Disclaimer – Harry Potter belongs to J K Rowling and ors. I am not making any money out of this.

Chapter 6

They met again, a few days later, at the victory celebration held to commemorate the seventh anniversary of Voldemort’s final death. No one quite knew how to treat him – he had been a junior Death Eater in training, once, before he’d joined the Order, and then he’d betrayed the Order in turn…

But he was also Ginny’s husband, and an ex-Auror; in the end the other guests settled for a kind of distant politeness that Draco found amusing and Ginny infuriating. “Why are they whispering about you?” she demanded sotto voce, so that they could not be overheard.

He grinned sardonically. “They’re not quite sure whether I’m housebroken or not.”

She scowled. “Fools. You’re not about to turn on them.”

“I have done so before.”

“Before!” She waved a hand, dismissing the past as supremely unimportant. “That was different. This is now. And you’ve finished turning coats and changing roles.”

He looked at her quite strangely. “Have I?”

“Well, of course you have. Why else did you come back, if you weren’t tired of flitting aimlessly around the world?”

He laughed, then, seemingly light hearted and amused. But his next comment was a deliberate attempt to distance her. “Perhaps I came back to see you.”

Her straight, level look told him what she thought of such foolishness, but it had served its purpose. They stood in silence for a time, listening to the music and the speeches, watching men and women they’d fought with – and against – celebrate the miracle of their renewed peace and freedom.

“Do you remember,” she said slowly, returning to attack from another angle, “what you said to me that night in Moscow?”

“I don’t remember much about that night,” he replied. “I believe I talked a lot of rubbish; I was certainly very drunk.”

“You said that your mother and father should never have married, that all they had in common was ambition and a vast talent for hypocrisy. That you were a byproduct of their secret quests to destroy each other –“

“Dear me,” he interrupted, “I must have been drunker than I thought. I must apologise for inflicting such maudlin melodrama on you…”

“No,” she said abruptly. “You said that you would make no demands on me, and that our marriage would be in name only. And yet when you kissed me…”

He blinked, genuinely startled. “I kissed you?”

That threw her off her stride. “You don’t remember?” She searched his face for any signs of deception, or any hint that he was deliberately distracting her from her point. She couldn’t tell one way or the other; he was too good at hiding his thoughts.

“No. Most of that night is a blur – all I remember is the vodka, and the bloody freezing cold, and sleeping on the floor…” He stopped. “We didn’t…?” For the first time there was a hint of uncertainty in his voice, if not his face.

“No, nothing inappropriate happened,” she reassured him, and then pulled a face and tried again. “That is, we didn’t… you were a perfect gentleman.”

“Ah…” he breathed quietly. “Good. I didn’t think so, but I wasn’t…” And then, “Do you regret it, binding yourself to me? You could have married somebody – anybody – else.”

She took her time in answering. “There was no other choice at the time, was there. If I hadn’t been there in the first place; if Petrov hadn’t cursed me to prove a point against you… I like my life, Malfoy. And I was glad – well, perhaps not so much at the time – that you saved me; I would have welcomed Voldemort himself had he come to take me away from there.”

“And then afterwards?”

“Afterwards?” she repeated. “Afterwards I came home, but to a wholly different world. It is one thing to be Ginny Weasley, but Ginny Malfoy is an entirely different creature…”

“Was it very difficult?” he asked quietly, the light, flippant mood of the conversation gone, leaving behind something much deeper, and more troubling.

There was a short, tight silence. Ginny turned her attention to a shifting group of luminaries, where Albus Dumbledore and the other heroes of the Resurrection stood – Bill and Charles Weasley, and Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Harry Potter – in their proud navy robes with their Orders proudly pinned to their chests.

“At Hogwarts, we thought it was only Hufflepuffs who held loyalty above all else.”

Draco wondered at the turn her thoughts had taken. “Children are ever wont to overlook the fundamentals for flash,” he agreed, in the dark. “As they grow older, they learn with every betrayal.”

“As soon as I returned from Russia a Malfoy, they began to suspect me – it was as if I, too, was party to your actions…”

“They?” He demanded, too forcefully, too quickly.

Something must have given him away. “Oh,” she said quickly, “not everyone. Only a few…” Her eyes slid to her brother Ron. “Ron tends to be hot-tempered, stubborn, and slow to adjust to new situations; in a way I half-expected him to be difficult about the marriage. But Harry…he flinched. Even if it was only for a moment…”

The force of his outrage surprised him; he had thought himself long inured to Gryffindoric hypocrisy. For a moment, he was tempted to make a cutting, ironic comment, a cheap shot of the type he had so excelled at in his youth. But he could tell that she was genuinely upset, and so he held his tongue.

“Blaise rates you and your firefly brilliance higher than any of the other Aurors whose loyalty was never questioned. And yet my brother and the man who might as well be still doubt me, simply because three years ago we exchanged empty vows…”

Draco felt an entirely inexplicable desire to reach out and comfort her.

“I have never betrayed Blaise,” he drawled mildly. “Dumbledore, Moody, and a number of others may see things differently. But as for Potter and your brother, have you thought that perhaps they had some reason? Magical wizarding vows are never wholly empty, even if unconsummated. And you have been most vehement in my defense, even three years ago when you did not appreciate of my intervention…”

She frowned. “I don’t…”

“Why are you so certain that I can be trusted, Ginevra? It cannot all be on Blaise’s testimony.”

“Why did you marry me?” she demanded, countering. “And then, having married me, why did you get blind drunk and pass out on the floor?”

His brows twitched together, but he smiled, that ever-crooked, rueful smile, acknowledging her hit. “Perhaps,” he said, quite forgetting his customary edge, “I wished to play the hero for once, rather than the villain. And then, perhaps, I regretted it…”

Unaccountably, she smiled, softening, and then reached out to lay her hand on his arm. “That’s why I’m so certain you can be trusted, Draco,” she said warmly, voicing his name for the very first time. “Because you tried, although you made somewhat of a muff of it. Because you didn’t take advantage of the situation; and because you gave me the freedom to choose for myself.”

Already put on his guard by the unsolicited, uninvited warm touch of her hand, her last words confirmed what he had already, subconsciously guessed – his wife was a very determined woman. Blaise had been inspired when he had recruited her to ensnare him.

“I beg your pardon?” was all that he could manage.

“Don’t be na´ve, Draco; it doesn’t become you. You know exactly what I intend; you said it yourself,” she continued. “Magical wizarding vows are never wholly empty, and nor are they wholly one-sided. Consummation or not, I am your wife, Draco – and that gives me certain rights….”

Suddenly, she was the predator and he the prey. He fought the urge to swallow nervously, but took a few steps back before he could stop himself.

“Ginevra,” he began, and then stopped. She was not likely to start unbuttoning her robes here, at a public ball. “If you do this…”

“I know,” she said impatiently, with a touch of arrogance. “I, too, am pureblooded. I know what will happen, and I know the risks. I’m twenty-nine years old, and I’ve spent the last three holding my own in High Clan society – won’t you give me the credit of believing that I know my own mind?”

He looked at her for a long while, gauging her sincerity, measuring the strength of her convictions and her will.

“We are forever bound together, Draco – I by Petrov’s curse and you by your own honour. There will never be another, better marriage, and I will never have the simple, homely house and family that I dreamed of. But we are not – indifferent – to each other; can’t we try?”

“In Britain,” he said flatly.

“Yes. In Britain. Where you were always intended to be.” She saw his uncompromising expression, and pressed harder. “You’ve been running from the past and from any kind of commitment for years, Draco. It’s time to return home...”

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