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The Halfway House by Persephone33
Story Notes:
This story (written in rpg style) won best Ginny at the 2008 round of the dgficexchange on livejournal.
The Halfway House by Persephone33
Author's Notes:
ORIGINAL REQUEST:
Briefly describe what you'd like to receive in your fic: I'd like to see our duo in the Muggle world. Writer's choice as to whether or not either one is comfortable there.
The tone/mood of the fic: fluffy angst, if that's a category. I'm not opposed to dark themes, but it has to end with some kind of hopeful or happy note. (D/G doesn't break up. Ever.)
An element/line of dialogue/object you would like in your fic: Something about their respective family backgrounds.
Preferred rating of the the fic you want: Any rating is fine with me
Canon or AU? Either, but not too far AU, please. If you go with canon, the epilogue of doom doesn't count!
Deal Breakers (anything you don't want?): D/G breaking up. Ginny mooning over Harry. Either of them denouncing everything that makes them who they are.
*******
"Has anyone ever told you that this is nearing extortion?" Ginny asked as she tossed her hair over her shoulder and gave the wizards sitting before her an almost imperious glare. "Not everyone has hundreds of Galleons at their disposal for room and board."

Draco arched an eyebrow and waved a hand at the door. "I believe that you're the one who expressed interest in our services. If you'd prefer to transition into the muggle world on your own, feel free."

"It isn't that," Ginny protested, comforted by the fact that she was lying to Draco Malfoy, and a lie to him wasn't as bad as, well, a lie to anyone else. "I can transition to living with Muggles easily," she boasted, "I don't need help. It's just that I thought we could strike a bargain."

Exchanging a glance with Greg, who just shrugged, Draco said, "What sort of bargain?"

"I can lend your establishment a certain air of credibility," she said with a sunny smile. "Consider me a ray of sunlight in your otherwise dark little corner. For example," she explained, "if the Ministry were to find you all here, having a Weasley in your midst, a faithful, loyal, good Weasley, it might go a long way to soothing political issues. And that alone should be worth a discount on rent, don't you think?"

It was exactly what Draco had been thinking, and he was a bit disgruntled that she'd thought of it. "The Ministry knows where we are and what we do."

"Yeah, but they don't like it," Greg rumbled, earning a quick glare from Draco.

"You see?" Ginny said, with a quick smile aimed at Greg Goyle, who towered somewhere over a foot taller than she. "They're suspicious of you. They don't trust you. And having me live here might make the distrust ease a bit." And keep me from having to live where no one understands my background.

Crossing his arms, Draco settled back in his leather executive chair and said, "And what's to keep them from increasing their scrutiny in order to protect their poor, innocent little red-headed lamb?"

"No one at the Ministry really needs to keep tabs on the littlest Weasley, do they?" she asked with a self deprecating air. "I'm hardly noteworthy. And Harry wouldn't dare come looking for me. Not after the way I left-" She stopped mid-sentence and smiled. "That said, none of it negates the fact that should anyone find me here, it will only help to make you two, and anyone else with a less than stellar background, look positively angelic."

"Just how cheaply do you expect us to provide our services for the limited benefits of your presence?" Draco was already running the numbers in his mind, trying to work out how they could afford to add her to the household if more income didn't appear. Hoping that the Ministry would suddenly decide to unfreeze the assets of the 'suspect' families was a bit like planning to retire on the proceeds of winning the lotto.

"I'd be willing to pay half of the regular charge, but," she informed them, hoping to sweeten the pot, "I also know how to cook. I managed it without magic for the first sixteen years of my life, I can certainly do it now. And I'm handy with gardening. I got top marks in herbology."

Greg said, "You're in." At Draco's sharp look, Greg shrugged. "She can read those books you got on gardening, tell me what's a weed and what isn't."

"Thanks, Goyle," Ginny chirped, giving him another of her sunshiny grins. "You won't regret it. I'll go get my bags."

Trying to reassert some control, Draco said, "Take one of the smaller bedrooms, so we have the larger ones available for paying customers. Greg will show you which ones are available, give you the tour and all that."

"Your hospitality and generosity are overwhelming," Ginny said, the smile leaving her face as spoke to him. Shaking her head, she looked at the two Slytherins standing side by side and wondered just why the good-looking ones were always such pains in the arse. "Is there anything else you need to tell me?"

"Read the introductory materials. I'll go over them with you tomorrow, and I'd prefer not to have to go back over things I've explained already." Draco handed her one of the packets he'd painstakingly prepared, containing a guidebook he'd written and a list of the rules and expectations for the group home. "I've got to get to work, so you're on your own for this evening. We can also go over payment arrangements then."

"You work?" she asked, temporarily stunned that Draco Malfoy would ever lower himself to such mundane levels as the rest of the world. "Where do you work?"

Greg took her arm and hustled her out of the room while Draco was still drawing breath to respond. "Draco's a bit sensitive about his job. Don't be mean to him."

"Don't be mean to him?" Ginny said incredulously. Looking up at Greg, she asked, "What does he do?"

"That's the sitting room, dining room, toilet, kitchen," Greg said, waving his hand as he led her down the hallway. "Draco's learning to be a som- sommy- a wine waiter. We all work. You will, too."

"I've had a few interviews," she told him, craning her neck to see his face as they made there way down the hall. "It's like the Muggles speak a different language. It's everything I can do not to run screaming in the other direction, sometimes."

Greg nodded, trooping up the stairs. "You'll have to do some studying first. Draco'll probably send you out with one of us at first so you don't muck things up."

"I'm not going to muck things up, Goyle. I'm reasonably clever, it's just that I've never been around them at all. And I didn't take Muggle Studies at Hogwarts." She frowned and chewed her lip. "Who will I be paired with, do you think?"

"Dunno." He stopped and pointed to a door. "That's one of the open bedrooms, if you want to look at it."

"This will be fine," she assured him, looking around at the spartan room. She hadn't expected them to let her live here at all, so the fact that she now had a bed that she could call her own was fantastic, in her opinion.

By the next day, Ginny had a million questions, and Draco could see them lining up behind her eyes and stifled a sigh. Once she'd paid the up front fee and he'd written out a receipt, nice and proper, he said, "All right, start asking. Try to take it one question at a time until the caffeine's kicked in."

"Well, first things first," she said, exhaling heavily, "Parkinson took a shower this morning to rival all others and didn't leave a drop of hot water. And it's not like I can just do a warming charm on the taps, now can I?"

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Draco tried to think pleasant, non-migraine kind of thoughts. "You might've noticed the rest of us were all up and showered before she woke up, or took showers last night. There's a reason for that, and it's that none of us dare cross her before she's had her coffee. If you try, cast a silencing charm first. We'll all chip in to pay whatever fine there is for it."

"Fine," she replied tentatively, glad that she hadn't been able to confront the other girl like she'd wanted to. "The next thing is, well," she said haltingly, not wanting to admit it to him of all people, "I can't find a job. I've looked. No one in the Muggle world wants a first rate potions apprentice, or someone who knows arithmancy backwards and forwards." She left out the part about the cash register that had her almost in tears and confessed, "I've had five interviews, last night and this morning, and I'm woefully underqualified for everything."

Draco thought back to his own experiences, when it was just him in an alien world, and then ruthlessly tamped down all uncharacteristic urges toward sympathy. "Don't brag, Weasley, it doesn't suit you. We've all got talents that became useless the minute we stepped out of our world."

"Well, thank you very much for your listening ear, Malfoy," she said, deciding right then and there that she would never ask him for anything, ever again. "You've been a huge help. But then, I don't know what I expected from you, anyway." She left his office with a glare in his direction and a flip of her hair, stomping down the steps and slamming the door behind her.

Later in the afternoon, she'd been to nearly every shop within walking distance, and either got disapproving stares when she didn't understand their money, or patronizing clucks of the tongue, like she was some sort of idiot. It made her want to scream; and she was tired, and hungry, and fustrated, and upset. She couldn't go home. Not after the way she'd left.

She followed her feet until she came upon a restaurant, a nice restaurant with linen covered tables and real sliver place settings and crystal goblets, and she thought that maybe, maybe she could get a job there. The aroma seemed to emanate from the building itself, and she was drawn inside, where she was greeted by a man that looked as if he'd smelled something foul.

"We're closed right now, and we're fully booked for dinner," the man said with a sniff, turning his back on Ginny to harry a waiter over the fold of a napkin.

"I'm not here for dinner, sir," she said courteously. "I'm here to inquire about a job? I can wait tables? Or I can cook?"

The man laughed nastily and started to berate Ginny, but Draco appeared at his side, clad in a waiter's uniform but with a black apron. "Beg pardon, sir," he said in his best imitation of subservience. "Chef mentioned needing to advertise for a new commis, now the last has quit."

Looking at Ginny again as if she were a bug, the man shrugged. "Take her to the kitchens, then. She might as well see firsthand that she cannot, in fact, cook."

Ginny glowered at the man. "I can certainly do more than- Ow!" Ginny winced as Draco trod purposefully on her foot while dragging her to the kitchen. "What was that for, Malfoy?"

"To stop you embarrassing yourself," he said curtly. "Look, trust me. Stay quiet, look keen, and as far as this little chat is concerned, your main skills are peeling vegetables and scrubbing floors."

"Trusting you is not somethings that's ever been high on my list of things to do, you insufferable-" She cut her tirade off, to be finished later, when she could kick him properly in the shin, because the man that was approaching them was the most intimidating presence that Ginny had ever seen in her life. She swallowed hard and looked up at him with what she hoped was the look of a vegetable peeler and floor scrubber.

From his great height, the man said, "What?"

While the prospect of letting Weasley face Chef's wrath was amusing, it'd help if she had a job, and if she was here she'd be under his eye. "Pardon, sir, I was just taking her to the manager to interview for a position as a commis."

"Interview? Interview?" He turned to Ginny and barked out, "Can you wield a mop without killing yourself or others? Will handing you a potato peeler result in peeled potatoes rather than genocide? Do you have any pretensions of having cooking skills?"

"No-no, sir," she said, wincing again as Draco surreptitiously kicked her ankle. "I can peel potatoes, though, and mop," she assured him.

"You're hired," he said, snapping his fingers. Someone came forward to hand Ginny an apron and the chef moved away, muttering, "Interview! For a commis! Ludicrous."

Draco leaned in to whisper, "Don't talk if you don't have to. Come find me if you get a break, and I'll check on you when I can. We'll talk after work about getting you some work clothes."

"Work clothes?" she asked, but he moved away quickly and Ginny spent the next several hours doing the most menial of kitchen chores. She scraped carrots and peeled potatoes, sliced onions until she cried real tears, chiffonaded basil and diced garlic, and cleaned all the instruments for everyone else in the room. She caught a glimpse of Draco's blond hair on more than one occasion, but it wasn't until she stepped out the back door in the cool night air that she got a chance to speak to him again.

The girl looked like she'd been run through the laundry and then wrung out vigorously. Draco's lips quirked as she leaned against the wall with her eyes closed, then shot to an alert position as soon as she noticed he was there. "You're not doing half bad, Weasley. Anything you need before finishing your shift? I've got bus fare to get us home after."

She sighed and nodded gratefully. "You do? My feet are killing me." She laughed softly as she got a little giddy thinking about being able to sit down for the ride back to the house. "I could kiss you, Malfoy, but I don't know that you'd appreciate it from me over much. I do appreciate your help in getting me a job. More than you know."

Shrugging uncomfortably, Draco said, "Yes, well, try to keep it. It'll leave us the mornings for lessons, and while the pay is crap, it's at least something."

"Lessons?" she asked, frowning. "For what?"

"Handling money, vocabulary, popular culture, that sort of thing. Basically, so that they stop looking at you like you just popped in from another planet." She looked dispirited and he smirked. "Don't worry, Weasley. I picked it up on my own in a couple of months, so I'm sure with careful tutelage, you'll have it down in a year or so."

"If I weren't so tired, I'm sure I'd have something smart to say to that, you prat," she answered with a smile. "But I need to conserve my energy to mop. See you later," she said before disappearing back into the restaurant.

Later that evening, after Ginny had scrubbed, washed and put away dishes, and mopped with a man yelling at her, telling her that she was indeed, the worst person to ever wield a mop in the history of the free born world, she found herself standing beside Draco at the bus stop, her eyes nearly closed, she was so close to sleep. Stifling a yawn with the back of her hand, she asked, "So what is it that you do at the restaurant, Malfoy?"

Covering a yawn of his own, Draco said, "Apprentice to the sommelier. Alphose isn't so bad, for a muggle, so it's not too hard. My dad taught me all about wine anyway, just so I'd know what to do about our own cellar someday."

She mumbled something about wine, and when he looked down to retort, he realized that her eyes were closed, she'd rested her head on his shoulder, and that she was very much asleep.

A year ago, he'd have nudged her and told her her wasn't a cushion. Two years ago, he'd have done it roughly, and added a sneering comment about having to burn his robes. In the year and a half since he'd had to leave his home and live as a muggle to put just that tiny bit of extra space between himself and a long stay in Azkaban while the Ministry thought of something to charge him with, he'd spent a lot of time exhausted and hungry and lonely, and so he let her stay, wondering why she had put herself through all this.

When he saw their stop was coming up, he shifted so that her head slipped, just enough to jolt her awake. "Lesson one - how to tell the bus driver you want to stop."

Her eyes fluttered open and she looked up at him, having realized that she'd nodded off. "Sorry. Lesson. I'm listening," she said, sleepily, rubbing the back of her hand over her eye.

"Tell you what," he said when it was obvious she was still at least half-asleep. "Why don't you promise to make it into the house without my having to carry your unconscious body and I'll promise to save the lesson until tomorrow?

"Sure, Malfoy. Lesson tomorrow." She followed him off the bus and onto the street. "I have a job," she said with a sigh. "And in the morning I get to learn something about a bus. The promise of that should be enough to keep me awake until I reach a horizontal surface."

Morning came much too early, as usual, but Draco managed to be the first in the shower and consume enough strong black coffee to be mostly up to speed as he got the books in order, parceling out the money that Ginny had paid up front to where it was needed most. Two more clients that paid the full price and the mortgage would be fully paid off, and if Pansy could be persuaded to stop using her employee discount to the fullest with every pay period, they might manage to keep the lights on and stay fed with their pay packets until then. But, that was fairly unlikely, so how much would Ginny contribute of her paltry salary, and how short would they fall, given there was an extra mouth to feed? If the vegetable garden started to supplement what they had to buy, if they were very careful with turning off lights, and if he walked to work and skipped lunches, it would all balance out. If not, he'd find a way.

"Morning," Ginny said, sticking her head around the office door. "Do you want me to make breakfast?" she asked. "Is anyone still here?"

Draco looked up, shocked anyone else was up. "Everyone's still asleep, but if you make food they'll all troop down. Mornings are usually catch and catch can around here."

"Alright." Leaving him to pore over whatever it was he was doing, she went into the kitchen. It was tidy, if on the small side, but Ginny found a rasher of bacon and a carton of eggs, and set about the task of making a small breakfast. After a trial and error with the gas stove, Ginny found it to be self explanatory. She'd watched them do it at the restaurant the night before, and was delighted that when she turned the dial to light, then adjusted the fire, it worked. Giggling, she marveled at how ingenious Muggles were.

The smell of real food drew everyone out of bed, and Draco took his place at the table, loading his plate quickly and saying 'thank you' when Ginny refilled his coffee from a carafe. This prompted a chorus of gratitude, a lot of it expressed mid-chew. Even Pansy, glowering over her first cup of coffee and guarding a plateful of eggs and bacon, muttered what was probably 'thanks.' That was about as much nicety as existed, and the food was devoured in record time.

"All right, now that you're done your locust imitation, I might as well bring your moods back down," Draco said before anyone could leave the table. "We're on austerity measures until we adjust to the extra mouth to feed. No new toys or clothes, Pansy, lights out at eleven, no lights during the day, and no one buys lunch."

Ginny stood stock still as more than one set of eyes on the table fell to her. She had no idea the situation for the house was so dire, and that these people weren't living with the same level of comfort that they had their whole lives. What had happened to their trust funds? Their family money? Ginny bit her lip and looked down at her shoes. Well, saving money is actually something that I'm good at, she thought.

*

Over the passing weeks, the house did, in fact manage to scrape by without the water, gas or electricity being shut off, and Ginny found that teaching these people about conservation was oddly satisfying, since they were very interested in hearing what she had to say. She cooked breakfast and dinner and heard no complaints from anyone, even getting more than a cursory thanks from Pansy, who actually helped make bread one afternoon when the shop that she worked in closed early.

Ginny ended up spending a lot of time with Draco; they rode the bus, or walked, to and from work together, and she found that when it was just the two of them and he didn't have to be in charge of a household of people, that he was easy to talk to. He was all business at work, but managed to make her laugh on their breaks, sometimes even rubbing the tension out of her neck and shoulders in exchange for her returning the favor, and there had even been times when they stayed up after they got home, curled up on the sofa with a candle, talking into the wee hours of the morning.

It was on one of those nights, when they'd taken home a bottle of wine that the chef had deemed unacceptable for being under his roof, that Draco finally asked, "So why did you come here, anyway? Pansy thinks you're fleeing an arranged marriage with Potter."

Ginny laughed softly, the sound echoing off the tall ceilings. "No, I'm not. Harry's standards for people are a little hard for someone like me to reach." She took a sip from her glass and frowned, looking at him seriously. "I got tired of the continuing, endless judgment. It made me angry when people; Harry, my family, lumped you lot in with your parents - that you were all guilty by association, and yet other things were brushed aside, like they didn't matter. The treatment wasn't fair," she finished, shrugging.

"And here I always thought Potter was the martyr in your relationship," Draco said drily. "You're the patron saint of Slytherins now, are you? St. Ginny, off to save the snakes?"

"No." Shaking her head at his sarcastic tone, she continued, "It just seemed a little hypocritical of him to hate you lot so much when I'd had Tom Riddle living in my head for the better part of a year. They were all quick to forgive that, and no one ever wanted me to bring it up."

His eyebrows raised in disbelief, Draco said, "Surely you don't think that was your fault? It's not as if you chose to go through all that, you were being used."

"I made choices," she answered quietly. "I knew talking back to that diary was dangerous, and yet I still did it." She gazed into Draco's grey eyes and said, "He had a very compelling personality. He was hard to say 'no' to."

Grimly, he nodded and took a long drink of his wine. "That part, I understand perfectly."

"Yeah," Ginny murmured, grateful that someone understood this side of her, the part that fashioned a rather large part of her personality. "So that's why I came here. For kindred spirits, I guess." She reached across for the wine bottle to refill her glass and brushed his leg with her arm, cursing herself mentally as she blushed.

"Coming on to me, Weasley?" He took the wine bottle and held it away from her, teasingly. "I'm just not that kind of boy."

Sighing that he decided to make a joke out of her embarrassment, she decided to play along. "That's not what the rumors were," she said, reaching over him, getting closer than she ever had before. His reach was longer than hers, though, and she missed the bottle, her breath catching at the position they found themselves in.

Hurriedly, Draco stood and handed her the bottle. "You shouldn't believe everything that you hear," he said, glad he managed to mostly sound composed. They were tipsy and she was beautiful and he wasn't good at resisting temptation. The best way was just to turn away from it as quickly as possible, and to try not to think about it. "I think I'm going to bed - see you tomorrow, all right?"

Ginny nodded, a twisting sensation happening somewhere in her stomach as he leapt away from her. She shouldn't think that even here, people would be able to treat her as if she weren't different. Even if she lived in the house with them, she wasn't really like them, just like she wasn't like the people at home. And it was ridiculous to think that just because she'd started to fancy Draco Malfoy, he would ever return her feelings. She was still just a Weasley to him, probably always would be, and that was just something she'd have to come to terms with, and she'd better do it sooner rather than later.

Watching him go up the stairs, she felt a sinking disappointment. She wouldn't see him in the morning. It was her day to work in the garden with Greg rather than have lessons with him, but of course, he wouldn't have thought of that. He didn't look forward to those lessons as much as she did, didn't enjoy her company as much as she did his.

Sighing deeply, she poured the rest of the wine into her glass and blew out the candle. "Get a hold of yourself, girl," she admonished herself, as she sat in the dark and tried to think of a way to reverse her feelings for a blond-haired, grey-eyed man who'd become so important to her.

*

"They look good, Greg," she said with a grin, nudging him gently with her shoulder. "A few more weeks and we should have lettuces and herbs. And the root vegetables have really taken off, as well. You're really good at this."

The large man, who she'd discovered was basically an overgrown boy, smiled happily, wiping at the sweat on his brow and smudging dirt across his forehead. "Once you explained which plants I shouldn't pull up, it wasn't that hard."

Ginny giggled. "They get much bigger if you leave them alone. It's hard to be patient, though, sometimes. It would be so much easier with magic, though, " she fretted. "Even a bit of charmed fertilizer would make them grow three times as fast, and that would save us so much money." Greg simply looked at her, but she explained, "It's expensive, too. Everything costs too much."

"Draco worries about that a lot. I've tried to eat less, but then I fainted and Draco got really angry." Greg patted some dirt in place around a tomato plant, looking thoughtful.

"No, Greg, you need to eat. You're a big guy, and you shouldn't try to deprive yourself of nourishment, ever." She chewed on her bottom lip, trying to think of a way to hurry the potatoes and carrots along so that she feed Greg and the rest of the house more easily. He was a dear, really, and kind, if a bit slow, and her urge to mother him was stronger than the rest of them put together.

Greg nodded, rolling his eyes a bit. "It's like you're mum and he's dad. I can take care of myself, you know. I just want to help."

"Of course you can," she said, dismissing his comment about she and Draco being parents, despite its making her blush furiously. Changing the subject she asked, "Help me think of a way to speed up the garden's growth, Greg. What can we do?"

Wistfully poking at an onion plant, Greg said, "Dunno, do I? If it was a wizard garden Draco'd just ask his mum, but if we could have a wizard garden we wouldn't be here."

After momentarily being taken aback by the thought of Narcissa Malfoy kneeling on earth and getting her hands dirty, she raised an eyebrow in thought.

"Mrs. Malfoy has a garden?" she asked.

Greg nodded. "Lots of gardens, and greenhouses. There's even one that was just for us when we were tykes, me and Draco and... and Vince."

Ginny nodded sympathetically and ventured, "Do you think that Draco would ask his mum for some earth? Just a bit of the dirt she has in her garden? That wouldn't cost anything, and we wouldn't be charming anything, or casting spells. If the dirt already had charms on it, that's not our fault, right?" she asked, grinning at Greg.

Thoughtfully, Greg nodded. "I'd write to her myself, but Draco's easier with words than I am, and we should ask his permission anyway."

"Alright," she agreed calmly, even as her heart rate sped up at the thought of speaking to him. "There's no time like the present, eh? Let's go find him."

She carefully brushed all the excess dirt from her clothing, noticing that Greg did the same without having to be asked, and they made their way through the house to the one place it was always a safe bet to find Draco. She shot a nervous look at Greg, and knocked on the door, calling softly before going right in.

"Draco? Can I interrupt?"

"As you just did, it appears the answer is yes," Draco said, his gaze still focused on the open ledger to add to his pretense that he hadn't been staring out the window at the garden. "Now, whether you should, that's another matter."

She frowned and looked at Greg. "We're sorry. We'll come back when you aren't busy."

Greg laughed and sat down. "Draco's just joking. If he was serious, he'd sound nicer."

"Giving away all my secrets, are you?" Draco smirked and said, "Just remember, no one ever finds out about that incident with the basket and the three peas."

Ginny was still confused sometimes about how the Slytherins seemed to understand each other, but she liked the fact that Draco's tone was different with Greg. "Basket and three peas?" she asked with a giggle, her curiosity piqued. "Oh, now I must know."

"Ask Draco, I don't know anything about it," Greg said, looking confused. "But maybe we should ask him for the dirt first."

Arching an eyebrow, Draco gestured to the window. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there rather a lot of dirt out there, free for the taking?"

"Yes," Ginny answered, "but then Greg was telling me about your mother's garden, and how she had so many of them, and ... we were wondering if you'd write to her to asked her to send us some. If the earth in her gardens already has the magical fertilizer, or has growth charms worked into it, we aren't responsible for that. It's dirt," she said, shrugging. "I don't think the Ministry would object. And it would make our vegetables grow three times as fast. We could have vegetable stew by the end of the week."

"How much would you need?" It seemed reasonable to Draco, even if it would involve some risk, and a lot of swallowing his pride. He'd asked his mum to stop sending gifts and treats via owl when he'd gone home for a brief visit and noticed that some of the less noticeable but still expensive objets d'arte were missing from the Manor; the idea of his mother selling her belongings to send him sweets had been the single most humiliating realization of a life that had contained a multitude of them.

Ginny looked at Greg for confirmation. "Enough to work into the rows of vegetables? About five large sacks?"

With a heavy sigh, Draco nodded. "I'll take care of it. Anything else you can think of that I should get while I'm over on the other side?"

"No," she answered quietly. "There's nothing I want from there."

Turning to Greg, Draco said, "Tell the others - I'll need a list by the time I get home from work today, and all the owls in a packet with it, all right?"

Excited, Greg nodded and left the room, the sound of his footsteps as he ran up the stairs carrying easily throughout the house. Hesitantly, Draco said, "Are you sure you don't want to owl your family, let your mum know you're all right?"

"No," she answered, shaking her head as she rose from the chair. "If they wanted to contact me, they would have by now. It's fine." She smiled bravely and left him to make out his own list.

*
Later that week, she was out early in the morning, pruning the roses on the side of the house. It was frivolous, yes, and she almost felt guilty for spending her time on something that was of no benefit to the household. It relaxed her, and reminded her a tiny bit of home, though, so it was something of a comfort. She'd been surprised when Draco had returned, so late that she was already awake and getting breakfast ready, and presented her with a tiny potted rosebush before going upstairs and sleeping until it was almost too late to get to work on time. He'd brushed off all attempts to thank him for it, even as he allowed the others to pat his back or tell him he was great for the sweets and letters and books he'd brought back as requested.

She'd asked Greg about it while he helped her work the magic soil into the garden, and he'd shrugged. "You didn't ask for it, so it was his idea. You're thanking him for doing what he pleased, not for a favor."

It had given her a lot to think about, and she thought about it more and more as she tended her roses; their roses, in a way. It was a hopeful thought, and Ginny smiled as she leaned over to inhale the scent of a flower with petals almost the exact color of his hair.

"We didn't expect to find a Weasley here."

Ginny whirled around to find four wizards in the red robes of Aurors standing in the garden, looking at her with various expressions of distaste on their faces. "It's not like one of your family to throw yourselves in with this lot," the tall one said, jerking his thumb toward the house.

"What do you mean, 'this lot?'" Ginny asked indignantly.

"The Death Eaters, Miss Weasley," the shorter one explained patiently.

"They aren't--" Ginny ground her teeth together, determined not to lose her patience. It wouldn't do to explain to these people that the Slytherins that lived in this house had never taken the Dark Mark, and that they weren't simply guilty by association. She inhaled and steeled her nerves; she could handle this, smooth it all over and perhaps they'd leave without upsetting anyone in the house. "What can I do for you, gentlemen?" she asked with forced politeness.

"We have an arrest order for Gregory Goyle," the tall auror said, pompously. "For arson, illegal use of Polyjuice potion, and various and sundry other crimes against the Ministry too numerous to count."

Ginny's heart seized with panic. Not Greg. Not poor, sweet Greg. "Well, I'm afraid you'll have to list them," she said her voice wavering as she inched toward the back doors, feeling useless. Even if she got in and locked the doors, that wouldn't keep them out. Her only thought was to find Draco. Draco can sort all this out.

He was already at the door, having seen the aurors as soon as they neared Ginny. "Is there a reason why you feel the need to be here and destroy private property by stepping on our vegetables?" The order was produced anew, and Draco studied it, his outer coldness masking a frantic panic. I thought we'd have longer.

"This order is for questioning, not for arrest, and he's entitled to a representative." It wasn't much, but it was something. "Come inside to my office. I'll have Greg brought to us and we can discuss what you're really here for."

She sidled up to Draco as they led the Aurors into the house, a seeming invasion of their privacy. Touching his arm briefly as they walked, she whispered, "They can't take him, Draco. They can't. I don't care what they said he did." She looked up at him beseechingly with scared brown eyes, hoping that he'd have the answer they needed to keep Greg safe.

Scared and trying not show it, Draco nodded. "I'll do my best."

"I know you will." She took his hand briefly, her fingertips tingling as she touched him, and left to go find Greg, to warn him of what was about to happen.

When Ginny and Greg came back downstairs, they stood outside the office. Greg was at least outwardly calm, but Ginny was a bundle of nerves. They heard voices rising from within the room, and the argument getting heated. Greg stopped in the middle of the hallway, putting a hand on Ginny's shoulder. "Make sure Draco knows it isn't his fault. Promise."

"Nothing's going to happen, Greg. It's alright. It's going to be alright," she soothed even as she knew that this couldn't end well. When Greg just looked at her, a knowing expression on his usually vacant face, she nodded, a whisper escaping her lips. "I promise."

Shaking his head, Greg said, "That's not how it works when you were on the side that lost, Ginny. Just promise me you'll take care of Draco. He was... he was really messed up, after Vince..." He trailed off, looking desperately uncomfortable for a moment before he squared his shoulders and assumed a vacant, dull expression and entered the office.

Things got a lot quieter, and Ginny was chewing on a thumbnail, telling herself that putting her ear to the door was beneath her dignity, when the door opened and two of the aurors stepped out, looking smug. Her stomach sank, because that couldn't be a good sign, but then Draco came out and he looked satisfied, but a bit shaken. He walked past Ginny and then stopped, turning around to seize hold of her and kiss her like the fate of the world depended on it.

Shocked at first, as she wasn't sure what he was doing, it became abundantly clear as his hands cradled her face and his tongue swept at her bottom lip. She melted into him as he drew her closer, her arms wrapping around his neck of their own volition, and her mouth opening to taste him, to pour months of restraint and want and need into one kiss.

He pulled back and she gazed at him for a long moment, not wanting to let him go, wishing that the other men in the room would just disappear, so that he would do that again. Giving Ginny a crooked smile, Draco said, "Don't let them starve while I'm gone, all right?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, a deep sense of panic starting to creep in as the men started to take him away. "You can't take him!" she shouted to the Aurors who had taken Draco's arms and started to pull him away. "He hasn't done anything! He's not guilty of anything!"

Looking over her head, Draco said Greg's name sharply, and Greg stepped forward, putting one large hand on Ginny's shoulder. "He said it'll be okay. He just needs to clear up some things and then he'll be back."

Tilting her head up at the big man, she saw a resigned look in his eye, and she forced her tears back as she watched Draco be taken away. He'd be back. She believed that he would be. There was nothing that Draco couldn't take care of. Nothing at all.

*

Draco didn't come back that afternoon, like she'd thought he would, or the next day, or even the next week. To date, he'd been gone three months and fourteen days, and she'd been without knowledge of what had happened to him for most of it.

Greg was tight-lipped about the whole thing, except to assure her of Draco's safety and return, but Ginny's thoughts continued to go back to the one time he'd looked at her with more than friendship, to the fleeting moment that he'd kissed her and looked at her as if she were the only woman in the world. She missed him desperately, ached for his companionship, for someone to share the burden of the household with, to laugh with. She missed his company going to and from work, the occasional shared bottle of wine afterwards, catching a glimpse of him working in his office as she tended the garden, and the quiet moments they shared in the early morning, as she cooked breakfast and he sipped his coffee, seemingly content to just sit in the same room with her.

She'd made several efforts to discern exactly what had happened, but was met with a closed-mouth silence from everyone at the Ministry. She still hadn't heard from her family, but she'd learned to be grateful for them all the same; she'd never have made it or have been able to contribute to the household like she had without the training that she'd gotten at the Burrow. She hoped that one day, things could be smoothed over with the lot of them, but currently all she wanted was for Draco to return, so that they could return to the normalcy they'd established.

It was as the fourth month of separation began that she finally heard something, when a letter came through the muggle post for Greg, telling him that the Ministry had dropped all charges against him, and that he wouldn't have to testify at the upcoming trial from Draco Malfoy, but the date of the letter was from two weeks past, and the trial had been scheduled for three days before they received the letter.

Ginny was bereft. Her mind leapt to the absolute worst thing that could have happened, that Draco had been shipped off to Azkaban, that he wasn't returning home, and that it was more than likely that they'd never see him again.

"Ginny," Greg said, but she was too wrapped up to notice until he put both hands around her shoulders and physically turned her around, repeating, "Ginny! Just look."

Draco stopped in his tracks on the walkway to the house. "What're you all looking at? I told you I'd be back."

She stood, rooted to the spot for a moment, blinking into the sunlight, thinking that her eyes were playing tricks on her. She couldn't possibly be seeing him, what she wanted more than anything else on earth. But the longer she stood there, watching the other housemates congratulate him, clapping a hand on his shoulder and shaking his hand (and a very quick hug from Pansy), she realized that he was real, and that he was here, and that he was back.

Fearful after all these months that the kiss they shared was a fluke, that he'd only kissed her because they were taking him away, she looked up at him bravely, a friendly smile on her face and she held out a tremulous hand to him. Against her will, tears gathered in her eyes as she spoke. "It's good to have you back, Draco."

Looking down at her hand and then back up at her face incredulously, he snorted. "You lot, clear off. Ginny, with me."

With his hand on her elbow, Draco steered her into his office, noting the tiny changes from her occupying the room while he was gone. Shutting the door firmly, Draco said firmly, "If you think I'm settling for a handshake after months in Azkaban, you're insane."

Her knees trembled as she took a step closer to him; months of missing him had made her vulnerable, and she couldn't even come up with anything pithy to say. Instead, she rose up on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his, gasping involuntarily as he dragged her against him. Ginny was aware of every place they touched, every graze of his teeth on her lips, the gentle pressure of his hands on her hips. She felt as if she was drowning in him, but that she'd go with a smile on her face if she did.

Brushing a hand against her cheek as he pulled back slightly, he said softly, "I'm a convicted criminal, you know. Because of my age, they decided on leniency - a scheme of your dad's, actually. I'm banished - can't go back to the wizard world for five years, although if I'm good I can get my wand back after two."

"My dad helped you?" she asked, still breathless and tingling from where his lips had been seconds earlier.

Draco nodded. "He sent a letter for you, if you want it. Asked a million questions about you, and then about plugs for some reason."

Ginny laughed and then her laughter gave way to tears of relief. "I'm so glad you're back. More glad than you could possibly imagine," she said in a tentative whisper. "I missed you," she said, biting her lip as she toyed with the fine hairs at the nape of his neck. "A lot."

"We've got a lot to sort out," he said, but he couldn't resist kissing her again, savoring the feel of her in his arms and knowing that he had as much time with her as she cared to give him. "If you wouldn't mind, though, I'd like to do it together."

"I don't mind," she said, wrapped up in the warmth of his arms, happy that he wasn't going anywhere. "I don't mind at all."


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