Ginny glared at the note on her desk, willing it to burst into flames because of the ire she felt. Practically any other day, she really wouldn't have cared that Harry had only left her a note; after all, they worked odd hours, the both of them, and sometimes missed each other completely for days. Any other day, the words 'Gin, Working a case, see you when I see you - Harry' wouldn't have made Ginny frown. She would have chuckled and shrugged and gone home to dig out a pint of ice cream and listen to the wireless, perfectly content to be alone.
Any other day, she really, really wouldn't have cared.
But it wasn't any other day. It was her birthday.
Growling in frustration, she picked up the reclamation list for the day, glad that she had at least one more place to go. And though he might be an arse, Draco Malfoy was predictable; he always made her sit and have tea before he deigned to escort her to his ancestral home. Grateful for once for his pomp and grandeur, Ginny thought it was a distinct possibility that she might get to have cake on her birthday, after all.
Sighing heavily as she arrived on the steps of his townhome, she knocked, crossing her arms to wait for the elf to show her in.
"Mistress Ministry!" Bunty opened the door and bowed so low that her nose almost scraped the doorstep. "Greetings on special day!"
"Oh," Ginny said, a small smile spreading across her lips as she knelt down. "Bunty, is it? Thank you. It's kind of you to remember."
With a beaming smile, the elf stood upright and hustled Ginny inside, taking her past the usual parlor to a dining room with a crystal chandelier and a long mahogany table with two place settings. Draco was standing beside one of the chairs, holding it out. "Didn't think I was going to stay in your debt, did you? If we celebrated my birthday, we're also rolling out the red carpet for yours - fair's fair."
"Malfoy, I gave you banana bread," she said, wide eyed as she walked slowly toward the chair he was holding and sank into it. It was a bit surreal, to say the least. Her boyfriend didn't remember, but the man whose house she searched on a bi-monthly basis did, and what's more, he'd apparently gone the extra mile to help her celebrate. "But this is nice, though. Thank you."
He shrugged. "I can't bake. Wasn't inclined to try, really, but I didn't want to go without doing anything. And I can order a meal like nobody's business."
"Well, play to your strengths, then," she replied with a chuckle. "What have you ordered?"
Rattling off a list of five courses, Draco came to the end and frowned. "Would you be allowed to have the accompanying wine?"
"How would I fit wine in after all that?" she asked incredulously. "I thought you were just going to have teacakes." She looked at the man who was staring back at her, wishing briefly that Harry could be more like him - solicitous and charming. Her gaze drifted of its own accord to his lips, and for the first time wondered what it would be like to be on the receiving end of one of those famed tabloid kisses. "I guess I can if I don't have too much?"
He poured her a glass as the first course was served. "I promise, I won't let you take advantage of me if you get drunk, and I've sobering and hangover potions at the ready."
"Let me take advantage of you?" she asked with an arched brow. "That's kind of you. Because we know that it certainly wouldn't be the other way around," she said with a laugh.
"I don't find drunks particularly attractive, unless I'm so blasted I can't see straight, and even then it's not so much being attracted as my standards being temporarily lowered in the name of getting shagged." Of course, he wouldn't mind seeing what Ginny would look like if she was tipsy; he was willing to bet she'd flush delightfully.
"Your virtue, or lack thereof, is safe with me, Malfoy. Don't worry," Ginny said as she sipped from her glass. "Ooh. This wine is lovely, thank you."
Taking a sip of the middling-to-fine vintage, Draco smirked. "I'm not sure lovely is on the list of oenologist-approved descriptive terms, but as it's your birthday, we'll let it go this time."
Ginny nodded her thanks dramatically. "I'm still floored you remembered. You can't say that of everyone today."
"It's not so hard to mark a calendar," Draco said with a shrug. "And I like birthday cake. Any excuse to have it is a good one."
"You wouldn't think it was hard to mark a calendar. Perhaps I should buy Harry a new quill, then." She smiled and nodded. "And I like birthday cake, too."
His eyebrows raised in surprise, Draco blurted out, "Hasn't Potter known you since you were--"
"Ten years old, yeah," Ginny interrupted, a tired sigh escaping her.
Coughing slightly to cover his gaffe, Draco couldn't help muttering, "Couldn't find his arse with both hands and a map."
"He's a bit clueless at times, yes," Ginny agreed softly. Deciding to be grateful for what was before her instead of spoiling it with a bad mood, she amended, "He's working tonight."
There were a lot of things he could say, but all of them would indicate that he was a bit more involved in Ginny Weasley's life than he was absolutely sure he cared to be. "I suppose that means we don't have to rush over dinner, then. Better for the digestion."
She shrugged. "Apparently not. I don't have anywhere to be. I suppose I could even save your parents' house until next week."
"If you like," Draco said indifferently. "They're out for the evening, just in case you'd needed to go tonight and we ran late."
"Oh. Alright, then." There were lots worse things than spending the evening having a lovely meal and being escorted around a beautiful house with a handsome man. "Am I not keeping you from some gala or other? What was it you were in the papers for last week with that leggy blonde?"
Draco thought back, trying to remember. "Public indecency? You'd have to be more specific."
"No, thankfully. You were in dress robes, she was wearing a really lovely pink dress... ring any bells?"
Shaking his head, Draco said, "None whatsoever. These social things are all pretty much a blur - it's all the same people, with the same conversations and endless variations on essentially the same clothes."
"Really?" she said in disbelief. "It always seems like you're all having so much fun. The balls with the dancing, especially. I love to dance."
With a small chuckle, Draco leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, "The secret is to drink. A lot. And to make nasty comments in your head about everyone else."
"Sound advice from a professional, I'm sure," she agreed, "Though if I ever get to go to one, I wouldn't want to get too drunk and not be able to enjoy myself properly."
"I'd look out for you," he offered with a lazy smile. "Just for the novelty, if nothing else."
Ginny frowned. "Redheads are in short supply in your social circle?"
"I meant that you're interesting," he said, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. "It was your special birthday compliment."
"Well, aren't I special? I'm interesting." She took a drink from her glass and smiled at him. "Girls love compliments like that."
Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "Was that sarcasm? I can't quite tell with you."
"Yes, Malfoy! I know I don't seem terribly feminine to you, but girls like compliments along the lines of 'pretty' or something like that. Though interesting will do. I've had worse, certainly."
"All right, all right! Don't get upset, it'll ruin our little dinner party." Taking a sip of his wine, he looked her over thoughtfully. "I'd never describe you by a word as insipid as pretty. Daisies and roses are pretty, but they're common as muck. You're more like an orchid, but not the hothouse kind. More like the ones that grow wild in the jungle, lush and vivid."
"Lush?" she asked, eyebrows raised. "Are you drunk?"
His teeth flashed as he grinned crookedly. "Nowhere near; I have the tolerance of a rhinoceros. But if you don't like being lush, I'll find another word."
"No, no," she protested, giggling. "I like it just fine. It seems like a description I'll have to work to live up to, though."
"Does it? I wouldn't have thought so." Shrugging, he returned to his food. "You've also got a nice arse."
"Oh, Merlin. You are drunk. I haven't heard that since I wore my Quidditch kit." She grinned at him. "Though I'll bet you hear it all the time."
He lifted his glass in a mocking toast. "Voted best bottom in the league, male division, three years running."
"To fantastic arses," she said, clinking her glass against his. "May they never fail us."
"Long may they be decorative," he said, and they went back to their food.
Ginny felt a little guilty enjoying herself as much as she did with Draco; she ate too much, she certainly drank too much, and before she was really ready for her surprise birthday tea to be over, she found herself apparating to Malfoy Manor on the arm of the heir, himself.
"It's not exactly beautiful, but it's very impressive," Ginny said with a critical look in her eye, her head cocked to the side as she looked at the house Malfoy'd grown up in. "I'm not sure what's meant by the white peacocks, though. Are they pets?"
"Yeah, my father's. I've never wanted to ask, really. He loves the damned things." As they passed, he plucked a white rose from a trellis and denuded it of thorns before tucking it into her hair. "It's not an orchid, but it's enough for now, I suppose."
"A white rose," Ginny mused. "They mean new beginnings," she said thoughtfully. "As well as innocence and purity, but that doesn't quite cover either of us," she said with a wink. "Where to first, tonight?" she asked as they entered the manor. "You can decide, as you've been quite the host this evening."
With a smirk, Draco said, "Come along. We'll start at the top and work our way down to a big finish."
"Oooh," she said, unable to completely wipe the silly grin from her face. "Now I'm all anticipatory." A giggle bubbled out of her lips, and she cleared her throat to cover her unprofessional manner. "Though in a completely Ministry-approved way."
"I wouldn't expect anything else from you," he said wryly.
"Was that sarcasm?" she asked, doing a fair imitation of his drawl from earlier in the evening. "I can't quite tell with you."
Watching her as she cursorily glanced into the rooms they passed, Draco said, "I suppose it was. You're not really all that dedicated to the spirit of the Ministry practices, are you?"
She should never have had the third glass of wine with dinner. It made the words too easily spill from her lips. "Sometimes it's a right pain, you know?" she asked blithely. "You lot haven't been involved in anything dark since way back when." An involuntary shudder made its way down her spine as the vision of Lord Voldemort's red eyes flitted through her mind. "Still, it pays the bills, you know?"
"Not really, but I'll take your word for it." The joking words couldn't fully repress the thoughtfulness her words had engendered, and he said, "I don't think that we can ever fully leave darkness behind - not in the way you mean it. If nothing else, I wear a reminder on my arm, both of who I am and why I shouldn't risk more than I'm willing to lose."
Ginny stopped and looked up at him, studiously avoiding dropping her gaze to the sleeve covering his left arm. She gave a small shrug. "And that right there is why I feel this is a waste of the Ministry's time and resources. However, I enjoy your pastries and your company on occasions when you're being especially charming," she said, inclining he head in his direction. "So what the Ministry can't quite figure out benefits me, in a way." Pausing, she grew wide-eyed. "That makes me just awful doesn't it?"
"It's very Slytherin of you. I approve." Not sure what prompted his next words, he nonetheless blurted out, "Do you want to see it? A lot of people ask."
"See what, Malfoy?" Ginny asked, suddenly a little anxious. Could he read minds? Could he perform Legilmency? Did he know that she'd thought about kissing him earlier? "You're going to have to be a little more specific."
Running a hand through his hair, he said impatiently, "The Mark, Weasley. You know, what we were just talking about?"
"Oh, that." Ginny's eyes sparkled and she almost laughed. "Do you want to see my tattoo?" she asked with a grin.
Once again, his eyebrows shot up with surprise, and he found himself wanting to laugh. "Depends. Where is it?"
"Erm..." She squinted up at him, wondering why the hell she'd just shared the fact that she even had a tattoo with him. "On my hip?"
With a small snicker, he said, "And you said you weren't going to threaten my virtue. What do you call offering to bare your hip?"
"Compared to what you usually get after treating a girl to dinner? Not even close, Malfoy." Still smiling, she continued down the corridor. "But if you're scared to see the teensiest bit of the top portion of my arse, I won't force you."
They were making their way back down the stairs by that point, and he paused to rub his chin theatrically. Finally, he said, "No, I think maybe you'll have to buy me dinner first."
"Hrmph. I think I'll keep my tattoo to myself, then," she said loftily. "Where to next? The regular ballroom, the Grand Ballroom, or the really gigantically enormous ballroom that I can never remember the name for?"
Taking her elbow, he guided her through an imposing set of double doors. "The State Ballroom. We've hosted royalty there, and now you."
"Well hurrah for me." She smirked at him and gave him a sympathetic look. "Sort of sad for you, though. How the mighty have fallen."
"I suppose we'll muddle through somehow." Waving his wand to start music playing, he bowed and held his hand out. "May I have this dance?"
Before she could stop herself, Ginny looked around to see who he was talking to. Seeing no one else around, she smiled. Right now, she didn't care that it was sort of pathetic that one of her Ministry assignments was asking her to dance, or that the next time they met he'd probably be a narcissistic prig again. It was her birthday, and a handsome man was asking her to dance. To hell with propriety, she thought, nodding and taking his hand. "I'd love to."
He led her through a basic waltz, surprised to find she was light on her feet and very responsive. It was much too easy for that thought to transition to whether she'd be as responsive in bed, and his eyes dropped to rake over her body before he remembered himself and kept his gaze firmly above her neck. Casting about for something polite but neutral to say, he came up with, "You're a good dancer."
"Thanks, Malfoy," she said, a blush creeping up her cheeks. She tried to remember how long it had it been since Harry danced with her. She frowned in earnest, trying to recall the last time he'd actually touched her at all, if her reaction to her hand resting lightly on Draco Malfoy's well-built shoulder was giving her illicit thoughts. "So are you."
A clock chimed, and Draco pulled back, letting the music fade away. "I suppose you'll turn into a pumpkin if you're not home soon."
"Oh, yes. I've a date with some ice cream and the wireless." She stood awkwardly in the ballroom, thinking about the best way to thank him. "You were sweet tonight, Malfoy, thanks."
"Hey, there's no need to be insulting," Draco said with a crooked smile. "Next year, you'll have to come up with two baked goods to top this. It's Slytherin self-interest all the way."
Ginny laughed. "Oh, now I see how it is." She glanced at him as they walked toward the front doors of the manor. "Did you actually eat it? I mean, with all the elves you have you're not exactly hurting for homemade pastries."
"Of course I did." After he'd checked it for poisons or any other potentially harmful additives.
"Well, you're just full of surprises, aren't you?"
Smirking, he apparated them back to his house and said, "That's not what I'm usually accused of being full of, so I'll take it."
Author notes: ***********
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To Be Continued.
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