Title: Christmas Lights

Author: Mariel

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Nothin's mine 'cept the annoying family in the café. Go me.

Dedications: Everyone on the list.

Note: Yes, it involves mistletoe. But not directly. (Originally written for ficmas on the D/G list.)

Ginny Weasley glared at the no longer warm hot chocolate, wondering if she could safely pull out her wand to heat it up. There were exactly three other people in Ginny's sight- a family consisting of two parents and a little boy, who was sneakily emptying his tenth packet of sugar into his lemonade (not that he needed it, Ginny thought). Sadly, they were Muggles and she didn't feel like attracting their attention.

"Christmas Eve's tomorrow, right Daddy?" the little boy asked, bouncing up and down like a jackhammer.

"That's right, Tommy."

"Does that make today Christmas Eve-Eve?"

His father chuckled. "I guess it does." The little boy beamed, evidently proud of his sense of logic. The parents exchanged one of those 'Isn't he darling?' looks that had the tendency to make Ginny feel sick.

Ginny had made the same conclusion when she was younger- she supposed every child did, at one point or another. She didn't like the twenty-third of December. There was simply nothing to do on it. She always finished her shopping in mid-November, and decorating a week or so after that. Christmas itself made her deliriously happy, Christmas Eve more so, with its flavor of delicious anticipation. But Christmas Eve-Eve, the day that preceded the one day in existence that was absolute perfection, could never make her happy. It always dragged on, and on, and on, and on...

She decided to read the desert menu propped on the table once again, to pass the time until the waitress delivered her lunch.

***

There was one other person in the area who hated the day before Christmas Eve as much as Ginny did, but for entirely different reasons.

Christmas ranked high on the long list of things Draco Malfoy disliked. He hadn't liked it as a child, and he liked it even less now, two years after graduating from Hogwarts. Refusing to become a Death Eater hadn't exactly brought him closer to the side of the war against Voldemort- instead it had simply shut him off from his supporters. Hell... he didn't even know why he'd done it, or that he was going to until the hour before the ceremony when he ran.

Well. Voldemort was dead now. So were many of the former Death Eaters, including Draco's own parents. All thanks to Potter, everyone's God.

December twenty-third irritated Draco because it meant that in two days it would be Christmas. Christmas Eve was infinitely worse, and Christmas itself...

Draco preferred not to think about Christmas itself.

The fact that he went into a Muggle café to avoid people proved how much he hated Christmas. He didn't want to see anyone he was aquatinted with, as they'd most likely be oozing holiday cheer.

None of the other customers paid any attention to him. There were two parents with a little boy (Draco shuddered at this- he detested children) and a redhead he didn't even notice at first glance. The waitress seated him at the table next to hers and lack of anything better to do, he found himself watching her.

He could only see the side of her face, as she was half-facing the window. If she wasn't a Muggle he might even think that she was pretty. Her hair, under the glare of the light overhead, gave the illusion of slowly burning flame...

But she was, after all, a Muggle.

She suddenly became aware of him, and turned. He didn't react for a second or two, enough time for her to know that he'd been staring at her. She stared back with a look that contained unmistakable bitterness.

Naturally, he'd know what bitterness looked like.

The odd thing was, she seemed slightly familiar.

She could have gone to Hogwarts, of course. She couldn't have been in his year, because a feeling of dislike didn't wash over him at the instant of recognition.

"Do I know you?"

It was more a rebuke than a question. The words simply meant what they said, the tone meant; ''Who do you think you are, mentally undressing me like that?'

"Maybe," he replied. "Do I know you?"

She lowered her voice. "Hogwarts?"

"Graduated in ninety-seven."

"Ninety-eight," she said.

He didn't feel like introducing himself, or asking what house she'd been in, because it would distort the not unflattering view he had of her now. Better not to know, not to be able to place her with the stereotypes of a House and think, I should have known. How pitiful.

"I'm sorry if I seem rude," she was continuing, interrupting his line of thoughts. "It's just that this whole day in general makes me irritable."

"Christmas Eve-Eve," Draco mused. "Don't worry. And I don't plan on introducing myself or asking you to. You'd probably be connected with someone I'd rather avoid."

"I'd rather avoid everyone I know right now," she said, "so I won't complain."

Small talk invariably led to more small talk, but the kind of conversation they'd been having didn't permit it. Nor would it allow itself to be cut off- and Draco didn't want it to, now that he' finally found someone who actually seemed to share his opinions.

"I wish we could skip the whole Christmas season," he said suddenly.

She gave him a startled look. "I don't. I love it. It's just that this day has always been depressing for me- I don't even know why. Maybe it's because it's not directly connected with Christmas, and you've still got time to wonder if you've done anything wrong..." she trailed off, looking embarrassed at making this revelation to a stranger.

"I don't like it because it means it's Christmas in two days." He glared at the cracked napkin dispenser in front of him.

***

Who was he?

He obviously wasn't about to tell her, and Ginny had no desire to question him about it- she didn't really feel like making enemies today.

"So," she said, "what're you doing here?"

"Hoping to stay far away from anyone who could possibly know me." He scowled momentarily. "I'm something of a black sheep. Everyone who'd talk to me would either insult me or condescend to my level just to say hello. I just don't want to deal with that."

Ginny looked at him inquiringly.

"And I'm not going to explain what I mean by that," he continued, watching her expression.

"I wasn't going to ask."

"But you're curious."

This wasn't an accusation, merely an observation. And he was right.

Ginny nodded. "It's really none of my business, though, is it?"

"Most people seem to think it's their business. And it's no ones but mine. You probably heard about it at one point or another."

"I don't-"

"Unless you've been living in a cave." He glanced around. "They're slow."

"I ordered a long time ago," Ginny said. She looked at her watch. "Half an hour. It's not as though they're particularly busy." Suddenly she stood up. "I don't care if it's inconvenient, I'm canceling my order. I'm not really hungry anyway."

***

He'd finally found someone he could stand to talk to for more than a few minutes at a time, and he wasn't about to let her get away so easily.

Draco was standing there when she reached the door, trying to look self-assured. "I decided to leave too," he explained.

"Oh?"

"So... do you want to go for a walk or something?" he asked, feeling pessimistic about what her reply would be.

"Sure," she accepted, and smiled. Draco observed that when she smiled she seemed more significant, more noticeable. Pretty, even. Maybe it was her hair, which had first attracted his attention and reminded him of flame, but she had a vibrant full-of-life quality that Draco found irresistible.

Their eyes registered on the mistletoe that was hanging overhead at the same time.

Draco pushed the door open quickly, and they left, each pretending not to have seen the mistletoe, or that they knew that the other knew they'd both seen it.

It was stupid, he told himself, getting embarrassed over something so trivial. The mistletoe rule didn't apply to complete strangers. It would make for some incredibly uncomfortable situations if every two people who happened to end up under it at the same time were obliged to kiss. He'd probably walked under mistletoe hundreds of times and not even noticed...

"Where exactly are we going?" she asked. "Or do you even know?"

"No," he said, still trying to justify the mistletoe.

"So you want to spend the day before Christmas Eve wandering around aimlessly with someone you don't even know?" She laughed and kicked at a clump of snow on the sidewalk, then glanced at him and said, "well, there's nothing wrong with that, is there? I'm doing the same thing."

Draco nodded. Whoever she was, she was better company than just about everyone he used to consider a friend.

He wondered if she'd have been angry if he'd taken advantage of the mistletoe tradition.

***

For one insane instant, Ginny had actually thought he was going to kiss her. Of course he hadn't, and she tried not to feel deflated about it. They'd known each other for fifteen minutes- of course he wouldn't have kissed her.

Of course not.

***

They walked along in silence. Draco hoped she knew where she was going, because he wasn't familiar with this part of town. He didn't feel the least bit uncomfortable with her, though and she seemed to feel the same.

They passed a man in a Santa Suit, standing near a bucket and ringing a bell. The still anonymous redhead pulled a few coins out of her pocket and tossed them in. Noticing Draco's expression, she grinned and said, "Muggle thing. They dress up as Santa Claus to collect money for charity during the holidays."

"He looked drunk."

She laughed. "What a Grinch you are... I think it's a nice tradition."

"What's a Grinch?"

"Another Muggle thing. The Grinch was this character in a story who hated Christmas so much that he decided to stop it."

Interested, Draco asked, "How'd he do that?"

"He dressed up like Sata Claus to break into the houses and steal the decorations and presents and everything else connected with Christmas."

"Did it work?"

She laughed again. "No! Of course not. Even after he took everything and thought he'd stopped Christmas from coming, everyone gathered around singing... 'Somehow or other it came, just the same.'" She looked at him and said, "I think you're more sympathetic to the Grinch than the Who's."

"Must have been a disappointment for him," Draco replied, wondering who the 'Who's' were.

"No, it wasn't. That's the whole point. He gave everything back and became a nice person and they all lived happily ever after."

"How sickening." Actually he thought it was rather nice in the overly sweet way that Muggles always sugarcoated everything. And he was beginning to enjoy making comments just to see her reaction- he liked her smile, her laugh...

But, he told himself, after today he'd probably never see her again.

***

They spent several hours merely wandering around, lapsing through periods of conversation and comfortable silences. The saw several more fake Santas, which seemed to irritate her companion- he was, as she'd said, Grinchy. At one point, she asked "When did you stop believing in Santa Claus?"

He gaped at her. Apparently this wasn't the kind of thing he thought about.

"I was seven," she continued. "I was beginning to suspect, really, but I wanted to keep believing a little longer. And then my older brother had to spoil everything... he was five years older than me and thought he knew everything." She paused reflectively. "He still does, really. But he could have waited until after Christmas day." She scowled. "I heard somewhere that no one ever really forgives the person who tells them there's no Santa Claus." She'd never gotten along very well with Percy anyway.

"I was around three years old," he said. "And my father heard me talking about Santa to one of his friend's kids. I think it had never really occurred to him that I did believe in Santa Claus. We weren't a very Christmassy family." He smiled bitterly. "Perhaps that's why I don't care for it."

"I'm sorry," Ginny said.

"For what?"

"Asking."

"Don't be. I really don't care."

They were going through a small park now, and Ginny asked "Mind sitting down for a while?"

"Not at all."

"Good. I'm getting tired." They sank down on a bench. "Look at the Christmas lights over there-" she pointed to a house across the street. "Nice, aren't they? I always thought they were one of the best ideas Muggles came up with."

"How would you get them to work? Don't they need electricity?"

"Yes. But if you ignore the practical side of the situation, it's a good idea."

"I've never been a big fan of the way Muggles do things."

How arrogant, Ginny thought. Every time she decided for sure that she did like him, he came out with some sort of irritating comment. But somehow what she'd have found infuriating in anyone else she merely laughed off.

***

"It's getting late," Draco siad lazily. "I really should be getting home."

"Okay," she replied, still staring at the Christmas lights.

He didn't move.

"Goodbye," she added softly.

He rose to his feet and took a few steps away. "Maybe we could see each other again sometime," he said.

"Maybe," she agreed. Draco knew they probably never would. The unspoken rule that they wouldn't reveal who they actually were had been firmly established at their meeting. Why break it now? The fact that they were so close in age at Hogwarts and weren't aquatinted spoke for itself. Their families could be enemies. How insignificant could she be, to not recognize Draco Malfoy?

***

He'd been out of her sight for less than a minute when she heard footsteps.

"Stand up," he said.

She stood.

"Who are you? What's your name?" She stared at him in surprise. "I'll tell you who I am- just try not to hate me for it," he said, looking angry with himself.

"I won't," Ginny promised. "So you want to know who I am?"

"Yes."

She looked him firmly in the eye. "My name," she said, "is Ginny Weasley."

***

A Weasley.

He'd spent the entire day with a Weasley. And enjoyed it.

"Well," he said. "This complicates things."

"Why?"

"Because," he replied. "I'm Draco Malfoy. That's why."

***

They simply stared levelly at one another for a while, not speaking. Then, finally, Ginny laughed. "Well. I don't blame you for not wanting me to know who you were."

"Yeah."

"You hate my whole family," she said, reminding herself more than him.

"Not all of them, evidently," he replied.

"I had a good time today."

"So did I."

"I really do have to be going, though," Ginny said regretfully, looking at her watch. "Goodbye." She fidgeted with her coat's zipper. "Draco- stop by the Burrow on Christmas day. You shouldn't have to be alone."

"Wouldn't your family kill me?" he asked bitterly. "And who would want me there?"

"My mum told me I could invite someone if I wanted. And I'd want you there."

"Maybe I will." And maybe, he thought, I actually will.

"Goodbye," Ginny said.

Draco contemplated something for a moment, then grabbed her by the shoulders and gently kissed her on the forehead. "For the mistletoe," he explained. "You know the tradition."

"Yeah." Ginny smiled. "But that's not the right way to go about it."

Draco was surprised, but extremely pleased when she stood suddenly on tiptoe and brushed her lips gently against his. "Merry Christmas, Draco."

"Merry Christmas, Ginny."

She smiled, and without another word, turned and walked away.

Draco began walking in the opposite direction, deciding that the Christmas lights were rather attractive after all.