. Is Ginny alright?"
"I didn't come to talk about them," Harry blurted suddenly. The words were falling out of his mouth, and he wasn't sure what was coming next and yet they all seemed so right.
Astrid's eye widened at the intensity in Harry's voice and she quirked an eyebrow quizzically.
"I realized something last night… we're making a mistake," Harry continued.
Astrid's face fell with concern. "We? We are? But we haven't done anything."
Harry stepped very close to her and took her hands.
"Exactly. We meant to spend Saturday evening together, but instead we went running to Ginny and Draco. They need to work this out for themselves, and there's really nothing we can do for them, is there?"
Astrid shook her head, and as Harry continued, he stepped even closer to her, encouraging her hands around his waist while his finger traced the hollow of her cheek.
"I comforted Ginny as best I could, but the entire time my mind kept wandering right back to you."
"It did?" She tried to quell the quiver in her voice, urged on by a somersault in her stomach. Her eyes were almost on level with his; she barely needed to tilt her head upward to allow her nose to lightly caress his.
"So we were wrong… we should have gone on our date. Don't you see? If we're not careful we'll end up torturing each other, just like they torture each other."
"Harry, aren't you jumping in a bit quick? Talking about us having a relationship before you've even kissed m…"
Harry's lips captured hers with a delicate passion that made Astrid whimper involuntarily.
One doesn't get to be a beautiful twenty-year-old witch without kissing a modest number of boys, but this was the first time Astrid was positive she was kissing a man, one who clearly meant business.
As Harry deepened the kiss, Astrid melted against him, until she was barely supporting her own weight. Harry pulled away suddenly with a look of concern bordering on panic etching his face.
"Please… tell me you're feeling this too," he pleaded.
"Just keep kissing me, Potter," Astrid chuckled as she tugged Harry closer and kissed him again.
Meanwhile in the country, Ginny exited her bath and called to Harry as she passed to her bedroom to dress.
"You'd better have saved one of those scones for me, Harry. I'm starving."
However, the voice that answered from the living room didn't belong to Harry.
"I don't want to distress you, but you've had an upgrade in companionship recently," the voice drawled.
Ginny's stomach fell through the floor. She paused, rubbed her forehead and then calmly finished dressing before entering the living room.
"Why are you here, Draco?" she asked quietly, more than a little annoyed at how perfect he looked sitting in her living room, tea tray at his side and the dog sleeping at his feet, with his head resting on Draco's foot. .
"I was concerned; you didn't keep our date last night," he answered calmly, handing her a plated scone and a cup of tea fixed precisely how she liked it, very hot with more milk than tea.
"We didn't have a date last night, Draco. I don't respond to commandments. And I was hoping you'd take my absence as the answer to whatever questions you were planning to ask."
Ginny sat and ate her breakfast while waiting for Draco's next move, but she didn't expect the hitch in Draco's breathing.
"I've mucked this up thoroughly, haven't I?"
Ginny's glare answered his question more completely than words ever could. "Where's Harry? Was he here when you arrived?"
"Yes. He's gone off to befoul my sister. Do you believe that? If that relationship blossoms, I'm going to need an Avada Kedavra right between the eyes."
"I'll arrange that for you. Gladly," Ginny responded smoothly, a grin spreading across her face for the first time. "Actually, I have a good feeling about them. I'm surprised I didn't think of the match myself."
"Are you daft? He's completely wrong for her!"
Ginny chuckled. "Determining who's right for whom, isn't your strong suit Draco."
Draco looked at her in a longing way that Ginny found hard to ignore, but ignore it she did.
"Part of me is ecstatic, sitting here talking to you calmly and civilly," Draco said after a long silence "But I'd almost prefer that you'd curse me and throw me out."
"I'd at least know you had feelings for me. Seeing you like this just makes it all feel completely hopeless."
Ginny screwed down to lid on the emotions which were roiling just below her calm façade.
"What do you expect from me Draco? I gave you everything I had to give once before and you threw it away. You broke my heart. It won't happen again, I won't let it."
"You know, I didn't really believe you'd meet me last night. But when Astrid told me you and Potter weren't engaged, I was so relieved. And I had a small glimmer of hope you might meet me after all," Draco said this more to his fingers folded before him, but now he looked up at Ginny. "But then you didn't show up and I finally realized it's not about Potter. It never was."
"Just worked that out, did you? I told you that last week," said Ginny, with a touch of bitterness in her voice.
"I know. Let me get this out. When you gave yourself to me, you… you… you gave as much as I could've ever asked of anyone. I've gotten a lot of things wrong Ginny, and I'm only now beginning to see how very wrong I've been.
"Here I am, watching Astrid forming an attachment to Potter. She has full knowledge of the history there, but she's willing to go in with an open heart and trust that she won't get hurt.
"That's what I never could do, I always expected to get hurt and so I made it happen.
For the first time I've realized the magnitude of what I did to you. I betrayed you… I was only thinking of myself… and I'm so sorry for that."
"That's nice to hear, but a bit late."
"Ginny… what we had was real… it's not something either of us can walk away from without regretting it every day of our lives."
Ginny shook her head, only one tear escaping down her cheek. "I just don't trust you, Draco. We can't go back."
Okay, fire away…I know I'm in for it from both sides…just remember, we're not done yet.
Once again thank you many times over to Jocjarmom who keeps the fire lit under my arse.
There's one more chapter and then the Epilogue.