A/N: My first ever Ficmas offering for the DracoGinnyFanFic Yahoo! group -- I hope you enjoy it! Many thanks to Manda and Karen, who performed beta services, and to Sharlene, who can be counted on for gentle critique and excellent suggestions. And, as always, thanks to JKR for letting us play in her sandbox.
"Happy Christmas, Ginny."
Ginny gave her eldest brother a hug in greeting, and looked around the living spaces of Twelve Grimmauld Place with a satisfied smile. Professor Dumbledore had determined to throw a holiday party on Christmas Eve in the general interest of morale, and the house in London was teeming with Order members. Dumbledore had requested the assistance of a certain house-elf in managing the affair, and the dark house gleamed more than it had in years. The dining table positively groaned under the weight of food and libations, the air was full of candlelight and faerylights, and most everyone in the house wore smiles.
It was as though, for one night, there was no war on.
She looked around the room. Nearly everyone was there; her mum constantly making the rounds, assuring herself that each person was well plied with comestibles, and her dad standing in one corner, chatting animatedly with Kingsley Shacklebolt and Tonks. All six of her brothers were there; Bill with Fleur, Charlie -- who'd not brought a date, but for whom his latest dragon-burn scar was almost as exciting as a girlfriend. Percy, who had come around eventually, and the twins, up to their usual pranks. And Ron was sitting on a sofa with his best mates; Harry's arm was around Hermione's shoulders, and Hermione had slapped one hand down on Ron's leg to illustrate a point, but hadn't moved it in some moments. Not for the first time, Ginny wondered if there was something that the vaunted Trio wasn't telling the rest of their chums.
A knot of the newest Order members -- Neville, Luna, Hannah, and the Patils -- were conversing in hushed tones in the doorway to the kitchen. Moody was over by the table, examining the food with that creepy magical eye of his. The only person who seemed to be missing was the chief conspirator himself -- who walked in at exactly that moment. "Happy Christmas!" Dumbledore said merrily. Voices echoed his greeting in reply, and glasses raised; at this, he cleared his throat, garnering the attention of all.
"I've just spoken with our informants," he continued, somewhat softer in tone even though the secrecy wards were fully in place. "And they have confirmed that there are no plans for attack tonight. I daresay we all have earned a little bit of relaxation."
The room seemed to issue a collective sigh of relief. People congregated around the buffet, and happy chatter filled the air. Ginny waited for the crowd of hungry witches and wizards to ease a bit before approaching the table.
"Miss Weasley," a low voice said from her right.
Ginny startled. "Professor Snape," she said, collecting her composure as quickly as possible after being addressed by Gryffindor Enemy Number One. "I didn't expect to see you here tonight," she added.
Severus Snape pressed his lips together in irritation. "Professor Dumbledore's orders," he replied. "I assure you, being of good cheer was not in my plans for this evening."
Ginny nodded as she turned to the table. She reached for the carving knife to remove a thick slice of turkey from the poor dead carcass on the platter, and pushed it onto her own plate. "Turkey, Professor?"
She turned to receive his answer, but the Potions professor was no longer next to her -- indeed, as far as she could tell, not even near the buffet. Her brow furrowed, and she pondered what had just transpired as she piled her mother's best mashed potatoes onto the china. He'd not spoken to her for the purposes of information gathering, as she provided no useful information. He must, therefore, have wanted to draw attention to the simple fact of his presence in a place where dungeon-skulking bats dare not tread.
Her eyes narrowed. If one informant were at Twelve Grimmauld Place, then the other must be as well. And if the other was not mingling ... he was hiding. She shifted her plate in her hands so that she could take cutlery and accept a goblet of wine from Remus.
And then she slipped upstairs, unnoticed.
One flight of stairs ... two ... three, and she was at a door which was tightly closed and, she suspected, securely warded. Her hands full, she tapped the bottom of the door with the toe of her shoe. It was the closest she could manage to a knock.
There was a terseness to the voice that issued from within the room; its owner was obviously in a snit about something. "Just so," Ginny said calmly, her shoulders shrugging even though the room's occupant couldn't see the gesture. "I suppose I could always convince The Boy Who Lived to share my dinner."
She heard a rush of footsteps, and a click as the lock released. "You bloody well will NOT." The door cracked open and one pale hand shot out, grasping Ginny's wrist and tugging her into the room. She lifted the glass slightly to counteract the abrupt motion that threatened to spill wine all over the floor, and looked up into a pair of grey eyes set in a forbiddingly stormy expression.
"Happy Christmas to you too, Malfoy." When he didn't reply straight away, she sighed in exasperation and sat down on the bed that occupied one corner of the room. "Look, I brought dinner. The least you could do is be civil."
"I'm not feeling particularly festive," Draco said, his voice clipped and precise.
"I didn't ask for festive." Ginny looked up at him steadily. "I'm not even asking you to eat, if you don't really wish to. But I don't like being kept out."
He stared at her for several moments. When he finally spoke again, his tone was slightly more relaxed ... the change so subtle that only Ginny would have caught the difference. "The thought of brushing elbows with the Dream Team didn't fill me with good cheer."
He never enjoyed the thought of being in close proximity to Harry, Hermione, and Ron ... and yet, under normal circumstances, he'd welcome the opportunity to bait them. Something else was at work here, and she was determined to find out what. "The Dream Team isn't here now," she said quietly.
He stared at her, and in that moment it was just the two of them, no rivalries, no petty irritations. "It's bloody difficult to make merry when you're surrounded with people you don't like, who don't like you, who don't make an effort to understand you," he muttered. "Downstairs is full of people who tolerate me simply on Dumbledore's say-so, and who always have one eye out for me to cause trouble." His jaw set. "And tomorrow I will go to the Manor, where every move I make will be scrutinized for propriety, to make sure that I am indeed the image of my father. Ruthless and loyal to the point of stupidity."
That way lay the Bogs of Self-Pity. It was time for a distraction. "So don't go downstairs," Ginny said nonchalantly. "Stay here with me."
His spine stiffened, and she was fairly certain of her successful redirection. "Excuse me?"
"You don't have to leave this room if you don't want to. I brought dinner ... some wine ... and your girlfriend." When this garnered no reaction from the tall blond before her, she shrugged and stood, setting the plate and goblet aside. "You used to like those things, anyway," she said idly, taking a step toward the door.
In the space of one moment, his hand captured her wrist, and drew her back to him. "I still do, you manipulative bint," he murmured. His free hand moved to cradle her cheek as he bent to kiss her, and her lips pulled into a tiny smile against his mouth.
It was so easy to get swept away in the heat of that wickedly talented mouth; several minutes passed before Ginny became aware of the fact that she'd worked the hem of his black cashmere jumper out of the waistband of his trousers, and slipped her hands under it. Or that both of Draco's hands were fisted in her hair, and tangled even tighter each time she brushed her fingers across the well-defined muscles at his abdomen. Or that he had manoeuvred her over to the bed, intent on a highly risky but deliciously illicit canoodle, even though the rest of the Order were congregated downstairs.
"Private party for two," he murmured, drawing away just enough to settle down on the duvet, then coaxing her to join him with two gentle tugs on her arm.
There were so many reasons she shouldn't do it; the one reason to do it, in the flesh before her, was simply too compelling.
Ginny knew that she should return to her room; that her mother had been known to walk the halls of Twelve Grimmauld Place, checking on her chicks much as she had in the early days at the Burrow. A wave of post-coital lassitude had overtaken her, though, and warred with her good sense. When Draco, his tone lower and slightly gravelly, had murmured his desire that she stay, she simply brushed her lips over his temple and replied, "For a little while."
He tugged her more securely into his arms, settling his chin on the top of her head and tucking the duvet around them both. She listened to the steady thrumming under her ear as his pulse slowed and his breathing evened out. She lifted her head to confirm that he'd fallen asleep, and saw an expression of bitterness marring his features, his eyes staring up to the ceiling.
"Draco, what is it?" she whispered hoarsely.
Steely eyes turned to hers, and she was overwhelmed with what she saw in them. "Do you love me?" he demanded.
She said nothing for several moments, stunned by the question she would have assumed a Malfoy would never be able to swallow enough pride to ask. Her surprise was replaced quickly by irritation that he'd seen fit to use that tone with her when they'd just been done being intimate, for the love of Circe ... and then by a lingering concern over what sort of insecurities led to those words issuing from his mouth. "You know that I don't do this sort of thing casually," she murmured in reply.
She half expected him to press the issue. Instead, he raised up on his arms and stared at her. "I spent seven years of my life working my way through most of the girls in Slytherin, certain that I was going to find the beautiful, manipulative, sneaky girl of my dreams in the dungeon. And then I had to find her in bloody Gryffindor Tower."
Ginny leaned her head forward to rest against his, and reached for his hands to entwine her fingers with his. "It's bad enough that our relationship has to be relegated to silenced, warded rooms ... that we can't be seen together at Quidditch matches or parties or even when the bloody Order is in session. But to know that everyone else is free to show their affections is intolerable," he said harshly.
His words, and the emotion behind them, caused her own heart to thump painfully in her chest. "I won't risk your cover," she said softly, looking into his face and willing him to see the seriousness in her eyes. "The people who matter know ... and there will be time for the rest later."
They watched each other's eyes in silence until the timepiece on the mantel chimed midnight. "It's Christmas," Ginny murmured ... immediately feeling stupid for stating the obvious.
But the wizard before her elected not to comment on it. Instead he reached over to the bedside table, retrieving his wand from where he'd set it in his earlier haste. "Accio," he said clearly, his brows furrowed in concentration. A small parcel flew into his hand, and he caught it as he would the Snitch. Lifting the hand that was entwined with Ginny's, he settled the gift onto her palm.
She looked at it for a moment, wondering what it might contain, before Draco nudged her with his knee. "Go on," he said pointedly. "I don't have all day, you know."
Her fingers untied the ribbons, loosened the Spellotape, removed the paper. When all the packaging was cleared away, she was left with a little knot of silk ... at the middle of which was something glimmering and gold and green. "What is this?"
"I want you to wear it," he said without preamble. "I don't care what you have to tell your prat brothers or your mother or the speccy git -- that you bought it yourself, or you got it from your secret admirer in Ravenclaw, or that you got it as a special prize in your last sack of Bertie Botts'."
"Why?" Her eyes were threatening to spill the tears that had obstructed her first view of the ring in her hands. "What does this mean?"
She felt, rather than saw, Draco lean forward, putting his lips to her ear. "It means that you meant what you said just now, about there being time for the rest later," he said softly, his breath skating over the shell of her ear and the skin on her neck.
"I did," she murmured, her breath catching on something in her throat.
"Then it's settled," he said impatiently. He scooped the ring from her hand; she watched as the long fingers she'd never grown tired of staring at slipped the circle of gold onto her ring finger. As she looked down at her hand, the emerald glittering back up at her in the faint light, he murmured, "That's much better."
Ginny turned to him, a look of consternation on her features. "It looks like a ... I can't go downstairs wearing it there."
He sighed, and the feel of his breath against her ear made her shiver. "Switch it in the morning, if you must," he said finally. "I won't care where you wear it, just that you do. But for now, it stays right where it is."
She looked down again at the precious jewel that had just been placed on her finger, and a little pool of happiness welled in her chest. She nodded, a smile blossoming over her face. "Thank you."
His only reply to her was to cup her face in his hands and kiss her, a prolonged kiss full of all the emotion, the possessiveness she was sure he'd show if it weren't dangerous to them both. When the need for oxygen forced them apart, she looked over at the clock and sighed. "I really should go."
"Stay," Draco murmured in her ear, tugging on her arm to pull her closer.
"I shouldn't ... oh, I really shouldn't. If Mum found out," she said regretfully, even as her arms slipped around his waist and her head settled against his shoulder.
What he said next caused her spine to stiffen, sitting straight up and examining his face for any sign of humour or teasing. "I'm willing to risk your mother." But there wasn't any, just the set of his lips and the darkened pupils that indicated that he was quite serious about what he'd just said, and Ginny sighed.
"My mum can sometimes be more frightening than He Who Must Not Be Named."
But he'd leaned forward again, his lips tracing her ear. "Come on, Gin," he breathed, being as persuasive as a Malfoy could manage. It was ... rather effective, actually. "Surely you'd rather stay here with me, where it's warm, than have to go all the way back downstairs and kip with that insufferably bushy-haired know-it-all?"
She looked into his eyes, tempted to comment that the insufferably bushy-haired know-it-all had probably found more satisfactory lodgings elsewhere ... but she just shook her head. "On your head be it, then."
Draco gave her the full Slytherin smirk of supreme self-confidence, and she briefly considered reaching for one of the pillows behind them before deciding that her lips were certainly a more effective weapon for wiping it off.
Molly Weasley reached for the brass doorknob, an expression of extreme displeasure on her face.
Her youngest child had come to her some weeks back, asking her to keep a confidence of an extremely serious nature. She had been at first pleased that Ginny was sharing secrets with her again; then suspicious, when her daughter had said that she couldn't trust any of her contemporaries with it; then finally shocked, when the youngest Weasley had confessed that she had fallen in love -- IN LOVE! -- with the Order's youngest double agent -- a MALFOY! -- and that, unthinkably, her affections were returned.
Molly had tried to view the young man in a different light after that, and once she'd known that there was anything to look for, she could see that the banter between Ginny and Mal-- Draco -- was likely more than just childish taunting, accompanied by glances and the occasional civil word spoken when her youngest son and his ... friends ... weren't around. In Molly's mind, it was precious little to be basing a relationship on, but she accepted that because of his position in the Order and amongst the Death Eaters they couldn't be expressive, or even forthright, about the nature of their ... collegiality.
Molly shuddered, just thinking about it. Having spent so many years in an open, sometimes tempestuous, always loving household such as the Weasleys cultivated, it was utterly alien to her.
But just because Molly had taken her daughter at her word, and accepted the fact that Ginny and Mal -- Draco -- were a couple didn't mean that she would accept her daughter SLEEPING IN HIS ROOM! She turned the handle in her hands, and pushed the door open, quite ready to confront the both of them ...
.. and stopped short at the sight.
Her daughter, dressed in an old Falmouth shirt and a pair of flannel pyjama pants, was curled into the side of the boy her youngest son hated so. Her head rested on his shoulder, and one pale hand cradled her head, as though its owner had fallen asleep stroking her hair. The other was draped over his chest, and her daughter clasped it in one of her own.
A hand whose ring finger was sporting a circle of gold and green that winked up at her, in the light that spilled into the room from the hallway.
She stared for a moment, shocked into silence by the obvious care and gentleness she'd never expected a Malfoy capable of, and by the presence of what must be his ring on her daughter's finger. As she took in the scene before her, a memory came unbidden to her, a memory of a night where she and Arthur, Hogwarts' Head Girl and the most enthusiastic, if not the most apt, Muggle Studies NEWT student, were caught canoodling in the Astronomy Tower one night not long before the Leaving Feast.
Her heart gave a strange little thump for the young woman her daughter had become, and she closed the door again quietly. Perhaps the confrontation could wait until after breakfast.