Author's Note: . . . me? Neglect this story? Hehehehe. Never.

. . . okay, I admit it, I'm awful. Terrible. Should never be forgiven.

I'm so, so sorry that this took so long, and thank you to everyone who still bothers to read this. I love you all. May Frida Mahoney bless your souls.

I wrote a song when I started writing this chapter to share with you all in my author's note, and here it is:

(Well, actually I'm just parodying 'Simple Joys' from Pippin, which I am currently in and therefore that song frequently decides to get stuck in my head.)

Well, I'll sing you a story 'bout a sorrowful fic

When I started it two years ago,

I thought it pretty slick.

It had Har and Gin and laughs and sin and all that rot

But it didn't have none of those

Brilliant plots.

Melodramatic, OOC, and flat--

Do you really want to read a fic like that?

So I didn't update for some weeks

And ignored reviewers' painful squeaks

I wrote some other fics, about Sinistra and freaks [See Lamentations and The Mighty Medley of Sirius, respectively.]

Into another category, throw vampires in the mix

'Cause I knew I had to write me better some better fics.

I wanted something less obscene

If you've read it, you know what I mean.

And wouldn't you

rather read 'bout Padfoot and Moony

or a better G/H by the Angel of Pepsi [aka PepsiAngel]

or a brilliant Silver Phoenix parody

than the fic that's plotless and lame as can be?

I rather wish it'd die.

. . . but then towards the end of the chapter I actually rather started to enjoy writing it, so you can just ignore that little ditty if you'd like. :)

So here is chapter 15. Some parts are a bit slow, but I forced my way through and persevered! Score!

And there should only be a few more chapters.

Of course, I've been saying that for, what, a year?


So . . . yeeeeah.

I'm turning into J.K. Rowling with her three-years-in-between-updates-y ways. Only what she writes is irreversably brilliant, so she has an excuse. Oops.

Anyway . . .

This is not proofread. Because by God, I just want to update already.

You've been warned.

Chapter 15: Maybe

"A double date?" Draco repeated blankly.

Ginny nodded, plastering a smile onto her face.

". . . with you and Potter?"

He was apparently having a bit of trouble processing the idea. Secretly, Ginny rather couldn't blame him, but damned if she admitted that aloud.

"I just thought it would be a chance for you to get to know Susan better, is all," Ginny said, sweetly as humanly possible. "Since you two seemed to hit it off so well."

"I'm sure we could get to know each other a whole lot better without you and Potter sitting across from us making googly eyes at each other," he replied, scowling.

Why was she doing this again?

"Well, fine," Ginny said airily. "I suppose Harry and I will just go alone, then."

"Fine," Draco replied dully.

"The Golden Watch is a very romantic place," she continued, hoping that she wasn't making a complete fool of herself. After all, it was completely possible that he still had feelings for her. And if he did, then, well, who was to say she couldn't use that to her advantage?

Mwahaha.

"I'm sure we'll have a lovely time, Harry and I," Ginny continued lightly.

Draco narrowed his eyes at her. "And d'you think if I care if you two have a lovely time together or not?"

Jackpot.

"I'm not sure," she said nonchalantly. "Do you?"

"No," Draco snapped, just the slightest bit too quickly.

Oh, she had him now.

"Well, if you're sure that you don't want to join us . . ."

"Fine," he cut in, sounding as though he thought he was doing her a very big favor. "If it means so much to you, Weasley, I'll waste my precious time on you and Potter."

Ginny resisted the urge to either punch him or partake in a very frightening victory dance, and instead flashed him her most charming smile.

"Wonderful," she said. "Tonight at eight, then."

*

"You have some nerve, showing up here after all you've done to me!" Susan proclaimed approximately two seconds after Harry ducked the potentially lethal lamp that she'd hurled at him.

"Er. Sorry?" he offered weakly.

"You'd better be sorry, Mr. Potter!" she snapped. "You can't just come back here, looking all . . . sexy and heroic and save-the-world-y--"

Harry, who figured he looked the same as he always did, chose he might as well not even attempt to wonder about that comment.

"--and expect me to fall into your arms like nothing happened!" Susan finished furiously, then waved her wand. A pink stuffed bunny rabbit, a stack of Celestina Warbeck albums, and a collector's edition copy of Magical Me came flying his way, and Harry ducked again.

"Yeah," Harry said weakly, "I'm really sorry about that, honestly--"

"And for your information, Mr. Potter, I am completely over you!" Susan continued heatedly. "Draco Malfoy and I have a blooming romance, and contrary to what I'm sure you think, you're not going to get in the middle of it!"

"I'm not trying to," Harry said earnestly. "Actually, Malfoy was just what I wanted to talk to you about."

"And don't give me that--" Susan paused abruptly, her interest piqued at once. ". . . really?"

Harry nodded, hoping that he'd be able to pull this off. He didn't exactly have Ginny's flair for lying, but at the same time, he wasn't exactly attempting to fool Rowena Ravenclaw here. He hoped that Susan's intelligence - or, more specifically, lack thereof - would wind up aiding him on his quest.

Why, exactly, he was doing this, he wasn't quite sure. Yes, it would be nice to have Susan and Malfoy out of the way - he still hadn't decided which would be nicer, actually - but they could probably find some way to do that without setting them up on dates which Harry and Ginny were forced to suffer through.

Maybe, he thought, I'm just getting really, really bored.

A situation involving dangerous magical creatures, dark wizards, and mortal peril almost seemed to be in order.

Almost.

"What about Malfoy?" Susan inquired, still suspicious.

"Well," Harry began.

"--you're going to challenge him to a wizard's duel, aren't you?" Susan cut in, eyes widening. "Because he's stolen your one true love! . . . Me," she threw in helpfully. "Harry, you can't do it. I know you're The Boy Who Lived and all, but he used to be a Death Eater. He probably knows all sorts of dark spells, and even though I hate your guts and never want to see you again as long as I live, I don't want you to die! The guilt would drive me mad! It would haunt me for half a year at least, and I can't live with that! I just can't, Harry, I can't."

Harry stared.

"Erm," he said delicately. "Actually, I was just going to ask if you wanted to double date. Him and you, me and . . . er." He paused, realizing that bringing up Ginny might not be wise -- especially as Susan seemed slightly . . . unstable at the moment. "Anyhow, him and you."

"You two aren't dueling in order to prove who's more worthy of my everlasting love?" Susan asked, looking a bit put out about it.

Harry shook his head, a bit fearful of what she might do next.

"Oh," Susan said, and narrowed her eyes.

He wondered fleetingly if he should have his wand at the ready. (Or at least be prepared to duck from violently hurled stuffed animals.)

" . . . Okay," agreed Susan easily.

Er.

"Right then," said Harry.

*

Harry arrived home, miraculously unscathed, to find Ginny standing in the living room, looking a bit antsy.

"What?" he asked. "Did Malfoy refuse?"

Personally, he wouldn't have minded giving up the whole thing.

"No, it's not that," Ginny said. "I talked him into it."

Harry felt a strange flash of jealousy, and reminded himself that Ginny talking Malfoy into something did not automatically mean . . . things that were not talking. Because talking was talking, and certainly not snogging or more than snogging and somehow he thought he didn't want to pursue that particular train of thought, as he might inadvertently blow something up in manner of Aunt Marge. Though, he supposed, it wouldn't be so bad at all if that something happened to be Malfoy himself.

"So, what's up?" he asked.

"Sirius is here," Ginny said, glancing toward the kitchen. "And he's a bit . . . unhappy."

"What? Why?" Harry asked, worry immediately overtaking him. "Something bad didn't happen, did it? Everyone's okay, right?"

"Right," Ginny said. "More or less. It's just . . . he and Hadia have had a bit of a row, I think. And he's not taking it incredibly well."

Harry frowned. "Oh."

He hoped that he wasn't expected to be able to help Sirius. He'd only dated two girls properly in his life, and both of them had been a bit on the melodramatic side. (Though he had to admit that Cho was nothing compared to Susan.) Of course, things with Ginny were entirely different than they'd been with anyone else, but just because he'd managed to fall madly in love with a perfect girl didn't mean that he was some kind of expert.

"I think maybe you should talk to him a bit," Ginny said. "I made tea."

"Good," Harry said, feeling very grateful for some reason. "Tea is soothing, right?"

"Right," Ginny agreed, nodding. "Even though he showed up a bit . . . er, well, he needs to be sobered up a bit."

Harry suddenly felt a bit tempted to run, and found himself remembering all too clearly an instance the year after they'd graduated from Hogwarts when Ron and Hermione had gotten into a horrible fight. Ron had attempted to drown his sorrows in Firewhisky, and the results hadn't been pleasant. At all.

He tried to block out the memory of Ron drunkenly proclaiming "Y'know that song Requiem for a Niffler by th' Weird Sisters? Tha's wha' Her'mi'ne does to me . . ." and bravely ventured into the kitchen.

Sirius was staring very darkly into his cup of tea, muttering to himself.

"Sirius?" Harry offered weakly.

Sirius looked up. "Bit of advice, Harry?"

"Er. Sure," said Harry, a bit taken aback.

"Stay away from women," he said, brandishing his tea cup and causing it to slosh out onto the table. "Whole bloody lot of 'em are mental. Damned insane."

"Uh," Harry replied.

"Told Hadia I was sorry, but did she listen?" Sirius scowled. "I dun' think so."

All right. Advice. He could do this.

"Maybe, er, if you gave her a bit of time to be alone," Harry suggested uneasily. "To think about things. Then she . . ."

"S'ridiculous," Sirius cut in, taking a swig of his tea. Harry imagined he might wish it was something stronger. "Just 'cause I say one thing--"

"Well, what did you say?" Harry asked, sitting down at the table.

"Wasn' anything," said Sirius, frowning. "Jus' said something 'bout the Dark Lord, and how it was all over now, y'know, 'cause you defeated him, but . . . she was married, y'know that? Well, 'course you don't, she just told me." He let out the short, bark-like laugh that always seemed to make an appearance when he was upset. "To a Muggle. One 'a the ones that Peter killed. How's that for irony?"

This officially went above and beyond Harry's advice-giving skills.

"Have you talked to Remus about this?" Harry asked awkwardly, figuring that Lupin was probably more skilled, as far as in-depth conversations went. "'Cause he might--"

"'n it's never going to be over, she told me," Sirius continued blearily. "'Cause you can't get back the people you lose. 'n you can't. James and Lily . . ."

Harry suddenly found himself wishing more than anything that Sirius would just be quiet. Something sick and rotten seemed to be twisting in his stomach, and he closed his eyes for a moment. It was unnerving; he knew that his parents were dead. He'd never met them, and he never would, and even though he'd never be completely okay with that, he could usually bear to hear about them.

Suddenly, it was different.

"Sirius," he said weakly, opening his eyes, "it'll be okay. Just . . . leave her to sort things out for a few days."

"Women, Harry," Sirius repeated. "Stay away from 'em."

Ever so conveniently, Ginny walked in right at that moment. She exchanged a worried look with Harry, and Harry shrugged at her helplessly before glancing back at Sirius.

"'Cept Ginny," Sirius amended. "Excellent tea."

"Um," Ginny said, smiling weakly, "no problem, Sirius."

"So," Harry said, trying to sound as though he knew what he was talking about, "just go home and . . ." For a moment, he was tempted to suggest that he stick his head into a water barrel, the way he remembered Hagrid doing once, but was able to resist. " . . . read a book, or . . . sleep, or something."

"Tea," Ginny threw in, helpfully. "Not Firewhisky."

"Not Firewhisky," Harry agreed.

*

Draco decided that Ginny Weasley possessed dark, dark magical powers. Dark beyond anything he'd ever been capable of, or even his father, or his aunt Bellatrix. He figured she had to even give Lord Voldemort a run for his money.

Because before he'd gotten to know her, he would have bet his life that no one could ever, ever force him into a double date that involved Potter and the most thoroughly daft woman in the history of wizardkind. Or perhaps humanity in general.

"This is a lovely place," Ginny said. Draco tried not to pay attention to how pretty she looked, because she was from a family full of Muggle-loving impoverished trash, and it was also just generally annoying. He instead looked at Susan, which was what he was supposed to be doing on account of the fact that he was on a date with her. She smiled back at him and tossed her hair over her shoulder; it sparkled in the candlelight, blonde tinted red.

Red, kind of like . . .

He wasn't going to look at Ginny Weasley, because he wasn't going to waste his time on Ginny Weasley.

Oops. He'd just looked at Ginny Weasley.

Who was in turn looking at Harry Potter like he was God's gift to women, or something. Draco scowled. Potter was loving it, he bet. He was probably sitting there reveling in how fantastic he probably found himself. But in a very modest, honourable, and Gryffindor way, of course, because he was Potter. He could do no wrong, and he got everything.

Draco didn't look at Ginny.

This was all Cryssa's goddamn fault, anyway. If she hadn't gone all annoying and self righteous, he wouldn't be here. He made a point not to talk to her the next time he saw her. Or if he was forced to speak, he'd be sure to throw numerous curse words into the conversation. (Of the profane and magical variety, preferrably.)

A smiling witch wearing black dress robes came over to them, a small notebook and a Quick Quotes Quill in her hand.

"Hello," she said pleasantly. "Are you ready to order?"

Potter and Ginny exchanged a quick look.

"I'm not quite ready yet," Ginny said.

"Can we just have drinks to start?" asked Potter.

"Of course," said the witch, still smiling. "What would you like?"

"Just water for me," Ginny said.

"I'll have the same," said Harry.

"All right," the waitress said. "Water for the rest of you as well?"

Draco shrugged, and Susan nodded.

"Here you are, then," the waitress said, waving her wand. The four empty glasses in front of each of them immediately filled. "I'll be back in five minutes and see if you're ready to order then."

"Thanks," Ginny said, smiling.

She and Potter then immediately sunk into some sort of half-whispered conversation. Draco caught the words 'pretty,' 'going well,' and 'kiss,' and concluded he didn't want to know. Let them keep their stupid lovey dovey conversations. They were pathetic, the pair of them. And he hated them. A lot. And didn't even have to pay attention to them, really. He was here with his own date.

"This place is nice," he said, giving her the most charming smile he could manage.

Susan nodded vigorously. "Oh, I know. It's so romantic."

Draco, who was not particularly fond of romance at the moment . . . or at all, come to think of it, made a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat.

An awkward silence rose in which they stared at one another; the sound of Potter and Ginny talking animatedly lingered in the background. God. Was conversation supposed to be this difficult?

Well, as he was attempting to talk to a complete idiot, he supposed it could be. The unstoppable silence wasn't his fault, certainly. She could at least make an attempt to say something.

"So," Susan said, as though she'd read his mind, and smiled brilliantly at him. "Is that your natural hair colour?"

Draco decided that he would very much like to kill something.

*

Well. This wasn't going terribly.

Yes, true, Susan was rambling on incessantly about fingernails or something equally fascinating while Malfoy sort of stared off a bit to her left, but Harry had been in that position and their relationship had gone on for years. That was, more or less, the only way one could date Susan.

And besides, things with Ginny were . . . nice. Better than nice.

"What do you think?" Ginny murmured to him, leaning in close.

The scent of her flowery shampoo mingling with something like peppermint detained him for a moment, but he gathered about his wits and replied, "It could be much worse."

"I'll say," Ginny said, her eyes sparkling. "He hasn't performed an Unforgivable on her yet or anything."

"Not even a Bat Bogey Hex," Harry remarked. "It's almost too good to be true. I--"

Completely unexpectedly, his stomach lurched - a sharp pain struck him, and for a moment he couldn't breathe.

And then, as quickly as it had passed, it was over.

"Harry," Ginny said, staring at him in concern, "What--"

She was cut off by a shriek from Susan.

Harry glanced over, thinking that perhaps Draco hadn't been able to resist the Imperius Curse, or maybe that she'd broken another fingernail.

Instead, she'd gone deathly pale, and was shaking and gasping for breath. The attention of everyone in the restaurant was immediately on them.

Harry immediately felt overcome with panic, and rushed over to her. "Susan, what is it?" he asked urgently.

She looked at him, her eyes not quite focusing. "Harry . . ."

It was true that in the years he'd known her, Susan had had more than one dramatic outburst. But this was new, and somehow he doubted it was at all feigned or overacted.

She took another shallow, desperate breath, and Harry reached for her hand. It shook uncontrollably in his, and her fingers were cold as ice.

"I need to get her to St. Mungo's," he murmured desperately, and the fear that had seized him was almost overwhelming.

The nervous muttering of the bystanders in the restaurant met his ears but didn't register in his mind, and he scooped her awkwardly up into his arms. The shaking seemed even more vigorous as she leaned against him.

"We have a fire in the back, and some Floo Powder," said the waitress who had helped them earlier. "Come on."

Harry nodded and followed her, his heart pounding. It felt like it had been ages since this had happened, since someone's life was jeopardized and it was up to him whether they were saved.

Maybe it's not that serious, a small, logical voice in the back of his head suggested. Maybe you're overreacting.

And maybe he was, but he didn't have time to consider that.

Not now.

*

Maybe this was his fault.

It wasn't that Draco cared, particularly. He'd been about ready to curse Susan into oblivion himself, and probably would have straight off if it weren't for the fact that they were in public.

It was just that it was a bit strange when one's date suddenly started shaking and gasping for breath like they were approximately thirty seconds away from death.

Of course, Potter had saved the day straight away, leaving a restaurant full of nervous people and Ginny staring anxiously after them.

"I'm going," she murmured after a moment, and began to head toward the back of the restaurant where Potter, Susan, and the waitress had disappeared seconds before.

"Wait," Draco said, without the slightest clue why (except, of course, that seeing her rush after Potter like the good little girlfriend would be completely annoying), and reached for Ginny's arm.

"What?" she asked shortly, still staring in the direction where they'd gone. "I've got to go, she's sick--"

"Potter can handle it," Draco responded. "After all, he's the hero, right? It's what he does."

"Malfoy, I do not have the time for this--"

"He doesn't need your help, Weasley," Draco told her, and found that he sounded far less scathing than he'd intended. "He's got it under control."

Ginny narrowed her eyes at him. "You're getting at something. I know it."

"And if I am?" he asked lightly.

Ginny was quiet for a split-second too long before responding sharply, "Then I'm leaving. I don't want to--"

"I love you," Draco said. As soon as the words left his mouth, he felt a strong and irrepressible urge to kill himself. God, she'd destroyed him. She had completely and utterly destroyed him. He wasn't any better than Potter -- no, he was worse, even. At least Potter had some sense. He knew he could love her. The same definitely didn't apply for Draco, but hell, that didn't stop him. He was still a complete moron.

Ginny stared at him.

"I love you," he said again, and knew he should just stop talking and walk away, never go back, never set eyes on her again, but if he didn't say this he'd go insane. Maybe if he said it, it would disappear.

The inhabitants of the restaurant stared. Apparently, he was providing a whole new piece of exciting and dramatic entertainment for them.

Without another word, he placed his hand lightly on Ginny's arm for a moment before turning and heading out the door. The night air was brisk and cold, and it felt too sharp as he breathed it in.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

He turned to see Ginny standing behind him, her arms crossed in front of her chest.

For a second, he felt sure that he could walk away, but then realized that he didn't want to. And he shouldn't have to. She had done this to him, and she deserved to know that. Maybe it would make her miserable. Part of him was sure it wouldn't, but the other part was too intrigued with the idea to abandon it.

"I'm fucking in love with you," he informed her quietly, a vicious edge to his tone. "And I don't know why. I hate you, I hate your family, I hate the people you associate with. I hate Gryffindors, I hate honor. But does that stop me?" His voice was tinged with hysteria and weakness. God, he had to stop this. "No, of course not. And the sick thing is, the thing that really gets me, is that it's pointless. You don't even hate me, Weasley. I don't matter. And I know that. I'm just Malfoy, the Slytherin prat that made your precious Potter's life hell for years. You know that, and I know that, and it doesn't stop me. You're making me fucking crazy, Weasley."

Ginny was staring at him, and, to his surprise, he couldn't even begin to read her expression. He'd expected it to be simple - disgust, anger, a little bit of horror just to make matters all the more delightful.

Instead, there was nothing. She might as well have been wearing a mask.

He knew, quite suddenly and certainly, that he had to leave. He just had to get rid of her. He hated himself right now, and it was unsettling. He'd gone his entire life managing to blame everything on other people, and he wasn't about to change it now. He just needed to get away from her.

Groaning in self-disgust, he turned and had taken a few steps when he felt a hand wrap firmly around his arm. He looked over to see Ginny standing quite close to him, her expression intense but unreadable.

"Weasley," he said, suddenly determined to escape this entire thing for good, "just--"

"I'm never going to love you," she said softly, and then stood up on tiptoe. He wondered if he was going crazy; imagining things - God, he almost expected it by now.

But then she pressed her mouth against his, gently, and he knew with a certainty that this was very real.