Generic disclaimer applies.

A/N: To the most radiant Aerileigh, I wish you a very happy birthday and hope that you enjoy this small offering of mine. It was, after all, written for you. ^_~

Of Cavalier Heroes and Little Damsels in Distress

Everyone had warned her about Draco Malfoy. He was dangerous, they said—far too dangerous for an inexperienced nobody such as herself. It was a known fact that he made a sport of seducing young girls, and the life of debauchery that he lived made even the most apathetic of people shake their heads in solemn disapproval. There was nothing redeeming about his character, and it was doubtful he would have ever been accepted into high society if he were not so disgustingly rich and handsome. His charm and his wealth could not be ignored, however, and this, as her great aunt Lorna told her, had only served to make him all the more dangerous.

These warnings were quite wasted on Ginny Weasley, who knew very well that she was no temptation for the notorious Draco Malfoy. She was, as has been established, a nobody. She was neither rich nor startlingly beautiful, and though her bloodline was one of the purest in the country, the Weasley name held little lustre for a man of Draco Malfoy's calibre. A more optimistic girl would comfort herself with the knowledge that he was simply yet to notice her, but Ginny was, in all things, realistic. She had attended the same school as the blond, though she had been one year behind, and since he had never paid attention to her then, she found it doubtful that he would pay attention to her now.

Faced with such blunt truths, Ginny had learnt to accept that she would never be anything more to him than part of the background, not that she particularly desired to be anything more. He was good looking, she could admit it, and it was true that she had sometimes fantasised about what it would be like to be close to him, but she had never actually taken those fantasies seriously. They were just silly musings—more to give her something to think about than anything else. She certainly did not believe herself to be in love with him.

So Ginny dismissed the warnings that were expressed to her, believing herself safe in her own resolution and unattractiveness. Nothing very well could have happened between them either—that is until, one day, fate decided to intervene and take matters into its own hands.

~*~

Ginny had frequently been told to not walk around the countryside unattended. In the typical fashion of a rebellious young woman, she scoffed at such medieval notions and said that she was going to do it anyway. This was not the Dark Ages, and if she wanted to go for a walk alone, she was going to do so. Her great aunt Lorna threw her hands up in the air in a futile gesture, indicating that she wished to wash her hands clean of the redhead.

"Don't blame me if you're abducted by renegades," Lorna declared rather melodramatically. "Merlin knows you never listen to me anyway."

"Don't worry, Aunt," Ginny responded with a cheeky smile. "If I am abducted by renegades, I won't be able to blame anyone, as more likely than not I'll already be dead."

Lorna moaned and showed all the signs of sending one of the house-elves to accompany her, so Ginny thought it wise to make her escape while she could. She couldn't help but feel a little guilty at the stress she was giving her well-meaning aunt, whom she knew was of a nervous disposition, but, really, what did the woman expect was going to happen?

"Honestly," Ginny muttered as she walked under a canopy of trees. "It's not like there's a war going on now, and I do have a wand to protect myself."

It irritated her that her aunt should think her so defenceless, but then people always had. Her family had treated her like glass since she was the youngest and the only girl, and this had only become worse during the war. Her boyfriends had always cosseted her and tried to do everything for her, and now, when there were no wars and no silly boyfriends to treat her like a helpless female, she came across a much more formidable opponent to her independence: the rules of high society.

Since coming to stay with her great aunt, Ginny had learnt what was to be expected of a lady and, as such, what was expected of her. A woman was supposed to be meek and graceful; her voice was to be soft; her clothes were to be modest but tasteful, and she was to never, under absolutely no circumstances, do anything that would make her seem too forward and independent. This included going for walks without a chaperone, much to Ginny's chagrin.

Still, despite the redhead's stubbornness and dislike of the strictures placed upon her, she followed the rules as best she could, if only for Lorna's sake. It was the least she could do to repay her great aunt's kindness, but go for a walk with a house-elf or some other ridiculous attendant was something she could not tolerate. Her walks were for her and her alone. It was the only time she felt truly free.

Ginny came out from under the shelter of the trees and spotted a meadow of wild flowers in the distance. She smiled to herself and made her way towards the field only to find that a wide and very swift stream blocked her path. She looked up and down the banks of the stream, searching for a place where it would be easier to cross, but it seemed that the recent onslaught of storms had left the brook hostile to would-be adventurers.

"Well, this won't do," Ginny mumbled to herself, frowning.

She knew, of course, that she could simply Apparate across, but where would the fun be in that? Her eyes alighted on a fallen tree trunk, and it occurred to her that she could use it to make a bridge. It would take more effort, but it was bound to be more exciting than simply using her magic to appear on the other side.

Ginny whipped out her wand and carefully levitated the log so that it hovered just inches above the water, making sure that the two ends were resting on either side of the bank. She then lowered it to complete her makeshift bridge and grinned rather foolishly to herself at her own ingenuity. Even her brothers could not boast to having made their own bridge.

"Now to test it," Ginny said aloud as she lifted her dress so that she would not trip over the hem.

She put her foot on the edge of the trunk and tentatively rested her weight on it. The log wobbled a bit, but it seemed sturdy enough. It was unlikely to break on her anyway, which was all she was really concerned with. She began to walk forward, quite heedless to the dangerous waters below her, and it was not until she was halfway across the log that she realised that the bridge breaking was the least of her worries. To be sure, the tree trunk proved to be a lot more rotten than she had thought, but it was her own poor balance that eventually made her fall into the stream.

The shock of being submerged in icy water momentarily paralysed her, but when her brain finally registered that she couldn't breathe, she quickly pushed herself upwards, coughing and spluttering as she broke through the surface. She clutched at the rotten wood so that she would not be swept away with the current, no longer feeling particularly triumphant in her ingenuity. There was nothing exciting about being stranded in the middle of a stream with only a thin branch for security, after all. It only made her feel cold and uncomfortable, and she was quite certain that she had dropped her wand in the stream when she had fallen.

Well done, Ginny, she thought to herself. You've really done it this time.

She wondered if she would be able to pull herself back onto the tree trunk, but it was not as easy as one might have thought. She kept slipping, and the water continued to tug at her body, threatening to drag her away. Her bottom lip quivered pathetically, and she was ashamed to admit that she had started to cry. The thought that she might be stuck holding onto the rotten branch until someone found her or until she simply gave up and drowned was not a heartening one, and even the thought of going back home and having to face her great aunt Lorna was too humiliating for her to stomach.

"Oh, please," Ginny begged to the wild land at large. "If there really is a God, will you please help me get out of this stupid stream?"

"I haven't had a woman call me 'God' before, but I must say that you do make a sad picture as far as damsels in distress go."

Ginny let out a yelp of fright and almost lost her hold on the branch. She clutched at it wildly again, regaining her grip, and then she turned her head to examine the owner of the amused voice that had so rudely frightened her. He was tall, blond and handsome. He was also laughing, clearly enjoying her discomfort.

Her heart sank. It was Draco Malfoy.

"If you're going to stand there and laugh at me," Ginny retorted with as much dignity as she could muster whilst clinging onto a branch and looking no better than a bedraggled rat, "you could at least have the decency to help me first."

"Oh, but I'm having far more fun watching you struggle," he responded with an insolent smirk.

An angry flush stained her cheeks. "Well, if you're not going to help me then you can just leave! I have no use for an audience, especially you!"

"Calm down, little damsel in distress. I did not say that I was not going to help you."

He unsheathed his wand from the cane that he had been holding, a legacy of his father's, and calmly cast a hover charm on her to levitate her out of the stream. She had no choice but to release her death-grip on the branch and allow him to guide her with his magic back to shore—and straight into his waiting arms. Ginny protested at this sudden development, squirming frantically to get away from him, but his arm snaked around her waist and held onto her firmly so that she could not move even if she wanted to.

"Now then," he murmured, lifting her chin so that he could see her face better. "Let me have a look at you."

Ginny met his examining look with unconcealed rage, the angry flush still burning crimson on her cheeks. She had never had a man treat her so unceremoniously in her life, for she was no woman of easy virtue. However, she would be lying if she said that his close proximity did not affect her. Her heart was indeed pounding erratically in her chest, and she was not oblivious to the fact that her body was pressed firmly up against his, letting her feel the masculine strength that lay behind his fine clothes. Still, she'd be damned if she let such a womanising, egotistical man know that he had so easily shaken her composure.

"Am I to your liking, sir?" she asked in a voice of ice.

He smiled, shifting his hand from under her chin so that it cradled her face rather than forced it upwards.

"Foolish little damsel in distress."

The words were like a caress, slipping under her skin and assailing her stomach with the most disquieting of butterflies. A small voice whispered that she would regret it if she didn't pull away and put him in his place right now, but he was already kissing her by the time her cognitive senses were restored. His arm tightened around her waist, and for a moment Ginny was conscious of the sudden urge to kiss him back. It would be so easy, and it would seem so right. All she needed to do was return the pressure of his lips, but she knew if she gave into him that there would be no going back. Besides, that was what he wanted.

She forced herself to remain unresponsive in his arms, which was, by no means, easy. He kissed her firmly but passionately, letting her feel how much he wanted her, but never demanding enough to completely frighten her off. It was as if he were trying to lull her into responding, and she very well could have were it not for the fact that she figured that he was probably only amusing himself.

Still, even she could not ignore how pleasant it felt to be kissed by him, so she was immeasurably relieved when he finally pulled his lips away and allowed more space between them.

Draco did not seem perturbed by her lack of response. In fact, he was smiling in a way that suggested he knew exactly what had been going through her mind while he had kissed her. She felt her cheeks grow hot and knew that she must be blushing. How she longed to slap him in that moment and remove the stupid smirk from his face, but she knew to do so would only confirm how much his kiss had affected her. She would not give him that satisfaction.

Ginny held her chin up high, still retaining her dignity even though she was drenched, blushing horribly, and had just been kissed by Draco Malfoy.

"Well, Mr Malfoy," she said with painful civility. "Now that you have satisfied yourself with your examination of me, I suggest you let me go so that I may take my leave."

"Ah, but I am not satisfied," he replied, and she was annoyed to see that he was still smirking. "You have not told me your name, little damsel in distress."

Ginny laughed in spite of herself. "You must be quite the dullard if you can't figure that one out."

He frowned, but Ginny did not wait for his response. She had had enough of Draco Malfoy and his cavalier ways for one day.

"Goodbye, Mr Malfoy," she said, giving him a mock curtsey. "I hope we do not meet again."

And with that she turned on her heel and walked away, never once looking back to see if he was still watching. She would not give him that satisfaction. She would simply act like she did not care at all, and she most definitely would not think about that kiss.

Unfortunately for Ginny, she failed spectacularly at both.

Ginny was still grumbling to herself by the time she got back to her great aunt's house. The nerve of him thinking that he could just kiss her like that. She almost wished that she had told him her identity just so she could see have seen his expression when he realised that he had kissed a Weasley.

"It would serve the idiot right," Ginny muttered.

"Who's an idiot?" a male voice asked. "I hope you don't mean me."

Ginny glanced up from her brooding stare at the floor and saw a neat but rather unfashionably dressed man with light brown hair smiling back at her. He was not unpleasant to look at, but the sight of him made her repress a sigh.

"Derek," she said in a voice that could hardly be described as enthusiastic. "What are you doing here?"

"I thought I'd just pop in and say hello," Derek replied with all the confidence of a man well accustomed to making such trips. He frowned as he took in her bedraggled appearance. "Good Merlin, girl, what on earth have you been doing?"

"I fell into a stream," Ginny replied tiredly.

"Fell into a stream?"

"Yes, Derek. That is what I said."

"But how?"

"Does it really matter? I fell into a stream. End of story."

She made to push past him so that she could go up to her room, but his hand reached out and clutched at her wrist, pulling her abruptly to a halt. She raised an eyebrow at him, and he promptly released her arm, flushing a little as he did so.

"F-Forgive me," Derek stammered. "I did not mean to—I'm just concerned for you, Ginevra. I do not like to see you looking so upset." He closed his hand around her damp one, squeezing it with what she considered unnecessary affection. "You are all right, aren't you?"

"If I seem upset, it's because I lost my wand in the stream. Other than that, I'm perfectly fine—Draco Malfoy made sure of that," Ginny added, scowling as she said his name.

"Draco Malfoy?" Derek growled. "What has that fiend to do with this?"

Ginny let out an inelegant snort. "A fiend? Really, Derek, and here I thought my aunt was the melodramatic one."

Derek ignored her light-hearted quip and stared at her earnestly through his serious blue eyes. "He didn't do anything to you, did he, Ginevra?"

"He didn't do anything improper, if that's what you're thinking," Ginny lied with admirable equanimity. "He was actually very rude and laughed at me, but he did help me out of the stream, so I suppose I have to be grateful to him for that."

"I am glad. His reputation is such that one cannot help but be worried, but then he has never shown much interest in you." Derek gave her hand another squeeze. "You should count yourself fortunate that your looks and manners do not appeal to him."

Since Ginny knew very well that Draco Malfoy only went for the beautiful girls, the intended compliment of this speech was quite lost on her. Indeed, she felt an insane urge to tell him that Draco Malfoy had not only shown an interest in her but had also kissed her. That would be sure to put the insufferably confident brunet in his place. Derek seemed to consider Ginny to be his wife in everything but law, and she had no recollection about agreeing upon such an arrangement. It would serve Derek right if Draco Malfoy did continue to show an interest in her, not that she thought the blond would. Derek was, after all, quite right when he said that the handsome young Malfoy had never paid much attention to her before.

"Thank you, Derek," Ginny said dryly. "I am flattered to know that someone like Draco Malfoy would never see anything attractive about me."

Her sarcasm did not seem to penetrate his thick skull, for he only pressed her hand again and smiled. "I knew I could not be mistaken in you."

"Merlin, help me," Ginny muttered under her breath.

"What's that, my dear?"

"Nothing." She firmly disengaged her hand from his. "Excuse me, Derek. I really must go get changed now. You know what Lorna is like: she'll have a conniption if she sees me standing here in these wet clothes."

"Oh. Yes, of course. How foolish of me to keep you standing here."

"Quite."

Derek rewarded her brusque response with a patronising smile. "I'll forgive you for your poor manners just this once because I know you must be cold and tired, but you know, my dear, it is not at all becoming of a female to talk in such an abrupt way."

Ginny opened her mouth to retort, but Derek suddenly placed a finger on her lips.

"Now, Ginevra, don't say another word. We wouldn't want to say anything we would regret later, now would we?"

Ginny did indeed close her mouth, but it could hardly be said that she was impressed by his behaviour or his condescending homily. Her companion, quite oblivious to the seething thoughts going through the redhead's brain, was satisfied by her silence, and rewarded her with another of his insufferable smiles.

"I'll leave you now," Derek murmured, stepping away from her. "Ah, before I forget. You are attending the Worthington Ball, are you not?"

"Yes," Ginny managed to grit out.

"Then I shall see you there."

He swept her a low bow and then left the house. Ginny stood frozen in the foyer, not sure if she wanted to laugh or scream. Amusement won out in the end, but there was no denying her recent encounter with Derek Hardy had annoyed her. How dare he think he could talk to her like that? He may be their neighbour and Lorna's favoured one, but he still had no right to lecture her on her conduct.

"Honestly," Ginny muttered to herself. "I don't know who is worse: Draco Malfoy or Derek Hardy."

But however insufferable she found both men, it was not the staid, blue-eyed man that troubled her thoughts when she went to bed that night, but rather a handsome blond whose passionate embrace continued to linger uncomfortably in her mind.

OOOO

It was the night of the Worthington Ball and one week since the disastrous day that Draco Malfoy had rescued her from the stream. She wasn't sure if she was pleased or annoyed that he had not approached her during that time, but there was little room in her thoughts for the blond at that moment. Derek seemed to have decided that tonight was the night he would propose to her—at least, that was what she had gathered from Lorna's none-too-subtle hints—and Ginny was dreading the moment.

Her family had never said it, but she knew that they were expecting her to make a good marriage. That was why her mother had sent her to stay with her great aunt Lorna. Her marriage was supposed to save them from the difficulties that they now faced because of the war, and Derek was seen as the "chosen one" to do this. They all thought that he would be so perfect for her, and those less charitable felt that he was all she could get either way. However, Ginny did not love Derek, and now she just felt trapped between what her heart wanted and what her duty decreed.

Derek smiled down at her. "These rooms are very stuffy, are they not? I believe I saw a pretty conservatory out the back. Would you care to walk with me?"

Ginny gave a noncommittal answer. Derek, taking her passivity as a yes, led her through the double doors near the back of the ballroom into the conservatory. It was very pretty, and being able to escape from the stifling, overcrowded ballroom was certainly pleasant, but Ginny found her enjoyment quite spoiled by the fact that she was with Derek. The sudden realisation that they were the only couple in the room only served to increase her discomfort.

They stood in silence for a moment, Ginny becoming increasingly anxious with each passing second. She knew that Derek was going to propose to her any minute now, and the closer the moment came, the more she realised that she could not do this. It was just wrong.

"Ginevra," Derek began, taking her trembling hand in his so that she had no choice but to face him, "there's something I've been meaning to ask you."

"Oh, please don't," Ginny begged, wrenching her hand free and taking a hasty step away from him. "Please don't ask me, Derek."

"But you don't even know what I'm going to say."

"Yes, I do! And I beg that you will say nothing of it."

"Good Merlin, girl, I'm trying to ask you to marry me, not offering you a carte blanche."

"I know, and I am, indeed, very flattered, but I cannot marry you, Derek. You must know that. You must know how unsuited we are!"

"But I love you, Ginevra."

"But I don't love you!"

"You must allow me to know you heart better than you do yourself," Derek stated firmly. "When we are married, I am sure you will realise all the benefits of being married to a man such as myself."

"I don't want benefits!" Ginny cried exasperatedly. "I want love!"

"And so you shall have it," Derek replied, once more taking her hands in his. "You must know that I am head over heels in love with you."

"Are you?"

A light flush stole to his cheeks. "Well, really, Ginevra, you can't just—"

"It doesn't matter," Ginny sighed, cutting him short. "I'm sorry, Derek, but I cannot marry you."

But Derek was having none of this. Respectable he may be, but he was still a man who thought himself very much in love. He pulled her closer to him, holding her in an almost suffocating embrace as he clumsily pressed his lips against hers. She squirmed indignantly and tried to push him away, disgusted that he should dare to kiss her like this when she had already told him no. The fact that another man had done the same thing and stirred quite different emotions in her was not something that she chose to dwell on, for Derek Hardy was no Draco Malfoy, and there was certainly nothing pleasant about this kiss.

She finally managed to get him to release her and promptly slapped him in the face. "How dare you?" Ginny cried, her cheeks crimson with rage and humiliation. "How dare you kiss me!"

"Ginevra, I can explain. I—"

"Ah, there you are, Hardy."

Both turned at the sound of the familiar drawl, and Ginny's heart sunk when she saw the handsome blond walking towards them. Of course it had to be him.

"What do you want?" Derek growled, clenching his fists.

Draco smiled pleasantly at the older man. "I believe your mother wants you. Don't worry about Miss Weasley," he added, seeing Derek's eyes shoot protectively towards Ginny. "I shall escort her back to the ballroom myself."

Faced with such a calm dismissal, Derek had no choice but to take his leave as gracefully as he could. Ginny could not deny that she was pleased to see him go, but being alone with Draco Malfoy was not something that she particularly desired either. She looked up at the blond suspiciously, unsure what it was that he wanted from her.

"I see you discovered my identity," Ginny said slowly.

"I did, though I think you suit 'Little Damsel in Distress' more."

"Why is that?"

He laughed. "Because I always seem to be rescuing you."

She blushed, realising that he must have witnessed what had just happened between her and Derek and had decided to step in to save her from further embarrassment. It would have been touching were it not for the fact that this was Draco Malfoy helping her, and he could only have a double agenda.

"You have my sympathies," the blond continued. "Being on the receiving end of Derek Hardy's passion can hardly be pleasant."

"You're one to talk," Ginny snapped. "You did the exact same thing to me by the stream."

"Not the exact same thing, Ginevra. That's too cruel. You must know that I would never smother you like that or kiss you so clumsily."

Her blush deepened as she remembered how good it had felt to be kissed by him, and she quickly looked away, embarrassed lest he should read her thoughts. His hand found her chin, and he gently turned her face back up towards his, a half-smile curling his lips.

"Don't worry, little damsel in distress," he said in his velvety voice as he ran his thumb across her flaming cheek. "I'm not going to force myself upon you again. I think our friend Hardy did enough of that for one night."

Ginny wasn't sure why the knowledge that he was not going to kiss her should disappoint her, but disappoint her it did. She supposed that she should have known he would no longer find her attractive now that he knew she was a Weasley, but that didn't stop her heart from suddenly feeling too heavy for her chest.

"What do you want from me then?" Ginny asked tiredly.

"Foolish little damsel in distress," he murmured, echoing words from a time long past. "Is it so hard to believe that I simply want to get to know you?"

Ginny's eyes darted up to his, and her heart give a funny stutter in her chest as she saw the intense look reflected in his grey irises. What he had said was common enough, but coming from his lips made it the most romantic speech she had ever heard.

"B-But I'm a Weasley," she stammered, certain that he must be joking. "Why would you want anything to do with me?"

"You fascinate me," Draco replied simply.

"Fascinate you?" Ginny repeated, as if the idea were completely foreign to her. "But I'm—"

"Yes, love, you're a Weasley, and I'm a Malfoy, and that hideous thing over there is a chair. Now tell me if you're going to sit here arguing with me all night or whether you're going to come and dance the next waltz with me."

"Do you mean it?"

"Well, of all the stupid females," Draco muttered exasperatedly. "Why else would I say it unless I meant it?"

She laughed. "I'm sorry. I'm just so confused."

"Clearly, but if you mean to keep this up, I'm afraid I'm going to have to consider you a dreadful bore and leave you to the mercies of Derek Hardy."

"No, no," Ginny said hastily. "I do want you—I mean—I do want to dance with you."

She blushed at her slip-up and could only hope that he hadn't noticed. Judging by the smile hovering at his mouth, he had. Fortunately, however, he did not tease her about it and simply extended his hand.

"Well then, will you do me the honour of dancing the next waltz with me, Miss Weasley?"

Ginny looked shyly up into his eyes. She knew that he was offering her far more than a simple dance, and that any girl in her right mind would turn back now before she got in too deep. But then Ginny was not like every girl.

She placed her hand in his. "I would love to."


Notes:

You may notice there is a 'Regency' vibe about this story, and that was entirely intentional on my part. Not only did Aerileigh request it, but I also felt this particular idea would not suit being set in a strictly modern setting. As such, while it is not entirely AU, it cannot be considered part of the HP universe we are familiar with either.

More importantly, I would like to thank Lia for her indispensable (and speedy) beta services. You are a queen of beta-readers, my friend. ^_^