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Be of Good Cheer by Fearthainn
... by Fearthainn
Author's Note: For the D/G Ficmas, 2003. Thank you to Beccafran and Emily for the swift betas. This was originally intended to be last year's Ficmas, but I couldn't finish it in time for the deadline, so I decided to recycle it for this year.
Be Of Good Cheer
It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you
Be of good cheer!
It's the most wonderful time of the year
—It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, Eddie Pola & George Wyle
"It's the hap-happiest season of all, with those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to caaaall! It's the hap-happiest season of aaaaaall!"
Draco stifled a long-suffering sigh as he dusted snow off his cloak and hat. He could hear Weasley all the way down the hall, singing happily at the top of her lungs. He nodded to one or two people in the corridor as he passed, shedding his outer layers—cloak, scarf and gloves—as he climbed the stairs to the office he shared with Weasley. They were both junior officials on the Committee on Experimental Charms and shared out of necessity; the tight quarters the Ministry of Magic was occupying these days gave rise to some creative uses of space. Two years after the end of Voldemort's war the Ministry was still finding its legs, as was the rest of the Wizarding world. Voldemort and his minions had managed to destroy the old Ministry buildings as well as half the shops on Diagon Alley before Harry Potter and Dumbledore had managed to put a stop to them, at great cost to everyone involved.
Not that such things put a damper on Ginny Weasley's Christmas spirit.
"There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and caroling out in the snow! There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago!" Draco stopped in the doorway of their shared office and watched as Weasley spun in a little circle, winding up her song. "It's the most wonderful time, the most wonderful time! It's the most wonderful tiiiiime of the year!" She stopped, flushed and happy, beaming at him. "Good morning!" she trilled. "It's finally Christmas Eve!"
Draco scowled at her. "I do hope you don't plan on singing all day." He didn't know why he bothered anymore. Scowls had no effect on the youngest Weasley, as he'd learned when the invasion of his office had begun last summer. Then it had been hand-picked wildflowers on her desk and cooing over the birds that flocked to the seeds she spread on the windowsill. In September and October, it had been the changing colours of autumn, jack-o-lanterns and Hallowe'en decorations, and mid-way through November the holly wreaths and pine boughs had begun making appearances.
"Oh, pooh, Malfoy. You're such a Scrooge." Weasley laughed and danced back to her chair, humming under her breath. Her half of the office was festooned with Christmas decorations, from holly boughs to ribbons to a string of dancing snowmen lit from within. She'd even managed to smuggle a tiny pine tree in, which she'd stationed under the window and decorated with gold garlands and red glass teardrop-shaped ornaments. She had also scrounged up a few green ones and a tatty silver garland as well—Slytherin colours, just for him. Draco had sighed and rolled his eyes, but forbore to comment on the fact that the tree encroached on his side of the office—it would be downright churlish to comment on that small infraction after emerging triumphant in the battle of the mistletoe
Despite that defeat and undaunted by Draco's surly attitude, Weasley had even made a sign for his desk, festooned with hand-drawn holly sprigs, a twinkling Christmas tree in Slytherin colours and the words "Mr. Grinch" written on it in curly letters. She'd set it on the edge of his desk where his name plate usually went not long after the mistletoe fiasco, and seemed to derive a great deal of amusement from it. Draco didn't understand the reference, but it must have been some sort of Muggle thing—Granger had collapsed into peals of laughter when she'd first seen it. Draco had, of course, scowled and ignored her.
He had lots of practice ignoring Granger. She worked in the Improper Use of Magic Office, a floor up, and dropped by every few hours to chat, something Draco suspected she did because she didn't like the idea of Weasley spending her days alone with him. Not that Granger needed to worry on that score; Draco had no interest in the youngest Weasley. None at all. The girl was an upstart, landing her position on the Committee scant months after her graduation from Hogwarts and rapidly turning Draco's orderly career upside down.
Draco himself had come a long way since he'd first climbed the steps of the makeshift Ministry in search of a job after the war ended; from being a suspected Death Eater to a valued member of an important committee. Granted, he had to share his office with Weasley but it was certainly preferable to Azkaban, where his parents now resided—and not for the first time. The thought of his parents, and a lonely Christmas spent in an echoing Malfoy Manor, were enough to put him in a terrible mood, even without Weasley's caterwauling.
At present it was the caterwauling that was making Draco scowl as he hung his cloak on the hook behind the door, next to Weasley's chocolate brown one. "I don't see how not wanting to be subjected to your charming singing voice can be construed as being Scrooge-like, whatever that means," he said haughtily, ignoring the stifled giggle behind him. He made his way over to his own desk and surveyed the stack of papers in his in-box. "I see Thorson's been by."
"Oh. Has he ever," Weasley replied. "We've got a meeting scheduled for three about the latest testing, and he wants us both to have reports ready." She spared an expressive eye-roll for their superior's request. "That's what all the paper's for, that and the results from the last round of new Charms the development team's come up with."
Draco sighed and sat down, pulling the first report off the top of the stack. "The fun never stops," he said wryly, and set to work. Weasley giggled and settled down at her own desk, and soon the only noise was the companionable scratching of quills.
Granger came by at lunch, Weasley frère and Potter in tow, to collect Weasley soeur and head down to Fortesque's for lunch. Potter, Weasley and Granger came by for lunch routinely, as Granger worked just upstairs and Potter and Weasley were both Aurors and worked down in the basement when they weren't gallivanting around the countryside chasing...whatever. After the first few encounters with Draco, their method for dealing with him had become routine as well—they politely ignored Draco, and Draco not-so-politely ignored them, which suited everyone just fine.
It was easier, of course, when they didn't hang about the office making a nuisance of themselves while Weasley collected her things.
"I'm so sorry...we've got a meeting after lunch, and I've been nose-deep in reports all morning. Just let me get my things," Weasley said, as her brother and Potter followed Granger in and draped themselves across the available wall space. There wasn't enough room for all of them on Weasley's side of the room, so Draco was treated to a view of Potter's scrawny back, inches away from the edge of his desk. He glowered at it, just for old time's sake.
"Oh, there's no hurry," Granger replied. "Fudge is talking about letting us go early today, what with the party tonight, so we were thinking of taking a long lunch. Can you?"
Draco frowned in disapproval. Figured that they'd all get to go cavorting around doing nothing all afternoon while some people actually did work. Weasley glanced at him and smiled. "We don't get that luxury," she said. "Meeting at three, and a whole pile of reports to get through before then, and who knows what Thorson will have for us afterward."
Granger had the nerve to make sympathetic noises, and Weasley shook his great ugly head. "Can't you skip out, Gin?" As though Draco wasn't sitting right there, listening to him suggest the girl abandon him to do all the work. Draco huffed.
Weasley shook her head and cast another amused glance at Draco. He hated that she found his irritation so entertaining, something she damned well knew. "I don't think so, Ron. Mr. Thorson would certainly notice if I didn't show up to the meeting. I know you think it's mad, but I actually enjoy my job and want to keep it."
The expression on Weasley's face indicated that he did indeed think his sister was mad. "S'not fair that he's making you work. It's Christmas Eve! And the party! Everyone's been invited—everyone's going to be there. Why can't he let you go early for once?"
"I don't think Mr. Thorson cares about that, Ron," Weasley replied, flashing a small, wry smile. Thorson was a notorious task-master, and he had no living family. The holidays meant as little to him as they did to Draco; with parents in Azkaban and most of his friends fled or captured, Christmas was a bleak season and not a joyous one. (He'd even said as much to Ginny, when the decorations had begun appearing, but she'd looked so distraught that he hadn't mentioned it again. He was half-afraid she'd try to invite him to spend Christmas with her family—Draco couldn't think of a worse fate.)
"That's because he's a bloody rotten—" Weasley's opinion of Thorson was cut short as the little group of Draco-torturers was joined by the worst one of all.
Daily Prophet reporter, photography student, and Ginny Weasley's boyfriend.
Draco hated him.
Creevey bounced into the room and grinned at the assembled crowd, and Draco transferred his glare from Potter's back to the interloper. Creevey's smile faded slightly, and he shifted uncomfortably as he glanced toward Draco's desk. "Hey Ron, Hermione. Ginny." Draco gritted his teeth at the possessive note in Creevey's tone as he said Weasley's name, and his glare intensified. As though he could sense Draco's antagonism, Creevey shifted so that he was hidden behind Potter.
"Hello, Colin!" Weasley said brightly, and stopped in the act of pulling her cloak over her shoulders to allow Creevey to kiss her on the cheek. "I didn't know you were coming!"
"Well, I knew you were having lunch and thought I'd stop by as well." Creevey waved at the assorted Gryffindors. "Mind if I join you?"
"Oh, of course, Colin!" Granger said cheerfully. "You're always welcome, you know that."
Draco suppressed a derisive snort, and flashed Weasley a smirk when she frowned at him behind the backs of the Gryffindors littering the office. He'd probably hear about it later, but for now he allowed himself the luxury of making nasty faces, at Potter and Creevey in particular, while they got themselves sorted out and left Draco to contemplate his reports in peace.
Except he wasn't contemplating his reports so much as he was contemplating the empty half of the office, covered as it was in decorations and pine needles and all the little things that Weasley had arranged here and there that made the whole room seem cozy and welcoming and a pleasant place to work. And it was a pleasant place to work, more so than it had been before her cheerful, teasing, laughing arrival in his life. He could have done without the other things her presence brought—Granger and Potter, that idiot Creevey, an endless stream of other Weasleys—but on the whole, she made an improvement.
Draco sighed heavily and frowned at his quill. He didn't know where this fascination with all things Weasley had come from. After all, she wasn't even pretty. Granted, the normally obnoxious Weasley hair was a softer red-gold in her long, straight locks, but she was far too pale for his tastes, and those freckles on her nose were positively vulgar. She did have some pretty features; rich chocolate eyes and a mouth made for kissing—not that he'd thought about it—but her eyelashes tended to fade out if she forgot to use spells, and one of her incisors was crooked. It was painfully noticeable when she laughed, which she did incessantly—one of her many annoying traits. She was insufferably cheerful all the time, always laughing and giggling and talking. Unbelievably grating. She also turned a very unattractive shade of red when she was angry, and her face got all blotchy when she cried. And if one were a diligent and careful observer, one would see that her right ear was a good 3 mm higher than the left.
Not that he'd noticed.
Draco scowled down at his report, jabbing angrily at the parchment with his quill. He was not interested in Ginny Weasley. At all. And he wasn't going to sit around feeling cheated that she was going to some stupid party with Creevey, who was an odious and horrid little bastard if ever there was one. With a silent growl, he threw himself into his work with a vengeance.
Draco's funk lasted through lunch and most of the way through the afternoon, barely dented by Weasley's unrelenting cheerfulness. Even Thorson letting them go a full hour early didn't cheer him up—not when the prospect of an empty Manor and solitary dinner awaited him. He apparated home with a non-committal grunt at Weasley's happy farewell, wondering as he arrived in his silent front hall if he should dwell on the fun evening she was no doubt about to have with her little pissant of a boyfriend and work himself into a really terrible mood.
The Manor was dark and still, without even servants or house elves to break the endless quiet—the Malfoy luck had taken a serious down-turn in the years after the war. The stone halls and drafty, wood-paneled rooms seeming to mock Draco with their very emptiness. He paced through the library and into his father's old study, stopping to stand at the edge of the huge oak desk that dominated the room. Once it had held his father's notes and papers. Now it stood empty, another reminder of the emptiness of Draco's life now. He sighed heavily and spun on his heel, making his way through the echoing halls to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich.
Draco ate at the long wooden table in the cavernous kitchen, munching thoughtfully on his sandwich as he flipped through the reports he'd brought home. It was a bit of a pointless endeavour really; most of what he needed to work on them was at the office. Of course, there wasn't much reason to be at home, and the office was more...well. More Christmassy. Draco allowed himself a smile as he pictured the small room, festooned as it was with Weasley's decorations. Quiet, peaceful...homey. And he'd probably get a lot more done there than he would here, with the weight of the ancient manor settling around him like an oppressive blanket.
He should go back to the Ministry, where he could work comfortably, surrounded by all the information he needed, with the added bonus of pleasant surroundings. Draco tapped his quill against the table as he thought about it, then nodded decisively. There was no sense at all in staying here—he'd pack himself a meal and go back to the office. Decision made, he scrounged up some food and gathered up his reports, apparating back to the Ministry with laden arms.
The lamp in their office was on, Draco noticed as he climbed the stairs, sending a small fan of golden light into the darkened hallway. He raised his eyebrows in surprise. That was odd. He couldn't imagine anyone else being here at this hour, not with the party going on. He stopped just outside the reach of the light, peering into the room. Weasley was there, standing in the centre of the room and shaking out her cloak, apparently having just arrived.
Draco came forward to lean against the door-jamb. "Hello."
"Oh!" Weasley jumped and spun around, one hand pressed to her heart. "Draco! I didn't expect to see you back here." She smiled warmly at him, and Draco allowed himself a small smile back.
"What are you doing here?" Draco asked. She shouldn't be here, not dressed as she was. "I didn't think the party was being held at the Ministry."
That earned him a silvery laugh. "Oh, it isn't, I'm just meeting Colin. What do you think of my robes?" She spun in a small circle—the robes in question were creamy white, fitted to accentuate her curvaceous figure but otherwise unadorned. Her red hair was drawn back from her face and tumbled over her shoulders like living flame, sprinkled with tiny white flowers. She looked like an angel.
"You look beautiful," he said honesty, and was mildly gratified to see her face light up.
"Why thank you, Draco. You look quite handsome yourself," Weasley replied. Draco raised a sardonic eyebrow—he was still wearing his work robes. "Are you coming to the party?"
"No," he said, more sharply than he'd intended. He turned and sat at his desk, shuffling the reports piled on his blotter. "I've no interest in standing around all evening making small talk with people whose opinions don't matter. Why are you here, Weasley? I would have thought Creevey would pick you up at your house."
Weasley shrugged one shoulder. "He was going to, but I have some things to finish up before we go, and he's going to meet me here." She sounded calm, but there was something off about her... energy, for lack of a better word. She seemed almost nervous, fluttering more than usual, even for her.
Draco raised his eyebrows. "Working on Christmas Eve?"
She stopped fluttering and gazed at him steadily. "You are."
And how to explain that he was here because their office was brighter and warmer than home? That he'd wanted to spend his evening idly going over reports and looking at the rampant greenery she'd strung up on her side of the office, because it was better than staring at the cold, gray, Manor walls? Draco cleared his throat gruffly. "Unlike certain people, who seem to find these sentimental holidays great fun, I've got more important things to think about."
Weasley's face fell. "How can work be more important than spending Christmas with your family and people you care about?" she demanded.
How naïve was the girl? Draco met her eyes and raised one eyebrow. He was mildly gratified to see her blush as she remembered where his family was. She looked as though she was about to say something else, so Draco dropped his eyes and picked up his quill. He heard her let out a frustrated sigh, and the scratch of her own quill on paper.
They sat in silence for several minutes, each working steadily on their own projects, until Draco raised his head at the faint scratch of claws at the window. "Owl," he said laconically, and Weasley got up to let the bird in. Draco let his gaze drop back to his work as she detached the parchment from the owl's leg, only to look up again a moment later as Weasley made a small distressed noise. She was turned away from him, so that he couldn't see her face—whatever the letter was, it couldn't be good news. There was another small noise that sounded suspiciously like a sob, and Weasley fled the room, leaving the letter on her desk.
"Accio letter," Draco said softly, and the bit of parchment flew into his hand. He scanned it quickly and frowned.
I'm sorry to do this at the last minute, but I can't take you to the party after all. My cousin Flora—you remember Flora, of course, darling—has asked to go, and I can't say no. She's family. You understand, and I'll make it up to you another time.
This meant, of course, that the little bastard was skipping out on her, and the stupid girl had probably run off to cry over the git. Draco crumpled the letter in his hand. Bloody, stupid girl.
To her credit, Weasley didn't hide out in the toilet for long. Several minutes later, she came back in, carefully not looking at Draco, and sat down at her desk, shuffling the papers covering it without really looking at them. Draco watched her for a moment, noting the flush in her cheeks and the way she was biting her lower lip and struggling to keep her breathing steady. He sighed heavily and stood up, coming 'round the edge of his own desk to stand beside Weasley's. "Creevey's not coming." He supposed he could have tried to make it sound like a question, but he didn't see the point.
"You guessed?" she asked softly, sniffling. Draco waved the letter at her wordlessly. Weasley—oh, hell. If he was going to play nursemaid, he might as well call her by name. Ginny sighed and lowered her head onto her desk, thumping it gently against her blotter. "I can't believe he'd do this. I mean, I knew about Flora, I pretty well expected that, but I didn't think he'd do this to me." She waved one hand to indicate the letter. "And I really wanted to go." She sounded heartbroken.
"He's a jerk," Draco muttered. He dropped the letter beside her head and leaned against the edge, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers.
"He's not a jerk," Ginny protested to the blotter.
"He is too."
"He is not!"
"Why are you arguing with me?" Ginny demanded, raising her blotchy face from her desk. She really shouldn't cry; it did terrible things to her complexion.
"Why are you defending him?" Draco snapped. "He dumped you for some tart two hours before the party you've been looking forward to for weeks. I wouldn't even do that. At least, not to you." Ginny blinked at him, open-mouthed, and Draco's brain caught up with his mouth. "I mean—" He could feel a telling flush spread across his cheeks as she stared at him. Shit.
Suddenly, her face cleared, and she sat up straight. "Come with me."
She let out an exasperated sigh. "You just said you would. Come with me."
"I said no such thing. I said I wouldn't dump you two hours before." Draco shifted uncomfortably and glanced away. "Not the same thing."
"Well then, since I've been dumped, why don't you step in?"
"What, and play second choice to Creevey? No thank you."
He could feel Ginny's glare. "Not everything is a competition, you know."
"That's not the point. I don't see why I should play Creevey's substitute for you." Draco pushed himself off the edge of her desk and walked over to the window to stare moodily out at the snow.
"Draco, you're nobody's substitute," Ginny said quietly, and something in her voice made him turn. She was staring intently at him, and he couldn't read the expression in her eyes. "Please?"
"Fine." The word was out of his mouth before he could stop it, before he could formulate one of a million reasons why he should not go anywhere with Ginny Weasley. Draco cursed silently as her face lit up with a brilliant smile. He was going to regret this.
He made Ginny wait while he apparated back to the Manor to change into dress robes—she was bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet when he popped back into the Ministry in formal black trimmed with green. She smiled brilliantly, clapping her hands together when she saw him. "You look marvelous! Oh, this is going to be so fun!"
"Thank you," Draco said wryly and offered her his arm, leading her through the Ministry and out into the cool night air. It was heavy and damp with the scent of snow, the gaslights dotting Diagon Alley barely making a dent in the mist hovering over the street. The dance hall wasn't far from the Ministry offices, and there were other couples making their way up the steps as Ginny and Draco arrived. Draco glared at the people eyeing him askance in the entryway and lifted his chin. He was used to being stared at with equal parts curiosity and distrust wherever he went.
The hall itself was decorated predominately in blue and silver, and looked like a winter paradise—it was surprisingly tasteful, considering what Draco knew of the sort of thing Patil and Brown usually preferred. They ran their own decorating company, PP&B Inc., and usually tended toward the vulgar and ostentatious. Ginny, predictably, thought it was gorgeous, and cooed in awe over everything from the huge tree acting as centrepiece for the room to the tiny fairy-lights strung in the windows to the glowing candles that hung in the air over the dance floor and bathed it in magically silvered light. She dragged Draco up and down the whole hall, clasping his hand in her small, warm one and pointing out things she particularly liked in delight.
They had made a breathless circuit of the room and fetched up where they'd started, near the double doors of the entrance, when a familiar voice sounded behind them.
"Ginny! What are you doing here?" Granger's voice was bright with surprise as she bustled up to them.
"What do you mean, what am I doing here? Why wouldn't I be?" Ginny asked. "I mean, just because Colin is bringing Flora, doesn't mean I've suddenly become uninvited. What?" she asked, as Granger frowned.
"Colin told us you weren't feeling well," she said. "And that's why he brought his cousin."
Ginny's jaw dropped. "He said what?"
Granger's expression was rapidly changing from confused to angry. "He said you were sick and decided to stay home at the last minute. Apparently that's not the case."
"No, it's not," Ginny snapped, her face flushing. "He owled me earlier and said he wouldn't be able to take me, because Flora wanted to come. I don't believe this!"
"I told you he was a jerk," Draco drawled.
Granger glanced at him and raised her eyebrows. "What are you doing here, Malfoy?"
Draco gave her a slow smirk and shrugged idly. Ginny cleared her throat. "He came with me, actually."
Granger looked from Ginny to Draco, then shook her head and sighed. "Oh, Ginny."
Ginny made an extremely unladylike noise and elbowed Granger in the ribs. "Hermione!" She was rapidly turning pink.
Granger just shook her head again, with the faintly disapproving expression she'd worn so often at school. "Well, I hope you know what you're doing," she said, in a tone that suggested that she doubted it. Draco wondered idly why no one ever tried to smack the look off her face—he was certainly tempted. Ginny was beginning to look rather tempted as well, he thought, not that she'd ever act on it.
"Where's Ron?" she asked instead. "I thought you were coming with him."
"Oh, he's just off with Harry and Seamus." Granger sounded somewhat grateful for the change of subject. "Seamus has a new broom prototype, and he wanted to show it to them."
"Of course. Boys and brooms," Ginny said, rolling her eyes good-naturedly.
Draco bit down on the acid comment he could have made about Potter, Finnegan and broomsticks, and let his gaze roam over the ballroom, cataloguing who had come and who hadn't. A lot of Gryffindors, of course, and not many of Draco's sort of people. Not that there were many of his sort of people anywhere since the war.
Granger made some excuse and bustled off, presumably in search of Ginny's brother, and Ginny turned her attention to him. "So what should we do now? I've heard the food should be smashing. And the band, of course. They've even set up an ice palace in the back that's supposed to be beautiful."
"Hmmm. Oh, look, there's Creevey over by the punch," Draco said idly, and he felt Ginny stiffen beside him. Draco momentarily cursed himself for thoughtlessness, but Ginny recovered quickly and glanced over her shoulder toward the buffet.
"That's Flora with him. The blonde girl."
Draco eyed the washed-out blonde standing beside Creevey. She was pretty enough, he supposed, if you liked the scrawny, pale, consumptive-looking type, but he could tell from here that the girl didn't have any spark. There was a definite wet-blanket sort of air about her.
"He dumped you for that?"
Ginny laughed delightedly, her whole face brightening. "He's known Flora for an age, and they get along smashingly."
Draco snorted. "She looks perfect for him," he said scornfully.
"And I wasn't?" Ginny asked. Draco glanced down at her—she was standing with one hand on her hip and a teasing glint in her eye. Spark was something Ginny had in spades.
"You were utterly wasted on him," Draco answered truthfully.
That made her mouth turn up in a smug little smile. "That's good to know."
Draco watched as Creevey turned and surveyed the ballroom, murmuring something to the little gray nonentity beside him. He gave a comical start when he met Draco's eye, and paled visibly as he caught sight of Ginny at Draco's side. A thought struck Draco.
"Can I hit him?"
"No you can't hit him! Don't be silly," Ginny replied dismissively.
Draco glowered in Creevey's direction, and was gratified to see the younger man blanch as he caught his eye. "I think it's a fine idea."
"Well it's not, so you can just put it out of your head." Ginny tugged on his arm. "I mean it." She glanced over her shoulder at Creevey again, who had spotted Ginny and looked as though he was wavering between coming over and saying something and fleeing in terror before Draco's nasty expression. "Honestly. It's no wonder no one ever believes me when I say you're not as bad as they all think. Let's dance."
Draco resisted her tugging. "People think I'm bad?"
"People think you're a git. It's a bit of work, trying to convince anyone you're not, let me tell you." Ginny gave up on pulling at him and let go of his arm. "I've about given up."
"Why bother at all?" Draco asked, genuinely curious. He didn't care what other people thought of him, and he couldn't fathom why Ginny would.
For her part, Ginny looked as though she couldn't believe that he didn't. "Because you're not, really, and it's not fair of people to think that you are," she said staunchly.
"Possibly they think that because I can't be bothered to make nice with most of the idiots I interact with on a daily basis," Draco said.
"You're nice enough to me," she pointed out. Which was true—he was nicer to Ginny than anyone else.
"That's different," he said shortly.
"It is?" Ginny's eyebrows shot up. "How? How is it different?"
Draco cleared his throat. "I thought you wanted to dance," he said quickly, and strode toward the dance floor, Ginny giggling smugly behind him. She settled into his arms as though she belonged there, one small hand resting lightly on his shoulder, the other clasped in his own. She smiled happily as they spun across the floor, occasionally waving to people she knew. Draco allowed himself a faint smile—she was a surprisingly good dancer, pliant and graceful in his arms.
"Are you sure I can't hit him?" he asked again, halfway through the second song.
Ginny sighed. "Yes, I'm sure."
"Think of it as an early Christmas present, since you didn't get me one," Draco said.
Ginny flushed and ducked her head. "Actually," she said quietly. "I did."
She nodded, still not looking at him. "I was going to leave it on your desk tonight."
"Oh." Draco spun her in a neat circle while he digested that. "Well then, think of it as my present to you, since I didn't get you anything."
"My present to myself?"
"No," she said firmly. "You may not hit him."
"Hmph." Draco frowned out over the crowd for a minute as they danced. "How about if he hits me first?"
Ginny squeezed his hand in a surprisingly tight grip. "I said no."
"It'd hardly be my fault if he hit me. I'd be forced to defend myself."
"If I said it was all right, you'd go over and do something to goad him into hitting you. Draco, you are absolutely not to get into a fight with Colin over anything." She lifted her hand from his shoulder to cup his jaw and turn him to look at her, fixing him with a surprisingly fierce look. "Do you understand?"
Draco blinked at her for a moment, distracted by the delicate fingers pressed against his cheek. "It would improve my Christmas spirit," he said finally, which earned him a firm head-shake. Draco sighed. "I never get to have any fun."
Ginny just laughed.
Ginny managed to keep Draco away from Creevey for the whole party, which was an impressive feat. He really wanted to see if he could goad the little wanker into a fight. He was beginning to think that Ginny knew him entirely too well, because she seemed to have a sixth sense for keeping him from getting too close to the bastard.
Despite that, the evening was almost entirely pleasant. They danced together most of the night, and despite having to spend far too much time socializing with Ginny's friends, Draco had to admit as they were collecting their cloaks that he'd had a good time.
Ginny paused at the door to the hall to say goodbye to some friends, and Draco made his way down the snowy steps to wait on the street, just outside of the crush of people leaving. He allowed his eyes to rest on the slender line of her back and the fiery spill of her hair as she laughed at something one of her friends said.
"I bet you think you're so clever, don't you?"
Draco turned to the owner of the sneering voice with slow insolence. "I know I'm clever, Creevey. Too bad you can't say the same."
Creevey was standing a few feet away, with no sign of his bland little cousin, an ugly expression on his face "You think that just because you work with Ginny, you can slide into his life and make yourself at home. Like you have a right—"
"I hardly think that anyone who abandoned a woman mere hours before a social event is allowed to make grand speeches about what others do or don't have a right to do," Draco said evenly.
"But you wasted no time sliding into my place, did you Malfoy? You're a snake, just like your father."
Draco weighed his options very carefully. On the one hand, Ginny would be furious with him if he decked Creevey. On the other, his father had always said to grasp an opportunity when it presented itself.
And after all, Christmas was about family.
Draco shook out his hand—his knuckles ached abominably, and he could certainly see why his father had always deplored physical violence. On the whole, however, the satisfying crunch of his fist meeting Creevey's jaw more than made up for the pain. Creevey looked up at Draco from where he lay sprawled on the pavement. "Jesus, Malfoy! What'd you do that for?"
"Personal satisfaction," said Draco, feeling very satisfied indeed.
Creevey scrambled to his feet, clutching at his jaw. "You bastard! I ought to curse you into next week!"
Draco sneered at him, then turned his attention to pulling on his dragon-hide gloves. His knuckles were going to be dreadfully bruised tomorrow. Bit of a shame, but well worth it, all told. "As though you could. If your skill at cursing matches your skill at everything else, I don't suppose I've anything to worry about."
Colin sputtered incoherently, holding one hand carefully against his cheek. It was beginning to swell. "You horrible, stuck-up, nosy bastard. You think you're so fucking superior, don't you?"
Draco just shrugged and turned to look nonchalantly up the stairs, where Ginny was just now extracting herself from a small crowd of well-wishers, her light voice carrying in the cold air as she called goodbyes over her shoulder. She caught Draco's eye and smiled, a happy, warm smile that invited Draco to curve his own mouth slightly in return.
She didn't even look at Creevey until she'd reached Draco's side, which left a warm, gratifying glow in his chest. But the gratification didn't last long; Ginny took one look at Creevey's reddened jaw and wheeled on Draco fiercely. "I thought I told you not to hit him!"
Draco put on an innocent face. "I didn't hit him. Did I hit you, Creevey? I don't think I did." He flashed a feral smile at the younger man, who mumbled something unintelligible and shook his head. "There. You see?"
Ginny frowned, and Draco got the distinct impression she saw right through his charade. But she appeared to be willing to let it slide. "All right then. Good night, Colin."
Ginny stopped and turned slightly to face Creevey. "Was there something else? I assure you, I feel much better than I did earlier, but thank you for asking." She looked regal and confident, and Creevey visibly faltered under her calm gaze. He flushed a deep red and wrung his hands.
"Look, Gin, I didn't mean—"
"I'm sure you didn't, Colin," Ginny interrupted. "I’m sure you didn't mean anything. However, I'm also sure you'd like to spend tomorrow with Flora and your family, and I've owled Mum to tell her not to expect you for dinner." She turned to Draco and lifted her chin, extending her arm. "Shall we?"
Draco took her elbow and shot Creevey his nastiest smirk. "Happy Christmas, Creevey," he said, eyeing the other man's distraught expression with satisfaction, and led Ginny away.
And that was almost as good as hitting him had been.
They walked in silence, letting the damp snow swirl around them as they made their slow way down Diagon Alley to the Ministry buildings.
"I can't believe you hit him," Ginny said, breaking the enveloping silence.
"I'm terribly sorry."
"No you're not."
Draco nodded unrepentantly. "You're right, I'm not."
They walked a little further, Ginny's arm linked companionably with his. She sighed, and snuggled a little closer to him. "I wanted to hit him," she admitted.
"We can always go back," Draco said graciously, pulling her to a stop and swinging her around to face him. "I don't mind."
Ginny laughed joyously. "Thank you, but no. I'll learn to live with my disappointment." She still looked like an angel, her hair now dotted with snowflakes as well as the small flowers she'd woven into it, eyes bright, cheeks pink with cold.
Draco reached out with one gloved hand and tilted her chin up. Ginny met his gaze steadily, her eyes bright. "Are you sorry you came with me?" he asked.
"Not at all. I had a wonderful time," she said with sweet sincerity. "Did you?"
"I did," he replied, and was a little surprised to realize he meant it. "Especially the end. That was very satisfying."
Ginny laughed again. "The night isn't over yet," she said.
"No," Draco said. "I suppose it isn't." His gloved fingers skated across her cheek to slide into her hair, half-expecting the fiery curls to set him alight, leaned forward before he could think himself out of it, and kissed her.
A timeless, exhilarating moment later he pulled away, to look down into her shining face.
"I'm glad I could spend tonight with you," she whispered. "Happy Christmas, Draco."
"Happy Christmas, Ginny," Draco replied, and he couldn't help but smile; for the first time in years, it really was.
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