Chapter 47: Christmas and New Year's
Four days later, December 24th
There was a soft knock at the door.
Ginny started. She was sitting on the sofa, legs curled beneath her, a mug of cocoa cooling in her lap. It had gotten late, she realized. In just a few hours, Christmas Eve would shade into Christmas Day.
She glanced up the staircase as she crossed to the door. The upper landings were quiet. She cast a Silencing Charm and opened it. A heavily-bundled Neville hurried inside. The wind whirled in behind him, making the fire flicker in the grate.
The morning had dawned cold and damp, and the day had continued in much the same vein. With everything that was happening, it had been hard to muster any cheer, despite her mother's best efforts at holiday decorations. Her brothers had gone back to their own homes shortly after dinner. Molly hadn't wanted them out late at night; it wasn't safe for that anymore.
"You okay?" Neville asked, unwinding his scarf, which had been up around the bottom half of his face.
Ginny snorted. "Am I okay? What about you? Was the Apparition all right? No problems with the password for the wards?"
Neville shrugged. "I'm here, anyway," he said. He sat down, and Ginny sank onto the cushion beside him, proferring her mug. He took a long draw, and his face flushed immediately with much-needed warmth. "When should we go?"
Ginny glanced at the clock. "A couple of minutes," she said. "We don't want to get there too early. I don't fancy wandering around Godric's Hollow in this weather."
Neville nodded his agreement.
They were meeting Cho. Luna had set up the meeting, and the three of them had planned to go together. But now...
"Luna should be here," Neville said, seeming to read her mind. His expression was grim. "Cho trusts her more than she trusts either of us."
"I know," Ginny said. "But there's nothing for it…."
"Is there even any point?" he asked suddenly.
She stared at him. It was the first manifestation of doubt she'd seen in Neville since this had all started. He'd been quieter than normal for the past several weeks, but she'd assumed it was because of what had happened in the Forbidden Forest. He was the one who was always telling the rest of them to keep their chins up, to trust Harry….
He caught her eye and blushed. "I just mean—I don't know—" He made an exasperated sound.
"This is the only way to keep the Muggleborns from being taken away—"
"I know that. It's just—" He stopped again.
"Just—is there any point in keeping them at Hogwarts? They'll be found out eventually, and then it'll only be worse for them. And the Carrows have been getting more and more brutal. What happened to Luna…." He trailed off, swallowed. "I don't know how much longer we can hold out."
Ginny considered. "We only have to hold out until Harry comes back."
"And what if he doesn't?"
She reached out to give his hand a reassuring squeeze. "He will," she said.
He held her gaze, and she looked back firmly, earnestly. After a moment, he shook himself, and she took the opportunity to add dryly, "He's bound to. He's one of the most stubborn people I know."
That got him to laugh.
"Now come on," she said, glancing once more at the clock. "It's time to do our bit."
They extinguished the fire and put on their layers, Neville re-winding his scarf and Ginny pulling an oversized woolen hat over her red hair. Then they left the Burrow, moving across the wind-battered front lawn at a quick clip. As soon as they were outside the wards, she grabbed Neville's arm. "Ready?" he asked.
"Don't Splinch me."
He grinned. "No guarantees," he replied, and whirled them away.
When they landed in Godric's Hollow, it was snowing.
Cho rented the ground floor flat in a house off the main road. Ginny glanced nervously up and down as Neville knocked. The street was mercifully deserted. Thank Merlin for the snow.
She answered on the second rap and ushered them inside. They passed through a small outer room with a staircase leading up to the upper flats, then through a second door into Cho's kitchen.
It was small, but nicely decorated. There were neatly-framed photographs on the walls and a kettle on the stove. A fire danced in the grate.
Despite the cozy surroundings, Cho was tense, careful. She stepped to one side of the room, putting the counter between them. Ginny had a chance to observe her.
She was wearing loose trousers and a pale pink sweater. Her long, jet-black hair was twisted into a bun at the top of her head. Beneath it, her perfect skin was pink at the cheekbones. Ginny couldn't help thinking of Cedric—he and Cho would have had ridiculously pretty children. The thought made her sad.
"Where's Luna?" Cho asked abruptly. The fingers of her left hand were gripping the tile. Her right hand was out of sight beneath the ledge, doubtless on her wand. Ginny couldn't blame her.
"She was taken," Neville said. "The Slytherins"—he glanced at Ginny—"some of the Slytherins came and took her."
"What?" Cho asked, concern breaking through her wariness. "What do you mean, took her?"
"Hexed her and dragged her off the train," Ginny said darkly. "They probably took her to Malfoy Manor, but we don't know for sure."
"But why? Is she all right?"
"We don't know." Neville ran a hand over his face. "The Carrows have been targeting her for the past few weeks…."
"Because of Xenophilius," Cho finished for him, nodding her head in understanding. Her grip tightened on the counter. "We all knew it. We knew he should have kept his head down. He should have—"
"You're not exactly keeping your head down," Ginny said, looking at Neville and then down at herself, brows slightly raised.
She blinked, and then a smile ghosted over her lips. "No, I suppose not," she admitted. But, Ginny noted, she didn't commit herself. If they had been Ministry spies, trying to root out traitors, they wouldn't have anything to pin on her…yet. They would have to convince her.
"So you're here instead," she prompted.
"Yes," Neville replied. "We're here instead. We've resurrected the DA back at school, and as Luna told you, we're trying to keep the Carrows from getting their hands on the Muggleborns."
"It sounds like the Carrows have already gotten their hands on all the students, not just the Muggleborns," Cho commented wryly.
"They have," he admitted, "but as long as the administration believes they're Pure or Halfbloods, there's some measure of protection, at least."
"You probably know better than either of us what they're doing to Muggleborns," Ginny said.
Cho exhaled. "Of course I do. I see it every day."
"Then you know why we need that seal," she said fiercely. "Tom has killed too many of our friends already."
Cho stared at her—hard—and she knew they were both thinking of Cedric. He'd been a hell of a friend—and more than that to Cho. Ginny's mind slid to Blaise; she thought of him laughing his big, bold laugh, and could almost feel the weight of his arm slung across her shoulders. Too many friends already.
"All right," Cho said finally, startling her from her reverie. She flicked her wand and spoke a word under her breath. By degrees, the seal materialized atop her counter. "Couldn't keep it here," she explained, "for obvious reasons."
"You mean in case we were spies and called in Ministry thugs to ransack your flat for evidence?"
"Like I said"—Cho smiled grimly—"obvious reasons."
The seal was heavy in Ginny's pocket as they exited the flat. They'd gotten a good look at it on her countertop—a wooden handle and a weighty, intricately-cut bottom—and Cho had shown them how to use it—a spell to wax the page in the appropriate place and another to stamp the seal into it.
They emerged into a winter wonderland. Snow was still falling. It had settled softly onto the street and the grassy landscape beyond in a smooth, untarnished layer. There was still no one out. It was nearly midnight.
Ginny twined her arm through Neville's, and together they crossed back the way they had come, out of range of the Apparition Wards surrounding the houses on this street. They walked silently, neither of them wanting to sully the almost magical stillness.
Abruptly, Neville stiffened.
"What—" Ginny started. And then she saw them.
There were two figures standing several hundred yards away, among the snow-capped gravestones of the town's churchyard. They stood out black against the snow, heavily-bundled, their arms linked as well. She squinted, her heart suddenly in her throat. It couldn't be….
And then she was running, Neville at her heels.
Later, she was sure that Hermione had been half an instant from hexing her into oblivion when she sprinted into the graveyard and flung herself into Harry's arms. But Harry realized who it was sooner and managed to narrowly avoid being bowled over. He caught her up.
"Ginny! What in Merlin's name are you doing here?"
She found her feet and stepped back, her hands on his shoulders. "Harry," she breathed. "Let me look at you."
He was thinner than she remembered, his face gaunter, paler. There was a shadow of stubble across his jawline, and his hair had grown long and shaggy around his ears. Most of all, he looked exhausted, as if he hadn't had a good night's sleep in all the months he'd been gone. She realized that he probably hadn't.
He caught sight of Neville behind her. "And Neville! What's—"
Ginny gave Hermione a tight hug. "Bloody hell, what are you two doing here?"
Hermione smiled. "We could ask you the same."
"Where's Ron?" she added, looking around.
Harry and Hermione exchanged a glance, and her stomach turned. Her knees began to buckle. "Oh Merlin," she choked out, her thoughts darting crazily to what her mother would say. "He's not—"
"No," Harry said quickly. He put a hand on the small of her back to steady her. "No, nothing like that." He paused. "It's difficult to explain—"
"He left," Hermione said shortly. Her smile had died. Her voice was clipped but hoarse, as if she was trying to keep it from wavering.
Ginny looked between them. "What do you mean, he left?"
"He thought—" Harry exhaled, glanced at Hermione again. She avoided his eyes. "Look," he said finally, "why don't we…." He looked past them to the street and the dozens of black-windowed houses. Ginny knew what he was thinking; they were very conspicuous here.
He led them to the edge of the graveyard, his hand still hovering at her back, brushing occasionally against her sweater. She could feel the pressure even through her layers.
Finally, they reached a big tree. Its branches were bare, but they stepped behind it and huddled together so that they were mostly concealed behind its trunk. Hermione murmured a charm, and the air around them warmed slightly, allowing them marginally more comfort. "I would shield us from the snow," she said apologetically, "but someone might notice it falling strangely at the edges."
"What happened with Ron?" Ginny pressed.
"He left," Harry said reluctantly.
"Weeks ago," Hermione said, her hostility palpable.
Harry continued over her. "He thought—well, we're not completely certain what he thought. We rowed, and he took off. But"—another glance at Hermione, this one significant, as if he was speaking to her rather than to Ginny and Neville—"he wasn't himself. He'd gotten to him," he finished, and Ginny knew he meant Tom.
"Ron did that? Ron left the two of you?" She could hardly keep the incredulity out of her voice. If there was one thing she knew about Ron, it was that he loved Harry and Hermione. He was rash, bullheaded, and utterly infuriating—but he loved them. It must have taken something very twisted indeed to make him leave them in the middle of all this.
"Where did he go?" Neville asked, sounding just as shocked.
"Merlin knows," Hermione said, almost dismissively, and Ginny turned on her.
"Aren't you worried?"
"Of course we're worried!" the other girl snapped. "We're always bloody worried! All the time—" Her voice broke, and she turned away, jaw working. Ginny had never heard her swear.
They were silent for a moment. "I'm sorry," Ginny breathed finally. "I shouldn't have suggested that you weren't."
Hermione was breathing hard, her face still angled away, and Neville went to her. He drew her a few feet away in the direction of the open fields. They began speaking in low voices.
Ginny turned back to Harry. "Shite," she swore. "I don't know why I said that."
"You were panicking," Harry said. "It's fine. You should hear some of the things Hermione and I have said to each other since he's been gone. And the things the three of us said before. It's part of the reason he left…some of the things I said to him."
Guilt radiated off him, and Ginny put a hand on his elbow, which was folded close across his chest. "It was Tom. You said it yourself. Tom's the only one who could have made him leave."
He looked unconvinced—and, she thought again, tired, so utterly tired. She determined to change the subject. "You need a haircut," she said lightly.
He frowned and ran a hand through his hair. "Hermione's been trying to cut it."
"It'll take a cannier witch than Hermione to tame that mess," she quipped, "and that is truly saying something."
He smiled, but she could tell that it was forced for her sake. She squeezed his elbow, and he looked at her. She spoke lowly. "What are you doing here, Harry? Are you…is everything…are you all right?"
He nodded. "We're okay," he said. He paused. "My parents are buried here."
She followed his gaze to the spot where he and Hermione had been standing. "Oh Merlin, Harry…."
"It's not what we thought," he said, his words coming out in a rush. "I don't know what we thought." He shrugged unpersuasively before meeting her eyes once more. "But we're okay for now."
The questions were on her tongue—how are things progressing? are you going to be able to do it?—but she swallowed them down. There was so much resting on his shoulders; he didn't need more weight.
"Are you?" he asked suddenly, his tone urgent, and it took her a beat to realize that he was asking if she was okay.
"Yeah," she replied quickly.
"Yes," she said, a little too quickly this time. She didn't pause to wonder how he knew she was at Hogwarts. The last time they'd seen each other had been in the foyer of Grimmauld Place, just before he, Ron, and Hermione had gone to the Ministry.
He was looking at her, his green gaze searching. "Ginny…."
His tone was so full of concern that she spoke before she could stop herself. "He took Luna," she breathed.
He started. "What do you mean? Who did?"
"Draco." She exhaled. "A few other Slytherins…Parkinson, Crabbe, Goyle…."
"Dragged her off the Express at King's Cross."
He looked genuinely taken aback. "Don't look so surprised," she said bitterly. "He's capable of worse."
He shook his head jadedly. "Is he?" He let out an unexpected, mirthless laugh. "For a second there he really had me thinking—"
She frowned. "Had you thinking what?"
He sighed. "I don't know."
Now it was her turn to press. "Harry…."
"It's just—when he couldn't kill Dumbledore, I started to wonder—"
"—and then I could have sworn that he had the chance to hex me over Surrey, and when he didn't—" He stopped short at the look on her face. "Are you all right?"
"No—I mean, yes, but—"
"Harry," Hermione broke in. Her voice was gentle. She and Neville were looking at them. "We should go."
He blinked. His gaze slid past Ginny in the direction of the town. "Yeah," he agreed. His mind was already re-focusing itself on other things, she knew. To the things ahead of him, the things he had to do.
Her own mind was reeling, but she managed to move her body. She wrapped her arms around him. "Take care, Harry," she murmured near his ear.
"No stupid risks, yeah?"
"I don't think it's me we should be worrying about there."
His grip tightened for one last moment, and as he drew away he leaned in, but only to press a kiss to her temple. She was grateful for it. Her thoughts were half on Draco, and she didn't know what she would have done if he'd tried for more. You don't owe me anything, Ginny.
He released her, and with a brisk nod, began to move away.
She thought of something. "Harry?" she called out. He turned, and she smiled as openly as she could. "Happy Christmas."
For the first time since she'd entered the graveyard, she saw his genuine, unforced grin. "Happy Christmas, Ginny."
Six days later, New Year's Eve
The party was loud and raucous, spilling from the foyer into the corridor and dining room. Well-trained House Elves wove inconspicuously among the guests, trays loaded with champagne and hors d'oeuvres balanced atop their heads. They could have charmed the trays to move on their own, Draco knew, but many of the…guests…like to see the Elves at work, a visible sign of their own superiority.
He was standing at the edge of the foyer, his back to the wall, listlessly scanning the crowd.
Everyone of any note in the current ruling class was there. Those Pureblood families that had remained carefully removed from the scene before the Dark Lord's meteoric rise to Ministerial power had been soliciting invitations for months. Now, they ate and drank and laughed with the Death Eaters as if things had always been this way.
He tipped his glass back. The champagne was bitter on his fruit-sweetened tongue. Over the rim, he spotted his parents across the room. They were speaking to the Parkinsons and Greengrasses, their smiles frozen on their faces.
He wished he was anywhere else.
By the looks of it, Amycus and Alecto felt the same. They were in the far corner, looking distinctly uncomfortable among the tailored dress robes and elegant gowns. They chewed their food disagreeably, twin scowls on their faces. Amycus dug the toe of his boot into a nearby lambskin rug.
Draco hoped they didn't get too bored. For the sake of the prisoners in the dungeons.
His aunt was tapping her wand against her champagne glass. Bellatrix had mounted the staircase so that she stared down at the assembled guests from the height of a few steps. She was wearing a severely cut dress. Black, of course, but with a shiny sheen that mimicked the scales of a reptile. Her hair hung in its usual crazed mess around her head. Her lips were blood red.
People quieted and began to gather, pressing in from the dining room.
"Good evening," she began. As she spoke, Draco glanced around the room, looking for Snape. By rights, it should be him giving the speeches. He was the Dark Lord's right hand at the moment, not Bellatrix.
Finally, he spotted the Headmaster. Unlike the others, Snape had gone to absolutely no trouble with his dress. He wore the same unfashionable black robes he had always worn. He was sipping a glass of water, watching Bellatrix. His expression was stony, but for a hint of wry amusement around the eyes.
Snape wasn't one for speeches and grandstanding. Draco should have known he would pass off the task to Bellatrix.
"Unfortunately, the Dark Lord could not join us tonight," she said. "He is attending to business."
The last they'd heard, the Dark Lord was traveling to Eastern Europe. He was "attending" to some business so secret that only Snape might be privy to it, despite Bellatrix's insinuations to the contrary.
Finally, she was coming to her conclusion. "When the clock strikes midnight, it will usher in a new year—one that sees true wizards in their appointed place at last." She raised her glass and smirked. Her red lips were like two gruesome gashes across her face. "To purity."
"To purity!" agreed the assembly, and his aunt stepped down to drunken cheers.
Draco knocked back his champagne and deposited the glass on a passing tray. It clinked loudly. Then, ignoring the House Elf's deferential bob of acceptance, he swept from the room.
The dungeons were guarded by a pair of cronies, new volunteers of questionable ability. And questionable use, in Draco's opinion. There was one large one, who had the hard-soft consistency of muscle gone to fat, and one small, who reminded Draco forcibly of a reed swaying in the wind.
He stalked past them without acknowledging their presence. They ducked their heads in salute as he began the dark descent into the Manor's bowels.
The sounds of the party receded by degrees, until finally, he was shrouded in stone-walled silence. The sconces flickered on the walls, throwing disorienting shadows across the steps. He placed each foot carefully.
He rounded the corner into the dungeons proper. There were several cells. For the moment, only the two farthest from the stairs were occupied. His footfalls echoed as he made his way to them.
He reached Ollivander's cell. The old man was curled on his pallet bed, only his shock-white hair visible above his blankets. Blankets, plural. He had two blankets, though Draco was certain he'd only been issued with one.
He was embarrassingly close to Luna's cell before he noticed the figure seated before it on a low stool. He was reaching for his wand when he recognized her. "What are you doing here?" he demanded, surprised.
Astoria arched an eyebrow at him. "Speaking to Luna," she said, as if there was nothing at all strange about that.
Luna Lovegood was indeed just on the other side of the bars. The two of them seemed to have been conversing for some time.
"But how did you get past the guards?" he asked blankly.
Her lips twisted sardonically. "Just told them I wanted a quick look. They let me straight in."
"Bloody hell," Draco cursed under his breath. Questionable use, indeed.
She had turned back to Lovegood. He hadn't noticed at first in this half-light, but she was dressed in a long, silver gown, which was now pooled around her feet. It clung to her slim form, the color making her look like a perfectly-cut ice sculpture. He felt the barest shred of sympathy for the guards. He imagined she could be very persuasive in that dress.
He noticed that Lovegood was eating, and on closer inspection, he realized that it was food from the party upstairs. "I gave it to her," Astoria said simply, following his gaze.
He gestured to the plate sitting on the ground a few feet from Lovegood. It held what looked like the other half of Astoria's gift.
"For Mr. Ollivander," Luna explained, "when he wakes up."
"You gave him your blanket as well?"
"He's more likely to catch cold down here than I am."
He didn't know what to say to that, but Astoria saved him by standing, fabric straightening beneath her. "I'm going back up," she said. "My parents will start to wonder where I am. Goodbye, Luna.
Lovegood raised a hand in farewell. Astoria inclined her head in Draco's direction, then moved back toward the stairs, her high heels clicking softly on the stones as she went.
They fell into silence. To Draco, it felt painfully awkward. He wondered if he should sit on the stool Astoria had vacated, then decided against it. He clasped his hands behind his back just so he'd have something to do with them.
"Does my dad know I'm here?" Lovegood asked finally.
She was looking at him with wide, unblinking eyes. He forced himself to hold her gaze as he nodded. "Of course. That's why you're here."
"So he does what he's told?"
"And then what?"
"Once he's done what he's told?"
His jaw set. "I don't know," he admitted. "But you won't be harmed," he added with a fierceness that startled even himself. "I promise you that."
"You can't promise me that, Draco," she said matter-of-factly.
Her use of his first name threw him off kilter. "I can do my best," he replied, feeling almost defensive. He wondered why it was him feeling awkward and defensive when it was her behind bars.
"Are they all right?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"Oh," she said, sounding genuinely surprised. "I thought perhaps you were keeping an eye on Ginny."
He worked to keep his expression neutral. "And why would I be doing that?"
She frowned. "Well that's rather obvious, isn't it?"
His own words reverberated in his mind as if he'd said them here, in the echoing dungeons. If you don't give a fuck about your life, then neither do I. I'm done trying to protect you.
Lovegood was looking at him with discomfiting frankness. It was as if she could read his thoughts, could see straight through his body and into his brain.
"No," he replied tersely, "it isn't." He avoided her eyes, but he could still feel hers tracking his movements and decided that it was time to leave. "I'll have more blankets sent down," he said, turning away. "And more food."
A pause. "That's kind of you," she said.
He snorted at that. "Is it?" he asked sarcastically. He hardly felt kind under the circumstances.
"Yes," he heard her say as he retreated back the way he'd come. "It is."
He couldn't bring himself to rejoin the party.
Instead, he went to the kitchen, where he summoned a sheet of parchment and a quill.
Ottery St. Catchpole was bright and cheerful, bustling with Muggle revelers sporting crazy New Year's hats and honking noisemakers. Ginny made her way down the main road, feeling distinctly out of place amidst all of this...jubilance. She angled her face toward the ground and hugged her coat more tightly around her. Snow drifted down, settling on her hat and across her shoulders.
She hesitated outside the tavern, glancing up at the second story. The windows of the front-facing rooms were all dark.
Her fingers toyed with the piece of paper in her pocket; she'd folded it and shoved it into her coat before sneaking out of the Burrow, and she'd worried it to a scrap as she'd trudged into town.
There was nothing for it.
She made for the door—and was almost knocked flat by a group of girls coming the other way. "Sorry!" one of them called back as they tottered tipsily into the street. "S'cuse us!"
She regained her footing and her composure and ducked inside.
The tavern was just as bright and cheerful as the street. The Christmas decorations were still up; garish hot-pink tinsel hung from the rafters, and fairy lights twinkled on and off, reflecting in the mirror-backed bar.
Groups of Muggles dotted the room, gathered around tables laden with empty tumblers and picked-clean plates. It was warm with the fire and the bodies and loud with shouts and laughter. Someone was singing a belated Christmas carol.
Ginny wove her way across the room, narrowly avoiding several dangerously-full mugs of apple cider. Her world was contracted, her thoughts focused completely on the room upstairs. Room 5. She fingered the parchment.
There was a staircase at the back of the pub, separated from the toilets by a thin curtain. She pushed aside the fabric and mounted the steps. A single flight. She didn't allow herself to pause on the landing.
The door with the number "5" painted neatly on it loomed up before her. Her heart was pounding. Her fingers released the note and closed around the doorknob. It was unlocked—just as he'd said it would be.
She was inside in a moment.
She closed and bolted the door behind her, shutting out the sounds from the pub below, and scanned the space. She'd been here before, of course. She and her brothers had wandered the town a hundred times growing up. But she'd never rented a room.
It was small and sparse, but tidily kept. The wood floors looked swept, the sheets clean and crisply folded. There was a complimentary bottle of cheap, New Year's champagne on one nightstand and flowers embroidered on the bedspread.
Only once she'd made these trivial observations did she allow herself to look at the figure standing by the window, one pale-fingered hand resting on the back of the armchair.
"I didn't think you'd come," Draco said.
She chose her words carefully. "Didn't have much choice, did I?" she lied. "You have Luna."
"You think I'd hurt her?" he asked stiffly.
"I don't know."
She removed her hat. His eyes lingered on her hair as it unraveled from beneath. His grip tightened on the chairback. "I wanted you to hear it from me," he said. "I won't hurt her."
"Is that why you asked me to come? To tell me that?"
The syllable affected her, and it shook her that it did. "What?" she demanded harshly, compensating.
"I needed to see you."
He said it so fiercely, so assuredly, his gaze meeting hers so suddenly, that she was stunned to silence.
"All right?" he asked, exhaling. "I wanted to see you." He amended the verb, but they both knew she'd heard him the first time.
"Why?" she managed. Her fingers worried the wool of her hat.
"I don't know," he said. It was unexpectedly forthright, though not as forthright as what he said next. "I miss you."
She stared at him, allowing herself to really look at him. He was immaculate as ever in his black, close-fitting suit, his skin alabaster above the collar, seemingly untouched by the cold. She felt disheveled by comparison. She could feel the blood in her cheeks, the snow melting from her boots.
When she met his eyes again, she found that, to his credit, he hadn't looked away under her scrutiny. And his eyes-they were heart-stoppingly earnest beneath red-rimmed exhaustion. Now, though, they slid away and he shrugged, a small, self-deprecating, uncertain gesture that made a throat tighten. He was so rarely uncertain.
"I don't know," he said again, voice lilting in an uncharacteristically meager attempt to laugh it all away. "I was at a New Year's party just now, and I just thought-what the hell happened?"
He turned a half-step toward the window, seemed to think better of it, faced her once more.
"We were," he continued, "we were good. And then, just like that, I was listening to my aunt congratulate a roomful of sycophants on their blood status and visiting Luna Lovegood in the fucking dungeons. And you weren't. You weren't there. You were out here-Merlin knows where-hating me, of all things. And I thought-I just thought-what the hell happened to us, Ginny?"
"Blaise died," she said past the blockage pushing up against her palate.
That sobered him. He dropped the half-hearted attempt at flippancy. "Blaise died," he repeated. "I didn't want that. You know I didn't want that. I couldn't have wanted anything less."
"You took the Dark Mark," she countered. "Did you want that?"
His jaw set. "You came back to school," he retorted. "You joined the bloody DA."
Relief bloomed unexpectedly in her chest. There was the self-righteous Malfoy she'd expected to find waiting for her in this room. She didn't know why she'd come, but she did know how to deal with that Malfoy. By now, it felt nearly scripted. They would snap and sneer at each other, and then she would storm out, no less convinced that she did hate him, had been hating him all along...
"You slept with Parkinson," she said derisively.
"You didn't sleep with Potter."
That stopped her.
He held her gaze. "Why did you let me think you had?"
She considered. Why had she? "Because I wanted to hurt you," she answered directly and saw him flinch. "And because I didn't think it mattered."
He made an incredulous sound. "How the hell could something like that not matter?"
"Because you'd killed Professor Dumbledore!" she snapped. He'd frozen, and now she paused to look him full in the face. "But you hadn't, had you?" She mirrored his words. "Why did you let me think you had?"
He didn't answer immediately, and she found herself making a desperate attempt to salvage the momentum of their fight. "Happy to take credit for it, were you?" she sneered.
His eyes flashed. It had been a low blow, and she steeled herself for the rebound. But then, just like that, the angry mercury faded, and the exhausted earnestness returned.
He ran frustrated hands across his face. "Fine," he said tightly. "I'll go. He crossed the room toward her and the door.
Before she quite knew what she was doing, she'd reached out to hold him back. He stilled. She could feel the muscles of his forearm tensed beneath her fingers.
"Wait," she said belatedly, unnecessarily.
His eyes slid briefly shut.
It was her turn to feel uncertain. Why had she stopped him? This could be over-she could be halfway down the stairs-without him-
"Can we just-" she started. She fumbled for words. "Can we just not...for a little while?" she finished lamely.
When she forced herself to look up, his eyes were open again, observing her.
And then he nodded ever so slightly. His hand moved to tilt her chin up. The familiarity of it nearly floored her.
He leaned in close. "Okay," he murmured against her lips, and he sounded almost grateful, "let's not."
When he woke a few hours later, it was still dark. Snow was drifting against the window, harder now than before. But the bed was warm. He reached instinctively for Ginny, but his hand closed on fabric.
He raised himself onto one elbow.
She was sitting on her edge of the mattress, her back to him. She'd pulled on her jeans, and now was smoothing down her hair, pulling it into a low ponytail at the base of her head. Her back was bare, the line of her spine shining silver in the moon and starlight filtering weakly through the window.
She shrugged into her shirt, began to button it up.
"Going?" he asked.
She started. "If I'm not there when my parents get up...they'll worry."
"Right," he agreed. He had a feeling they'd do a lot more than worry if they woke to find her missing. After what had happened to Lovegood...
Ginny's mind seemed to be running the same path. She turned to look at him. "About Luna," she said. "Will you make sure she isn't hurt?"
His mouth twisted. "I don't get to-"
"Don't," she said firmly. He frowned and met her gaze. Her eyes were bright and blazing with determination. "Don't pull that out-of-my-control, staying-out-of-it shite on this."
He straightened and ran a hand across the nape of his neck. It was out of his control, and if Bellatrix, the Carrows, or any of the other Death Eaters wanted to hurt Lovegood, the smart thing to do would be to stay out of it. To save his credibility for when it was Ginny in those dungeons. He was on the brink of telling her so when she added, "Please. She's my friend."
He found himself nodding acquiescence.
"Tell her we're thinking of her."
"Yes," he said.
He waited, but she didn't say anything more. Instead, she reached for her boots.
"Thank you," he said finally, and now she frowned. He smiled wryly. "For not thanking me."
Her expression cleared with understanding. That's kind of you, Lovegood had said when he'd offered a few measly scraps of food and blanket. That's kind of you...in that surprised tone, as if she never would have guessed he had a shred of decency.
But Ginny hadn't thanked him. Even after everything, she thought better of him-expected more from him-than that.
She nodded shortly and stood. Her boots were loud on the floorboards as she crossed the room.
"You need to be more careful," he said as her hand closed around the doorknob. She stilled. "I'm serious, Ginny. What happened to Lovegood could just as easily happen to you."
Her other hand squeezed the wool of her hat. "There are more important things than whether I live or die," she said flatly, not looking at him.
He didn't hesitate. "Not to me."
Now she turned. "Is that why you're doing this?" she asked.
"Of course it is," he replied. "I don't care about anything else."
She bit her lip, then exhaled audibly. She looked pained. "Maybe that's the problem," she breathed, and then she was gone.
He sat in silence for a few brief moments. Then, with a frustrated growl, he stood and grabbed the champagne sitting on the bedside table. They hadn't drunk a drop. He popped it now and poured himself a glass. His hands were shaking.
He wished she hadn't had to leave.
Happy fucking New Year, he thought, and downed it in one gulp.
After Ginny, it tasted bitter on his tongue.
Author's Note: Wow, this story is getting long...47 chapters?! Just to give you a sense of where we're going, there are probably about five more chapters left. Thanks for sticking with me. Hope you enjoyed this one. Please review!