My hands stung in the soapy dish water as I scrubbed the frying pan that Draco had prepared breakfast in with unnecessary vigour. The pan was already spotless but I scrubbed away at it nonetheless, unwilling to clean up my kitchen with a quick spell when my pent-up frustration was already boiling over.
I didn't know what had happened. One moment Draco and I had been getting along so well, then the next? It had felt as though I was talking to a stranger. I found myself longing for the time, weeks ago, when we'd been at odds with each other - because anything would have been better than the chasm that had somehow sprung up to divide us.
It was with an unhealthy amount of self-righteousness that I tried to pin-point where everything had gone to shit. Of course, I could easily tell that it had started with Draco's mother - but after that? I'd backed off and allowed him a small victory in spite of his stubborn ignorance. Yet he'd still reacted as though I'd injured him. Somehow, I'd ended up the villain.
I was scowling so hard my face was beginning to ache, and I belatedly realized that I must certainly look the part. With an ineffectual sigh, I drained the sink of water and retrieved the tea towel to dry the pan, determined to put Draco Malfoy from my mind.
Eager to distract myself, I turned my attention to my forgotten mail, transferring the pan to my left hand and opening the letter with my right. I instantly recognized the letterhead as that of The Ministry's sports department, and my irrational mind worried that I'd received another suspension - in spite of the fact that I'd gone to great lengths to ensure the referee never caught me playing dirty since I last served a 3 match suspension for kicking a Wasp player's broom so hard that he fell off and broke both of his legs.
Dear Ms Weasley,
The Department of Magical Games and Sports wish to formally invite you to play for England in the 2006 Quidditch World-
My hands flew to my mouth, dropping the pan and letter both in my surprise, and I promptly yelped when it landed heavily on my foot with a metallic clang. I ignored the pain as I squatted on the floor to scoop up the letter once more. My tear-filled eyes scanned the letter again and again, sure I'd read the words incorrectly-
I wasn't mistaken. I wasn't dreaming. All of my hard work the past year - keeping a low profile at the expense of my social life, training like a machine - had paid off. I was going to play for England. I'd have a shot at winning the Quidditch World Cup.
The excitement was so overwhelming I didn't know if I was going to laugh or cry as I tried to think of who to tell first - but it was clearly apparent to me, as I stood alone in my little cottage, that the most important person couldn't have been further away.
"Congratulations, Weasley," my team captain toasted me, and the small gathering of people at The Leaky Cauldron raised their glasses while I blushed profusely.
The team had insisted on cutting practice short and treating me to a butterbeer when I announced my news to them this morning, and my brothers, Hermione and Luna had turned out as well shortly after. I was touched that they'd all taken time out of their busy schedules for me on such short notice - though it was clear that George had ulterior motives, if the way he'd spent the afternoon flirting with my teammates was any indication. I couldn't help but roll my eyes at his antics, especially since he was attempting to wing-man for Percy - who wasn't having a bar of it.
"It's a travesty that Natalia wasn't selected for the national team too, wouldn't you say, Perce?" George put his arm around Natalia Ivashkov, the Harpies' Keeper, while she blushed deeply at his attention.
Percy's response was quick and sharp. "She can't play for England."
"Not with that attitude," George wagged a finger at Percy.
"She's from Russia," Percy said, his tone exasperated.
George gasped, as though Natalia's thick accent hadn't made this fact painfully obvious already, then gave Percy a hard jab in the ribs which succeeded in knocking Percy's glasses askew. "Surely you could pull some strings for her, eh, Perce? You've got lots of sway as Head of International Magical Cooperation, I'm sure."
"Might I remind you that we're here to celebrate your sister making the team?" Hermione told George peevishly, clearly sick of George's baiting - and the suggestion of rules being broken.
George merely waved his hand, his gaze still fixated on Natalia. "We don't need to celebrate - we all knew she'd make it eventually."
I stuck my leg out, kicking George's chair hard enough that it rocked precariously and he almost lost his drink attempting to steady himself. "Your confidence in me is inspiring."
"It's what incorrigible big brothers are for," George replied with a sly grin, then turned back to Hermione. "You need to loosen up! Here, I'll buy you a firewhiskey."
"She's pregnant!" Ron interjected, clearly horrified by the joke, while Hermione huffed in disapproval.
George was unrepentant. "I'd need a drink, too, if another person was growing inside me."
I snickered. "No need to tell us all about your sex-life, George."
The whole group laughed, while George's teasing eyes landed squarely on me. "Now that you mention it - where is Draco?"
I blushed, even as the foreign emptiness I'd felt this morning bore down on me once more. "He had a meeting," I told George, hoping my lie hadn't come too slowly.
"The git didn't even bother to show up," Ron accused, and I couldn't help my scowl at the attack.
"He probably didn't want to be harassed by all of you," Hermione said in my defence. I caught her eye and could clearly tell she'd seen through my lie. "I'm going to go to the bathroom."
"I'll come," I said, getting to my feet and helping her out of her chair - Hermione had gotten so big that she often told me she felt like an invalid, and I couldn't disagree with her. The thought of my own body betraying me like that seemed abhorrent.
"Why do women always need go to the bathroom together?" Ron asked as we stood.
"It's so we can talk about you," Luna told him sagely, before taking a long sip of her butterbeer, and I couldn't help but snort at her blunt honesty as we made our way across the bar.
"Alright, what's going on?" Hermione got straight to the point when we entered the ladies'.
I sighed, propping my hip against the countertop and crossing my arms as Hermione made her way into one of the bathroom stalls. "Draco and I had a disagreement, of sorts."
"Well, I can't imagine that would be good for your facade. What did you argue about?"
"I don't know, exactly. We didn't really even get to the argument - I could feel it coming, and instead of pushing him I let it go."
I heard the toilet flush and Hermione emerged from the cubicle a moment later. I moved to one side of the cramped room so that she could wash her hands. "Maybe that's the trouble," she said, thoughtfully. "If you asked any one of your brothers, they'd tell you that you'd argue your point until you were blue in the face."
"But that's the whole point of my working with Draco; I'm picking my battles and learning to be more diplomatic when it comes to matters I don't agree with, just like he taught me. Things were so nice and pleasant this morning and I just didn't want to ruin it."
Hermione crossed her arms while she looked at me disapprovingly, still managing to look intimidating in spite of her swollen stomach. "Ginevra Weasley, did Draco Malfoy stay the night at your house?"
I winced, realising I'd indiscreetly telegraphed 'I fucked Draco Malfoy' to Hermione when I'd admitted we'd been together this morning. Instead of being ashamed, as was my knee-jerk reaction, I straightened. "Yes, he did."
She blinked at me, her disapproval slowly dissolving into shock. For once in her life, it seemed she'd been rendered speechless.
"Is there something wrong with that?" I asked her, my tone clipped.
She paused in a way that told me there was definitely something wrong with that before she responded with another question. "I just - I thought this was all for the cameras?"
I shrugged, reluctant to share any details of the real relationship - if you could even call it that - Draco and I had somehow cultivated. "Not all of it, evidently."
Hermione continued to look stunned. "I just can't believe it. You hated him only months ago."
"Things change, I guess," I sighed, thinking not only of how much Draco had grown since school, but how much I had as well. How much we shared in common. "People change."
"Well, I suppose that explains his behaviour this morning. He must really like you."
I frowned at her while she briskly dried her hands on a paper towel. "What do you mean?"
"Maybe Draco was offended that you weren't being yourself with him."
I opened my mouth, ready to contradict her, but I knew she was right. What I wasn't sure of was how I could fix the situation.
Mulling my options over, Hermione and I left the bathroom to rejoin our boisterous group. Noting several empty glasses scattered across the table, I made my way to the bar to buy another round of drinks instead.
The Leaky Cauldron wasn't terribly busy yet, so it wasn't a long wait for Hannah Abbott - who'd started working here only recently after spending the last few years abroad - to serve me. I patiently waited while she served up a half-dozen pints of butterbeer, only to have a familiar voice interrupt my thoughts.
"Congratulations, Ginny," the deep voice said to my left, and I jumped, taken by surprise as Theodore Nott sidled up beside me at the bar.
"Theo!" I exclaimed, smiling somewhat-nervously as he leant in to kiss my cheek in greeting. "What a surprise to see you here."
"I was just passing through after a meeting and happened to see your brothers and teammates. I assumed you had to be nearby, since they're undoubtedly celebrating your selection."
"How did you hear about that already?" I asked him, genuinely surprised. "I only received my invitation this morning."
"Ah, you forget, Ginny: I know everything." He smirked at me. "At least, I'd heard a rumour, but your present company merely confirms it."
I laughed. "I am stunned at your skills of deduction. You must have been a Ravenclaw in a past life."
"I doubt it," Theo disagreed. "If that were true, I'd have figured out the cause of Draco's foul mood by now."
"You know him better than I do."
"Ah, but I believe you were the last one to see him before he resurfaced this morning."
I tried not to frown as Theo pursued his line of questioning. He was obviously trying to get information out of me, but I wasn't sure if he was trying to figure out how deeply Draco and I were involved or the real cause of Draco's allegedly bad mood. Perhaps it was something else entirely.
"Well, who knows with him. I'm sure he'll get over it eventually." I shrugged, attempting to look blasé as I changed the topic. "If he's really all that bad, you should come join us for a while before you're forced to face his ire again."
Theo's glance slid back to my group briefly. "Uh - no, that's fine. Perhaps I'll barricade myself in my office instead."
I smiled. "Best of luck with that. I'll see you later."
He bade me farewell just as Hannah finished with my order, and I was greeted with great praise as I returned to my friends and family with replenished drinks.
"Was that Theodore Nott?" Ron asked me as he helped himself to a pint and I took my chair once more. "You're like a magnet for gits these days, Gin."
"Clearly," I agreed with a pointed look back at him, though he didn't notice.
"You do seem to run into him an awful lot," Hermione chipped in.
"That man turns up in the strangest places," Luna said, nodding. "It's a shame he wouldn't come over to say hello."
I smiled, thinking back on when he'd accompanied me to her office a few weeks ago. "I don't think it classifies as strange if he's accompanying someone you know."
"I ran into him a few weeks ago while I was investigating a story on a nargle infestation at King's Cross station, actually. We had a nice chat about anonymous tips and article submissions," Luna elaborated, innocently. "I didn't realise he was so interested in journalism."
My frown was immediate at this revelation. From what I'd gleaned from mine and Theo's budding friendship, he wasn't interested in the slightest - aside from the fact I'd genuinely enjoyed it, Theo's severe lack of enthusiasm for writing and reporting was the main reason why I'd been the one to pen all of the opinion articles for Luna's magazine. Not to mention the location they'd happened upon each other; the only time wizards went there was on September first. "When?" I asked, trying to control the tremor in my voice. "When was your meeting?"
"Oh, it was the morning after you introduced him to me at The Quibbler."
I sat back in my chair, flummoxed, as the conversation continued without me. I'd introduced Theo and Luna the same day that Draco and I had gone out to dinner - and the photos leaking our 'secret relationship' had been published days later.
"Ginny?" Hermione interrupted my thoughts. "What's wrong? You've gone awfully pale."
I shook my head slowly, trying to think of an explanation while I attempted to tamp my sudden fury. For some reason I didn't want to blurt out my suspicions to my nearest and dearest; maybe it was petty, but I didn't want to confirm their allegations against Theo because I knew it would reflect badly on Draco, too.
And Draco… Last night at the benefit Draco had said he'd had a suspicion about Theo. I hadn't pressed him for information because I'd trusted he'd had his reasons for not sharing whatever it was he'd suspected Theo of, but then, I suppose I trusted Theo enough not to double-cross me with something like this.
Draco. I needed to talk to Draco.
Standing, I grabbed my backpack which held all my Quidditch gear. "I just remembered, I had an appointment to get to this afternoon. Thank you guys so much for celebrating with me."
I hurried out of the pub and into Diagon Alley before anyone could question my flimsy excuse, ready to apparate straight to Malfoy Enterprises - but, no, I didn't want to risk running into Theo again.
Raking a hand down my ponytail as I considered my options, I apparated home instead, bolting straight into the kitchen to jot down a note.
Need to talk to you immediately. It's urgent. -Ginny
I rushed back out the door again, all of the dodging back and forth mixing with my anger and making me feel light-headed. Pushing through the discomfort, I found Lionel perched on his roost and strapped the note to his leg with shaking hands.
"Hurry," I couldn't help but plead with the bird.
Lionel's big round eyes flitted about, as though he were rolling them at my erratic behaviour, then with a strong flap of his wings he took flight to deliver my missive.
I wasn't sure how long I stood there, staring at Lionel's retreating figure as he flew away towards the horizon. The sky was hazy with dense, silvery clouds and it was difficult to make out the arc of his wing as they moved through the air, but I continued to watch and will him to go faster.
Soon enough, his small body grew so distant that I couldn't distinguish him from the clouds. Then I sunk down onto my back doorstep, where Draco and I had shared such a poignant moment only hours before, dropped my head into my hands and waited.
"Ginevra?" a voice asked, and I raised my head to see Draco's ghostly figure emerging from the darkness. He was still in his suit, and I could tell he had rushed over from work, the faint flush of his cheeks the only sign of his exertion.
I glanced about, my brow furrowed at the gloom that had set in - I wasn't sure that it was night time just yet, but the weather had taken a turn and it was impossible to make out the glow of the sun through the swirling sea of grey above us.
"Ginny?" Draco repeated my name as he approached me, and my attention snapped back to him.
I stood, brushing away whatever remnants of dirt had collected on the seat of my pants, and opened the door for him. The vast divide that had sprung up between us this morning was still so firmly in place that I wasn't sure how to greet him, so I said the only thing that I could think of. "Can I get you a cup of tea?"
He shook his head, and when I gestured for him to take a seat, he only put his hands in his trouser pockets and leaned a hip against the kitchen counter. I wasn't sure how to proceed, so I opted to keep my hands busy and make a cup of tea for myself instead.
"You had something urgent to talk about?" Draco said coolly, and I thought I heard a dull thud as my heart fell into my stomach at his tone.
"Yes," I said, filling the kettle with water, then setting it to boil. I turned, wanting to see his expression following my next sentence. "It was Theo, wasn't it?"
Judging from his lack of reaction, there was no doubt about what 'it' was. There was a long pause as Draco worked hard to keep his face neutral, then eventually the corners of his mouth twisted into a frown.
Abruptly, he sunk into the closest chair at the dining table and shrugged out of his suit jacket. He watched me with unease as he loosened his tie. "I don't know definitively, but I suspect so."
I thought back to the conversation we'd had - had it only been last night? The one I'd been replaying in my head repeatedly since I'd arrived home from the pub today. Draco'd had his reasons for not sharing with me, and I respected that he'd been hesitant to confide in me when the accusation could have been unfounded... but it still felt as though I'd been manipulated somehow. "You should have told me," I said flatly.
Draco hooked one elbow over the back of his chair, his other long arm stretched across the table as he tapped one finger against the table top. His expression was unapologetic. "I never had any proof that it was him - I'd only suspected."
"It was him." My tone was glum as the kettle finished boiling, and I fixed myself my tea then joined Draco at the table. "Luna ran into him at King's Cross station days before the magazine was published; he asked her a lot of questions about anonymous tipping. There was no other reason for him to be there."
I stirred my tea while Draco mulled over that information. While he was distracted with his thoughts, I took advantage in order to assess him slyly from beneath my lowered lashes. It was pathetic, but I couldn't help the tiny thrill that he'd thawed a little following the most recent crisis. He felt that tiny bit more within my reach.
"I've long suspected that Nott was hiding something," Draco began, startling me, and when I lifted my head to assess him fully I could notice the tense set of his shoulders. "Long before you ever came into my life. As far as I was concerned, whatever was happening in Nott's personal life wasn't any business of mine provided it didn't impact me professionally or personally. It wasn't until the article was released of our dinner - with photos, no less - that I decided to delve into the matter. Theo was the only person who was aware we had an engagement that day, however the few connections I have at that rag of a magazine refused to confirm my suspicions. It could have been a coincidence that the press were after me that day, but I find the world is rarely so accommodating.
"Since I was unable to produce any firm evidence, I focused on his motivation instead. I simply couldn't fathom why Theo would go to the trouble," Draco sighed, as though to prolong providing me with his next nugget of information. "Theo keeps a second residence away from the Nott estate - he takes special care not to lead anyone there directly, but he's been a little lax of late. I expect he has a little too much on his plate."
I frowned. "I don't understand what that has to do with selling us out, though."
"It's his motivation. Whatever secrets dwell within that house are the reason for his deception."
We sat there, silently, as I digested the information. Could I believe that Draco's suspicions were founded? Absolutely. Did I want to believe that the man I'd put my faith in over Draco had betrayed me like that? Not so much. But then, I supposed that I'd asked Draco to come to me and I'd never had a doubt that he wouldn't have flown to my side the second he was able to, in spite of the disagreement this morning - so maybe I had more faith in Draco than I'd realised.
"You should have told me," was the only thing I could think to say.
Draco shrugged, unapologetic. "I didn't want to distract you from the bigger picture. Besides, I was concerned you would confront Theo and make things quite awkward for the three of us."
"I would not!" I denied with a scowl, even though we both knew full well I would have. Draco's mouth twitched in answer, as though he could see straight through me. "So," I continued, taking a deep breath. "You obviously don't think I should do anything about this?"
He shrugged again. "I'd advise against it. I don't think it's a smart idea to alienate anyone willing to help us - not yet, at least."
I thought back to the progress we'd actually managed to make in gathering support to fight the laws. While we'd worked hard so far, the lack of tangible progress was disheartening.
I nodded after a moment of contemplation. "Alright. I'll leave it alone - for now - but on one condition," I said. Draco raised a brow, clearly unwilling to commit to my terms without an idea of what they were. "We're going to find out what Theo is so desperately covering up."
"To what purpose?"
"Leverage," I told him, lifting my chin. "I want to be fully informed if- no, when the time comes to confront Theo, and I'll need something to persuade him against turning on us when that happens."
Draco nodded, his expression respectful. "I agree."
"Okay," I took a deep breath, wondering where on earth to start.
He cleared his throat, clearly having caught on to my uncertainty. "I might suggest that you ask for some guidance from your Auror contacts. I would have done so already, but I'm afraid that those who were present at the forefront of the second war have longer memories than most. Someone discreet would be most suitable, of course."
I nodded, understanding his meaning - and only dreading it a little bit. Harry and I weren't on bad terms, but I hadn't spent more than a handful of minutes alone with him in years. "Good idea."
Draco smirked at me as he shifted topics, though his expression was somewhat resentful. "You know, I wasn't sure from your note whether or not you invited me over to share good news or bad news with me. I'd suspected from the tone that it was the latter, but I got you this just in case." His hand moved to his suit jacket, and he removed a tiny, rectangular box. Once he'd enlarged it to its normal size, he passed it to me. "Congratulations, Ginny."
I blushed, having all but forgotten about this morning's good news in light of the drama with Theo. "Draco. You shouldn't have."
"I wanted to," he replied simply, then gestured for me to open it.
When I removed the lid of the box I blinked down at the gift in stunned silence.
"It's a typewriter," Draco explained as though he weren't sure how to interpret my lack of response, though he needn't have bothered since my father had owned several dilapidated models when I was younger. "I thought it would be more efficient than writing with a quill, for all of your articles for the Quibbler. I hope you'll keep fighting for justice with me by night, even though you've become a Quidditch phenomenon. It's charmed so it won't run out of ink and parchment, too."
My fingers hovered over deep mahogany wood and gold embossed letters, almost afraid to touch it since it was eternally more beautiful than anything my father had ever possessed. It looked too delicate for the abuse I was sure my writing would bring, but I was surprised that Draco had gone to the trouble of picking something so functional for me - and a muggle contraption, no less. He must have rushed out to purchase it the second he'd heard of my selection to play for England. "I love it," I told him, honestly.
The corner of his mouth hitched at my simple response. "You've forgotten your tea," Draco remarked as he nodded to my untouched teacup.
I looked down at it, slowly touching my tongue to my lips. "I'm not in the mood for tea," I said as I stood, walking around the table to stand by his side. My hand smoothed across his shoulder and down his arm, taking his own in mine.
His gaze heated instantly as he allowed me to pull him to his feet. "What are you in the mood for?"
Our bodies entwined as I contemplated his question, and I felt the thick weight of his erection against my thigh. "Something harder," I told him, with a smirk.
Draco snorted at my idiotic pun, though his hands moved to my hips in order to pull me more firmly against his body nonetheless. "You are ridiculous," he told me, his voice affectionate as he lowered his face to mine.
He didn't give me a chance to respond as he captured my lips with his, and I couldn't muster any ire that he managed to steal the last word. Draco Malfoy was a distraction that I could easily lose myself in, but I was an all-too-willing victim. I clutched at his shirt as we kissed, ran my fingers through his hair, revelling in the way I felt him come undone at my touch. This was the connection I'd missed so keenly only hours earlier.
Draco pressed my body against the kitchen table, kicking his abandoned chair away and hoisting me up so that I sat on the table's edge, kissing me all the while. I ran my tongue along his lips greedily, desperate for more of what he had to offer. His shirt slid to the floor moments later, before he tugged the hem of my top up, helping it over my head and pulling my hair half loose in the process.
I pushed away the stray locks that clung to my wetted lips, unconcerned with how unsightly it might look, but had to bite my lip in order to stifle a laugh when I caught Draco's expression while he stared down at my already bare chest.
"I hate wearing a bra after Quidditch training," I told him, enjoying his gaze on my body as I leant back onto the table and stretched my arms above my head, although I missed the contact of his skin on mine.
"Bras are wholly overrated," Draco agreed with a smirk, then leant over me in order to take one taut nipple between his teeth. My breath hitched at the contact, and I threaded my fingers through his hair as his hands tightened on my waist. "Promise me you'll never wear one again."
"I'll think about it," I told him, slyly, only to moan his name a moment later as he lavished attention on my body. My legs wrapped around his torso in order to pull his hips tight against mine and he groaned in response, bucking in an involuntary movement that made a delicious jolt of pleasure shoot from the juncture of my thighs.
His lips left my breast as he hefted his body over me, mouth capturing mine again while he removed both of our pants with single-minded intent. His fingers splayed across my stomach, smooth down between my legs to test the moisture there, and I groaned again at the contact. "I'm ready," I told him, my voice full of need as I reached for him.
Draco kissed me once more before propping himself up on his forearms so I could see him more easily and positioning himself at my entrance - the tip of his cock teasing me as he slid between my slick folds - before pushing into me with a hard thrust.
His lips parted on a deep sigh as he entered me fully and his gaze searched mine, his crystalline eyes full of so much devotion it made my heart ache. I lifted my hand to his cheek, my thumb pulling across his lower lip, hoping I wasn't mistaken.
Slowly, he wrapped his arm around my waist, and the earth moved again.
Much later, I rolled onto my stomach and bunched my pillow beneath my head, my eyes growing heavy as Draco and I lay in bed together. I felt so connected to him after our intimacy that talking wasn't necessary - our physicality was simply enough.
"The next Wizengamot meeting is next week," Draco told me later while he lazily traced wand movements across my lower back. Lumos...Reparo... alohomora…
My eyes fluttered open and I turned my head so I was no longer facing away from him, though I grew breathless when I saw the intense way his eyes burned through me. I swallowed hard, my throat suddenly dry. "It's on the first of every month, isn't it?"
Wingardium Leviosa. "I was thinking perhaps we should organize a protest."
I nodded in agreement. "Will you come?" I asked him, hesitantly. I was well aware that Draco had never intended to take a personal stand against the laws - he had made his circumstance and intention plainly clear to me from day one and he hadn't truly been forced to be an active participant in our little rebellion - but I couldn't help the almost childish question. Although I was brash enough to turn up and run the show, I was still terrified no one would come - that no one would hear us.
Draco's hand hovered over my skin, radiating warmth as he considered my question. I tried to hide the desperation in my expression - I knew Draco had some respect for me, and I didn't want him to think I was as weak as I felt. A swell of deep affection filled my chest when he ever so slowly, he lowered his hand to my back again, resuming his lazy drawing in a reassuring manner. Incendio. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
AN: Apologies again for the long wait between updates. Life got in the way again, as usual, and I was really uninspired by the last 2000 words or so of this story (although I like them the best of the whole chapter. I think there is some irony or something in there somewhere).
Obviously with all the stuff going on in the world in the past year, this story has become very tragically relevant to the 21st century, so I am going to endeavour to update it more regularly.
Thanks as always to idreamofdraco especially as she helped me pull together some semblance of plot in the last section of this chapter. All feedback is appreciated – thanks for reading. :)