She lay awake a long time, listening to the iron bed in the spare room squeak occasionally as Draco tossed and turned. It felt like she’d just drifted off to sleep when the enchanted alarm clock told her it was time to rise for the day. She donned her pink bathrobe before stopping at Draco’s door to tell him it was time and heading downstairs to fix breakfast. It had begun to rain sometime in the middle of the night.
She placed a plate of eggs, bacon and toast in front of him almost as soon as he sat down, and she joined him after pouring two cups of steaming hot tea. Her heart pounded at just the sight of him, while crazy thoughts of helping him escape his fate flitted through her mind.
Not that she would ever act on the impulse to help him escape. He was far better off in the custody of the Order; at least then he wouldn’t end up dead. No, he’d only be locked away forever in Azkaban, which she’d been assured by her brothers was a fate worse than death, especially for anyone as young as Draco. Ginny felt so bad for him and the situation he was in, and she had to keep reminding herself that all of it was of his own making.
“You should eat, you’ll need your strength,” she urged, watching him push the food around his plate as she stirred three lumps of sugar and a generous splash of milk into her tea.
“I’m not particularly hungry,” Draco finally said, looking up at her.
“At least try, please.”
“Why aren’t you eating?”
Ginny took a sip of her tea while wishing she’d brushed her hair and maybe gotten dressed. For some reason she was starting to feel a bit self-conscious sitting there in a pair of Ron’s castoff plaid flannel pyjama trousers, a t-shirt and her bathrobe. “I don’t like to eat so early in the morning.”
“Me either,” he said with a ghost of a smile.
“I prefer to wait until I’m fully awake so I can savor breakfast. It’s my favorite meal of the day.”
“I’m particularly fond of French toast after a nice lazy lie-in on a Sunday morning.”
“That sounds absolutely divine.”
“I like it with strawberries,” he continued, “and clotted cream.”
“I’m more of a traditionalist. I like eggs, bacon, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes-”
“Oh, I like that too, normally.” He shoved a bit of egg around on his plate. “But… I’m finding it a bit difficult to eat this morning.”
“I can imagine,” she said softly.
“Which is sad considering this will be probably be my last decent meal ever,” he said, voice breaking ever so slightly.
“Don’t say that,” she said earnestly, reaching across the table to place her small hand over his much larger one, giving it a gentle squeeze of reassurance. “You don’t know what the Order will do.”
“Yes, I do,” he said tiredly, suddenly looking far older than his nineteen years. “After all the things I’ve done, I should be lucky they don’t give me the Dementor’s Kiss.”
Ginny didn’t know what to say to that. Despite her current circumstances, she did live in the real world. She knew how things worked. It worried her that Harry wouldn’t listen to reason when it came to Draco. No matter what he said, and he would insist upon the worst punishment the Order would allow simply because he couldn’t let go of a boyhood grudge. She got up to pour herself another cup of tea before she could burst into tears.
“Why are you here?” he asked suddenly, breaking the awkward silence. “I’ve wondered since I got here – why would they hide away a witch as talented with hexes are you are?”
“It was my mum,” she answered, turning around to lean back against the counter and smiling at the compliment. It was nice to be recognized for her talents. “She insisted after I was nearly killed in an ambush by a Death Eater.”
“Do you know who it was?”
“I do now.” She involuntarily shuddered at the memory.
“I was gathering plants for potions in Bracknell Forest-”
“They let you go by yourself?”
“I needed some knotgrass, and I knew where a patch was growing. It was supposed to be a quick trip.”
“And they let you go by yourself?” he asked again angrily.
“I only needed a handful. I was going to go grab it and be right back…”
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he muttered, shaking his head.
“Then what happened?”
“I stumbled across a group of Death Eaters.”
“What were they doing?”
“I don’t know. Performing a ritual or something,” she answered, feeling slightly irritated at the interrogation. She hated to talk about what had happened; she had just gotten to where she could sleep the entire night without a nightmare.
"Then what happened?”
“I hid myself in some thick underbrush and watched. I was so intent on trying to figure out what they were doing I didn’t hear someone come up behind me until it was too late.” She paused, taking a deep breath as a feeling of panic crept up her spine. Even after all these months and all the precautions her family had taken to assure her safety, she still felt decidedly vulnerable to another attack. “I was hit with a Cruciatus curse before I knew what was happening.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said softly. “It must have been awful to be caught unawares like that.”
A single tear slid down her cheek as the memory of excruciating pain she’d suffered that night came flooding back - her heart pounding so hard it very nearly burst; the crushing pain in her chest that rendered her unable to breathe; and the complete inability to focus on anything but the pain.
“Ron,” she croaked through the tears. “Ron, he-he…stepped…took the curses. Nev got me out.”
“It’s all right,” Draco said soothingly, taking her in his arms and nuzzling his face in her unruly hair.
So caught up in her fears, she didn’t notice that he’d abandoned his breakfast to comfort her until he was there in front of her. Without a moment’s hesitation, she wrapped her arms around his waist, burying her face in his chest and drawing on his quiet strength.
After several long minutes, he pulled away just far enough to look into her eyes. “It was Bellatrix Lestrange, wasn’t it?”
She swallowed hard at the mention of her worst nightmare by name, and suddenly found herself unable to breathe.
“That’s what I thought,” he said disgustedly, holding her tighter and tangling his fingers in her hair. “My aunt delights in other’s pain. She tortured me over and over again the summer after fifth year; said I needed to know how it felt before I could learn to cast the curse correctly. Some rot about needing to appreciate the pain before I could revel in the power.”
“She-she’s your aunt?” Ginny stuttered, her brain trying to wrap itself around what he’d just confessed. She’d known Bellatrix Lestrange was his aunt since she’d seen the Black Family tapestry while she was at Grimmauld Place, but knowing that bit of information intellectually was vastly different than hearing the reality that she willingly tortured her own nephew.
“I no longer claim her as family,” Draco spat. “Trying to kill me was the last straw.”
“Draco,” she started, then faltered for a few moments trying to find the right words. She was at a complete loss. “I just don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything. She’s a crazy bitch who’ll meet a nasty end very soon.”
“I hope so,” Ginny whispered, feeling a bit guilty for wishing such thoughts.
Draco’s arms tightened around her. “You don’t have to worry about her as long as you’re here. Your family has gone to great lengths to protect you and they’ve done a very good job. You’re safe.”
“And what about you?”
“I hardly think she’ll be breaking into Azkaban just to get at me.”
“You don’t know that for sure!”
He smirked at her. “I think someone might actually care about what happens to my sorry hide.”
“Whatever gave you that impression?” she asked haughtily, pushing him away a bit so she could escape the confines of his arms. If she’d stayed in his embrace much longer she might have done something she’d regret later.
“This,” was all he said before he grabbed her arm and twisting it behind her back, effectively pinning her to his chest.
“Let go of me this instant!” she demanded, while half-heartedly struggling to break free of his grip.
“No,” he whispered, using his free hand to tip her chin back so he could claim her lips in a tender kiss.
Ginny sighed, opening her mouth to his gentle assault and relaxed against him, snaking her arms around his neck as soon as he freed her from his grip. Her mind attempted to inform her that kissing Draco Malfoy was not a very good idea, but her heart was having none of it. There was just something about him that drove her to absolute distraction – it was neither love nor hate, but something somewhere in between.
By the time he pulled away, she was seated on the countertop, thighs spread wide to accommodate him and panting heavily in anticipation of what might come next. He pressed his forehead to hers until his breathing calmed.
“I’m sorry,” he said weakly, fingering a fold of pink flannel. “I shouldn’t have taken advantage of you.”
He grinned, and she thought for a second that he looked like the Draco of the old - wickedly handsome and too charming for his own good - and it make her stomach do flip-flops.
“You have the most amazing brown eyes, so dark and soulful. I can just lose myself in them.”
“Oh, Draco,” she snickered, “no need for the charm.”
“Yes, really. Now less talking, more snogging.”
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” he said quietly.
Ginny threw caution to the wind and pulled him back into her arms. “Probably not, so just shut up and kiss me.”
He kissed her again, as if his very life depended on it. She threw herself into the moment, returning his kiss with equal fervor, all the while trying to forget that he was about to vanish from her life forever. It’d been so long since she last felt so alive, so desired. Since, well, before she’d come to live at the little cottage hidden away in the Forest of Bowland just outside of Slaidburn nearly eight months ago while recovering from the effects of repeated Cruciatus curses. Ginny hadn’t realized just how lonely she really was until Draco came into her life.
“Hey,” she cried when he suddenly broke away, pulling her off the counter to her feet in one fluid motion. He nodded towards the mudroom just as the door opened before taking his leave to sit at the table again. She’d been too caught up in the moment to listen out for the sound of Apparation.
“Ginny,” Remus said with a hint of warning in his voice. He was standing in the little archway between the kitchen and the mudroom. Ginny didn’t like the look he was giving her, like he knew exactly what she’d just been up to.
“G’morning,” she squeaked, turning quickly to put her hands in the sink while desperately trying not to look as guilty as she felt, but she was sure her burning cheeks would give her away. “I was just washing up the breakfast dishes. Would you like anything to eat?”
Ron pushed his way into the kitchen and dropped heavily in the seat opposite of Draco, never once looking at him. “I’ll take three eggs, ham, beans-”
“No,” Harry said harshly, clearly all business, staring hard at his captive, “we’ve a tight schedule to keep.”
“Maybe a bacon sandwich and a few fruit pies if you have any.”
Ginny smiled as she wiped her hands, and reached for an ancient cast iron frying pain. Good old Ron, a bottomless pit if there ever was one. It pleased her to know that it wasn’t her cooking that had kept him away.
Remus took the seat next to Draco. “I think a cup of tea and a hot breakfast would be nice on such a dreary morning. That is, if you don’t mind, Ginny.”
“It’s no trouble at all,” she said with a grin, and quickly busied herself with making a huge breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes, baked beans, hash browns and toast.
“Harry,” Ron groused just as Ginny started placing plates full of food on the table, “stop your pacing. It’s driving me nutters.”
“I want to get back to headquarters and get on with things.” Harry’s eyes never left the back of Draco’s head.
“It’s not like he’s going to expire while we enjoy a spot of breakfast,” Remus said, digging into his plate.
Ginny ignored Harry’s groan of frustration and set a plate in front of Draco, gently urging him to try to eat something. Only to find herself under her former boyfriend’s intense scrutiny as her charge reluctantly began to pick at his plate. She gave Harry a defiant look, daring him to say a word to her. A good knockdown, drag-out row would take the edge off of her nerves and do her a world of good, but he said nothing.
She also didn’t like the way Remus was keeping close tabs on her as she moved about the kitchen. Every time she tried to catch Draco’s eye, the older wizard would meet her glance with an unreadable look of his own. Most of the time she didn’t mind him being around, but this time out she found his presence annoying. Harry and Ron were easy to fool, but not Remus. He was far too observant for her comfort.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” Ron said, breaking the tension in the room. He dug a small parcel from the inside pocket of his robe and placed it on the table. “Mum sent you some things, and there are letters from Fred and George and Charlie and Nev.”
“How could you almost forget?” She practically pounced on the parcel, resizing it quickly and tearing through the contents. Ginny lived for parcels from her mum. They were her only connection to family and friends she had since she’d been secreted away.
“Sorry,” her brother said with a mouth full.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full. It’s disgusting.”
“You sound just like Mum.”
“I do not!”
She pulled out a fuzzy apple green jumper, smiling as she slipped it on over her nightclothes. “Well, someone has to try to keep you in line!”
Ron sneered at her between bites. “I don’t know why. I’m perfect just as I am!”
“That’s what you think,” she snorted.
“It’s true, I am!”
“According to who?”
“No one,” he stammered a bit and turned beet red.
“No one, eh?”
“That’s what I said! Are you hard of hearing?”
“No, not hard of hearing. I’m just finding it difficult to believe someone would find you perfect. I must know who this person is, so I can inform them of their mistake.”
“Well, I won’t be telling you-”
“Can we move this along?” Harry said, frustrated. “I want to get back sometime today!”
“Hold onto your knickers, mate! We’re just having breakfast,” Ron snapped.
“I want to go home,” Ginny said abruptly. The thought of being left alone at the cottage was more than she could bear. Malfoy might not have been the perfect houseguest, but he was better than no one for weeks on end.
“Ginny, you know why you’re here,” Harry said, his tone softening as he moved towards her so he could put his arms around her.
“Actually, I don’t.” She shrugged out from under his arm, moving to put the table between them.
“I would be of more use at home!”
Ginny knew full well why she was there since Molly Weasley was a force to be reckoned with when it came to her children. What she said became ironclad law, and her youngest child’s safety was of utmost importance. She just wanted to see if there were any chinks she could use to her advantage.
“Mum’s orders,” Ron said. “She wanted you some place safe so you could recover.”
“I rarely have headaches anymore, and I haven’t had a nosebleed in ages.”
“You were out cold for a week after Nev got you back and delirious for a long while after that. Mum nearly went out of her mind with worry.”
“I wouldn’t have to go out. I could stay home and do research. I could make medicinal potions! Anything! I just want to go home.” She hated the tears that sprung up in her eyes, but there was little she could do to prevent them. The very last thing she wanted was to be perceived as weak by Harry and to further the notion that he must protect her. She could take care of herself.
“We don’t want to risk you being attacked again,” Harry said. “You might not survive it if someone very skilled like Bellatrix Lestrange got a hold of you, and we can’t be having that.”
“But I wouldn’t go out,” she protested. “I wouldn’t even get near the door.”
“I have to side with Mum this time, Gin,” Ron said with a note of finality in his voice. “I’m sorry.”
“No buts. You’re staying, and that is final!”
She squeaked indignantly as she tried to gather her wits enough to mount another charge. There was no way she was going to allow her brother to tell her what to do. She was a full-grown witch.
“Weasley, listen to your brother,” Draco said calmly.
“You’re no match for the likes of my Aunt.” All the eyes in the room turned to stare at the sullen young wizard toying with the food on his plate. “Another Cruciatus attack like that and you’re as good as dead.”
“Is that a threat?” Harry asked menacingly, closing the distance between him and his mortal enemy in a blink of an eye. “Because if it was, I am going to kill you with my bare hands.”
“Stop your bleating. It is quite unbecoming, although I shouldn’t be surprised by it. And no, it was not a threat, merely an observation.”
“Don’t you dare to presume to know anything.”
“Harry,” Remus said firmly, “Mr. Malfoy is quite correct. Another attack like the one Ginny sustained would most likely kill her.”
“Don’t I get a say in all of this?” Ginny asked, thoroughly miffed that her life was being decided upon by a bunch of wizards without any regard for her feelings on the matter.
“No!” they all answered in unison.
Harry roughly snatched Draco up from the table by the arm. “I think it’s time to go.”
“Gin, I’m sorry,” Ron said, taking her in his arms and holding her close. “You know I’d bring with us if I could.”
Remus put his hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Things should be over soon, one way or the other.”
Harry cast a full body binding curse on Draco with a smirk, and allowed the prone boy to fall to the floor with a heavy thud, then prodded him with the toe his boot to make sure the spell worked. “What’re you going do now, eh, Malfoy? Can’t move, can you?”
“Harry, stop!” Ginny cried. “Don’t hurt him!”
“Since when do you care so much about what happens to this piece of shite?”
She didn’t notice the hard look Harry gave her because she was too concerned with making sure Draco was all right. He tried to mumble something to her, but his mouth would not cooperate with him, so he pleaded with her using his darkened grey eyes.
“Yeah, Gin, what gives?” her brother asked.
Ginny sat back her heels and brushed a bit of her red hair from her face. “I don’t,” she said sobering quickly, “I just want to make sure you didn’t ruin all my hard work.”
Thankfully, Ron looked convinced, but Harry didn’t look so sure and that concerned her. He could take his frustrations out on him during the interrogation, and Draco would have no way to defend himself without making things worse.
She got up from the floor, and tried to act nonchalant by clearing the table. “Get him out of my house.”
That caused Harry to smile. “Your wish is my command.” And with that, he Disapparated, taking the prisoner with him.
“Chin up, Gin,” Ron said, giving her a smothering hug.
“Malfoy is out of your hair, and things will soon be over and you can come home.”
“I hope so,” she mumbled into his chest, squeezing him tight.
He kissed the top of her head before stepping back. “I know so.”
“I love you,” she said quickly.
“Love you too,” he answered just before Disapparating.
She let out a heavy sigh, relieved that she could finally let her guard down. Knowing she had to let Draco go was hard enough, but actually letting him go was another. She berated herself over letting her feelings get the best of her when it came to Draco Malfoy. He was a Death Eater. There would be no future with him outside of the little world of the cottage, no matter how hard she might wish for it, and that was the end of it.
“Never give up hope,” Remus said, causing her to nearly jump out of her skin. She thought he’d left when Harry did.
“What?” she asked, startled.
“And remember, things might not always be as they seem,” he said cryptically before Disapparating.
To be continued...
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