Ginny was decidedly nervous about meeting Malfoy that morning. She wondered what they could possibly have to discuss, and why it had to be done in such secrecy. After all, she'd only known about the small chamber beside classroom eleven for a little over six months, why would Malfoy want to meet her there of all places?
Thankfully, she didn't get lost on her way there; though she was once again deep in thought, some part of her kept an eye out as she left Gryffindor Tower and she managed all the way to the Entrance Hall without any incidents like that of the previous day. It was with some relief that she stepped off the last marble stair, swinging left towards the room next to classroom eleven.
Malfoy wasn't there; a quick glance at her watch told Ginny she was a few minutes early yet. There were a few chairs over in the corner, and after brushing the dust off one, she sat down to wait.
He's late, she thought five minutes later, feeling slightly resentful because this had all been his idea and he could've at least had the decency to get there on time. I'm giving him one more minute …
She gave him a minute. And another, and another, and another … until it was nearly nine 'o' clock and time for History of Magic. She hefted her bag onto her shoulder, cursing Malfoy under her breath, and strode out of the chamber.
An hour and a half later, after listening to Binns drone on about the goblin revolt of 1673, Ginny was on her way to Herbology when she saw Malfoy further along the corridor, heading straight towards her. Trying her very best to ignore him - even though her hand was itching for her wand and a hex incantation was on the tip of her tongue - she shifted her bag to the other shoulder and ploughed on towards the stairs.
Malfoy didn't look at her, didn't so much as blink in her direction, but Ginny nevertheless had the feeling that he was watching her. She gritted her teeth, sneaked a quick glance at him, and could have sworn he'd made a quick, jerky movement with his arm. Then she hurriedly snapped her eyes back in front of her, noticing Malfoy was smirking, though his gaze was elsewhere.
It wasn't until she'd reached the greenhouses, set her books down and began to rummage in her bag for a quill that she found it.
Loosely crumpled up into a ball was a scrap of parchment. It was a note, a very small one, and she didn't need to recognise the handwriting to know who it was from.
Room next to classroom 11 at lunchtime.
Flicking idly through his copy of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration, Draco mentally congratulated himself on a job well done. By now, little Ginevra Weasley would be staring at the note he'd slipped into her bag in the corridor, and would undoubtedly be agonising over whether to meet him at lunchtime or not. He laughed softly; Weasleys were so predictable.
Draco had actually planned to meet Weasley at breakfast, but he'd ended up sleeping in until about quarter to nine, and by then there seemed little point in sticking to the arrangement. He took his time getting up, as well; he wasn't about to go rushing around after a Weasley, no matter that this had all been his doing in the first place.
At the next desk, Theodore Nott copied McGonagall's notes from the board, and further along the row, Pansy's dark head was bowed over a scroll of parchment, her face crumpled in thought. Draco frowned; before the summer, he and Pansy had been great friends, having known each other since they were young. He had hoped that their friendship would stand up to his father's sudden, degrading imprisonment in Azkaban, but Pansy, it seemed, was just like everyone else – ready and willing to look down her nose at the fall of the mighty.
He scowled at his view of Pansy's head, but she was too busy with McGonagall's lecture to notice, which only deepened his scowl further. Not that he mourned losing Pansy's affection; in truth, it was something of a relief to be rid of her, but her attention had been just a little bit flattering. Not that he cared, of course.
Draco didn't think he'd ever been so pleased to hear the bell ring, when the sound echoed through the castle twenty minutes later. As soon as McGonagall dismissed them, the sixth-years – which were this year comprised of students from all four Houses – started stuffing their things into their bags and wandered out the classroom door, Draco among them.
He headed towards the Slytherin common room to get books for his next two lessons; Crabbe and Goyle were waiting for him in the armchairs near the ornate fireplace. They'd stood by Draco while the rest of Slytherin ignored him, but he knew it was only because they hadn't quite realised what was going on yet, and by the time they did, it would no longer matter. Draco was banking on his little plot with Weasley – and that other, much larger and much more distressing plot that he didn't like to think about much – to have been successfully put into action by then.
Draco murmured a greeting to Crabbe and Goyle, told them where he was going, and headed up the boys' staircase to his dormitory. His bed was furthest from the entrance, and his trunk sat at the foot of the four-poster decorated in green and silver hangings. Shoving aside robes and his Nimbus Two Thousand and One, Draco grabbed his Charms and Arithmancy textbooks, replaced them with those of Potions and Transfiguration, then let the lid of his trunk slam shut as he strode back down to the common room.
Crabbe and Goyle were slaving over Defence Against the Dark Arts homework; both of them were having to re-sit their O. in that subject, and two others – Charms and Herbology – having failed them the previous year. Draco privately thought there was no need for them to go through Defence again since it was such a pointless subject, especially for people whose future was already firmly cemented in becoming Death Eaters, though these days he kept this opinion strictly to himself.
In Charms, as he watched Flitwick topple out of sight behind his desk, Draco sat with his chin resting on his hand, thinking deeply. He was so absorbed that he forgot to swap scathing remarks with Potter and his loyal sidekicks on their way in, and they weren't the only ones surprised by this lack of hostility. Pansy glanced at him for the first time in weeks, frowning slightly, and Granger fixed him with her squinty-eyed stare, as though trying to figure out what wicked schemes he was planning today. He resisted the urge to wave at her sarcastically … He'd be getting back at her very soon, provided Weasley – the female one, that is – went along with his plans.
Meanwhile, Ginny was finding the brewing of a Befuddlement Draught just as confusing as its name suggested. She couldn't understand it; usually she was a decent potion-brewer, but today she just couldn't get the hang of it. And Snape was glaring around the dungeon in what could be considered a smile of sadistic malevolence, if Ginny'd had any inclination to look at him for longer than three seconds.
She knew why she couldn't concentrate, of course – Malfoy, and his nefariously tempting offer. Her common sense was screaming at her to forget the idea immediately, to ignore the bit of parchment telling her to meet him at lunch, or at least to let him know how much of a bastard he was. But there was this tiny little corner of her mind … Come on, Gin, it was saying in a soft, wheedling tone, you don't really want to spend the next year mooning over Harry, do you?
Don't answer that, you'd only get it wrong.
Ginny would have smiled at her own indecision, but Snape had that look on his face – the one that suggested someone was in serious trouble, and Snape couldn't wait to make them aware of the fact – and she figured it would just be better to keep her head down and her mind on the potion.
She only had twenty minutes left of the lesson in which to decide whether she was going to meet Malfoy or not. It didn't seem like enough time, but to be honest, even if she'd been given the rest of the day, or even the week to think about it, Ginny would probably still be uncertain about the whole thing.
And anyway, she was still annoyed with him about that stunt he'd pulled this morning; agreeing to meet her and then just completely blowing her off. It didn't matter who you were, how self-important or obnoxious, you at least had the decency to show up for something that had been your own idea in the first place, although she supposed Malfoy probably didn't subscribe to this idea. Fresh indignation rose up in Ginny's throat and she attacked a branch of sneezewort with a venom that was very much unnecessary.
Ten minutes from the end of the lesson, Snape told them all that their potions should be the correct shade of rust-brown, and if they weren't, they'd better make them so very, very quickly. Thankfully, while Ginny's own concoction wasn't quite rust-brown, it was a sort of dried-blood colour, which she figured was good enough, so she tipped a healthy amount into a flask, corked it and stuck a label with her name on it on the front. Then she put the flask on a shelf in the supply cupboard, ready for the final stage of brewing on Wednesday.
Lunch was well underway by the time she cleared her Potions things away and headed off to the Great Hall. She took a seat beside Hermione at the Gryffindor table; Hermione glanced up as she sat down and gave her a faint smile.
She alone knew the problems Ginny'd had concerning one Harry Potter, and she alone had been the only one to actually, constructively help Ginny to overcome said problems. Last summer Hermione had told her, point-blank, to either forget about Harry and move onto someone else, as though it was that simple, or lighten up around him. Ginny had taken it into consideration and figured that the latter was really the only option she had, since forgetting about Harry was like trying to forget the sun, or the colour blue – in other words, it just wasn't going to happen.
For a very, very short period during her fifth-year, Ginny had thought it was working, that Harry was really starting to notice her. And then … well, then Cho Chang had come along, and everything had gone to hell in a hand-basket. Which is how Ginny had ended up here, mooning over a boy as unattainable as a windfall of Galleons was to everyone who bore the name Weasley.
"Ginny? Are you even listening? Ginny!"
With a start, Ginny realised Hermione was addressing her, and that she'd been staring vacantly at nothing for a good five minutes.
"Sorry, I was miles away," she said hastily. "What did you say, Hermione?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes but answered, "I asked you how Potions went. Befuddlement Draughts are a bit tricky, did you remember the scurvy-grass like I told you?"
Ginny assured her that she had indeed remembered to put in the scurvy-grass, and then they talked a bit more about the subjects they had in common – Hermione was always willing to lend her a hand, having studied most of the same topics the previous year – until a particularly obnoxious laugh caught Ginny's attention, and she glanced around for its source.
Surprise, surprise, Malfoy was holding court over at the Slytherin table, and he was laughing at something no doubt unpleasant, if the sheer magnitude of his smirk was anything to go by. For a second, Ginny wondered if he hadn't told the rest of the Slytherins about their deal, and her heart jumped into her throat; then she calmed down a bit, and figured that, if he had, the rest of them sitting around the Slytherin table would be staring or scowling over at her. Since they weren't, since even Malfoy's smirk had disappeared by now, Ginny supposed he hadn't said a word about their so-called arrangement.
By this time, Harry and Ron had both made an appearance, and Hermione, perhaps a bit annoyed that Ginny seemed very distracted today, turned to them and struck up a conversation. When Ginny tuned into it, they were discussing their latest Charms essay – Hermione herself had written at least six feet, and Ron was once again begging her to let him have a look at it – and then Harry and Ron moved onto Quidditch. Hermione sniffed disapprovingly and went back to her half-eaten lunch.
A thought had just occurred to Ginny; she didn't know why, or where it had come from, but it settled itself in her mind nonetheless: despite his failure to turn up earlier that day, despite the fact that outwardly, he didn't seem to care less – despite all that, she had the feeling that Malfoy was taking this whole deal situation quite seriously. If he hadn't, she felt sure, he would have told all and sundry about it, so everyone would know just how much of a gullible idiot Ginny Weasley really was. That ought to get a good laugh out of people.
And with this revelation, Ginny suddenly decided that she was going to meet him in that little chamber in the Entrance Hall, and she was going to go now.
She wasn't sure if Malfoy had noticed her get up, after murmuring an excuse to Harry, Ron and Hermione, but if it was true what he said, if he had indeed been watching her all this time – and the very thought made Ginny shudder, repulsed – then he would have seen her leave the Great Hall, and would no doubt follow her. If he didn't … well, she'd tackle that one if and when she came to it.
In the antechamber, she took the seat she'd occupied earlier, and, once again, waited.
Draco, in actual fact, hadn't noticed her leaving, but when he next glanced up and noticed her empty seat, he thought he knew where she might have gone. Excusing himself from the group of fifth-year Slytherins who didn't seem to find his sudden ostracism from his own sixth-year friends terribly off-putting enough to stop talking to him, Draco left the Great Hall, cast a cursory glance around the Entrance Hall, and then sloped over to the antechamber next to classroom eleven.
She was there, waiting, half-impatiently, half-expectantly on a dusty old chair.
"Oh, finally," she said sarcastically. "I wasn't going to wait so long this time."
She was referring, Draco knew, to the fact that he hadn't turned up this morning, but he wasn't going to apologise for it, if that was what she was waiting for. Instead, he leaned against the closed door, folded his arms and said, "So, what's all this in aid of?"
Weasley scowled. "I got your stupid note," she said shortly. "What do you want?"
"Now, now, Ginevra, there's no need to take that tone, this is for your benefit just as much as mine." Draco grinned at the absolutely mutinous look on her face, and went on. "Anyway, since our, ah, morning meeting was ... called off –"
"No points for guessing whose fault that was," Weasley muttered under her breath.
"- and I was busy at lunchtime," Draco went on, contriving to ignore her, "this was the best time to meet up and discuss our arrangement."
Weasley looked at him expectantly, obviously thinking he had something more to add. Draco just stared back at her blankly; God, taunting Weasleys was so damn funny.
"Yes, and?" Weasley said eventually, when it became clear that Draco wasn't going to add anything. "Is that all?"
Draco pretended to think about it; Weasley's face darkened with anger as the seconds ticked by. "Well," he said slowly, "I suppose we need to work out the details of this little charade, don't we?"
He could see her physically straining for patience as she closed her eyes and said, "Yes. I thought that's why you asked me to meet you here," in slow and careful tones, like she was trying to quell the urge to curse him. She probably was, now he thought about it.
"Firstly, of course, we need to work out why someone of my stature would demean himself by dating you," Draco said, grinning unrepentantly as Weasley's eyes flew open in outrage.
"Demean yourself!" she hissed. "You pompous, arrogant little bastard! I don't know what makes you so sure you're such a catch –"
"Could it be my charming personality?" Draco broke in rhetorically. "My unusually good looks? Perhaps it's my sparkling wit?"
"Oh, fuck off, Malfoy. You've got the personality of wet lettuce, you look like a walking bloody corpse, and if this is your idea of sparkling wit, then I suggest you never go on the wizarding comedy circuit!"
The words burst out of Weasley's mouth in a venomous torrent. Even she looked shocked when they'd finished echoing around the room, but she crossed her arms defiantly and refused to stop glaring at him.
Draco was ... not speechless, exactly, because oh, there were several choice curses sitting on his tongue at the minute, all of them desperate to spill forth from his mouth. But he wasn't sure what to say in reply to her tirade, because had a feeling that, despite the anger, Weasley was being completely honest, and that was just ...
It was bizarre, is what it was. People in Slytherin were never this, this forthright, and they certainly didn't display their emotions for everyone to see, and Draco hadn't met anyone this ridiculously honest in ... well, ever.
It was so weird.
"You really don't pull your punches, do you, Weasley?" he said finally, and he was knocked off balance enough that it could almost be considered a compliment.
Weasley just sniffed, and said indifferently, "Look, Malfoy, I haven't got all day, alright? So just ... just come up with a decent cover story and then we can get out of this stupid room and not have to talk to each other for the rest of the day."
Draco shrugged. "Well, it's not like I've thought about it a great deal," he said eventually. "As hard as it may be to believe, I do not spend my every waking hour thinking about you and this supposed ..." He sneered, then spat out, "romance."
"Good to know, but I don't care what you think about, Malfoy. It's astonishing enough to know you actually do think sometimes." Weasley sighed and unfolded her arms. "Alright. We'll just have to make it up as we go along, and hope nobody asks any pointed questions."
"So your proposal is to just – wing it? How very Gryffindor of you."
There was a nasty smile around Weasley's mouth as she said, "But that's why you love me, remember?"
And on that horrifying announcement, she strode to the door, pushed it open, and left.
This is getting bloody ridiculous, Ginny thought, as Malfoy dragged her into the once again empty classroom eleven the next morning. Not only was it ridiculous, it was also really fucking annoying, and not simply because Malfoy was the one doing the dragging.
"You know," she began, in a mock-thoughtful tone, "normal people usually get another person's attention by, oh I don't know, tapping them on the shoulder, or writing them a letter."
Malfoy, busy checking that no one had spotted them hurrying off to an abandoned classroom (just because they'd cooked up this charade didn't mean they wanted anyone to think ... well.), said distractedly, "What are you talking about, Weasley?"
Ginny paused, and then said, "Nothing, Malfoy. Never mind. Normal doesn't really apply in this case, anyway."
Giving her a weird look, Malfoy just shrugged. "Whatever," he said dismissively. "I was just thinking about our little arrangement and that we should get started as soon as possible."
"Okay," Ginny answered, "only I don't want to get started as soon as possible. It's bad enough I have to pretend to date you, I'd really rather put the reveal to everyone else off until, oh, never."
Malfoy stared at her for so long she thought she might have unconsciously hexed him, then he frowned. Almost immediately after that, he fixed her with a glare.
"You know," he snapped, "you're being very uncooperative in this. I'm trying to help you, I don't know why you can't –"
"Yeah, well, forgive me if I'm a little bit dubious," Ginny interrupted. "I mean, it's not as if you hate me, or everyone I know, is it? Oh, wait," she finished waspishly.
"Oh, you know what? Fuck it!" Malfoy threw up his hands and turned away. Ginny stared. She didn't think he'd actually sworn at her before.
He strode towards the door. "I get that you don't like me, okay?" he said, hand on the door handle. "I'm not particularly fond of you, either, but I hate Potter even more. I want to see him crash and burn, I want to see him fail," Malfoy went on, and when he turned to face her, there was a very ugly look on his face. "I'd like to see him dead, but the amount of times he's escaped death by inches rather leads me to believe that that's not likely."
She should be worried, Ginny knew. Malfoy was talking about Harry with a disturbing amount of vitriol, like he really meant what he was saying, and the last thing in the world Ginny wanted was for Harry to get hurt.
But Harry was hurting her, every day, every time he looked at her and didn't realise what it was costing Ginny to keep her feelings to herself. Every time he put his arm around Cho Chang, kissed her, smiled at her, walked her to her classes. Every single time he hugged Ginny after Quidditch matches and said she was amazing because she was good at doing what any faithful pet dog could do ...
And that was it, wasn't it? That was why she was here, hiding out in some stupid classroom, arguing with Malfoy and wishing she could just walk out and forget that, in a moment of weakness, she'd agreed to something that was going to cause Harry any kind of pain. Because, deep in her heart, underneath the compassion and the desire to never do such a horrible thing to someone she loved so much, there was a tiny part of her that said, "He deserves this. He needs to feel how much it hurts. So show him."
And, Merlin damn it all, she was going to.
Malfoy had finished talking, looking strangely alive and fierce and breathless, and he was about to leave.
"Wait," Ginny said quietly, but in the silence, her voice was almost too loud. "Malfoy, I ... wait. Please."
For a second, she thought he was going to ignore her. She would have deserved it if he had, she thought. Then he took his hand away from the doorknob, and turned slowly to face her. His expression was blank, unnervingly so, and Ginny wondered, for the hundredth time, whether she was doing the right thing. She wasn't, and she knew it, but it didn't matter.
"Well?" Malfoy said eventually.
Swallowing against a sudden rush of nervousness, Ginny said, "I'm ... I'm not going to say I'm sorry, because I'm not, really. But ... well, I'm in this mess pretty deep already, and ..." She trailed off, looking down at the floor. Then, feeling a flash of determination, she lifted her head and met Malfoy's gaze head on.
"Let's do it," she said firmly.