Not quite. As she reached the front door of the Malfoy building, she slowed down from a dead run to a slightly more dignified scurry, discreetly trying to catch her breath as she walked into the building almost ten minutes late. She needn't have bothered with the attempt, as no one was paying attention to her. They were all much too focused on the flaming row taking place in the middle of the reception area.
Ginny attempted to slink around it, but then what was actually being said filtered through and she marched into the fray. "Not only am I not missing, but I can think of no earthly reason why either of the Mister Malfoys would give a damn where I am."
Relaxing infinitesimally, Draco sneered at Ron and Harry, who still looked angry. "Never mind, I suppose it's just as well you didn't attempt to actually do your jobs and find her. It looks like she just spent the night getting what she obviously doesn't get at home."
It felt like he'd just slapped her in the face, but Ginny strove to maintain control. Draco Malfoy was an arse, always had been. Just because he wasn't a psychopath didn't make him a nice person. Distantly, she heard Ron and Harry turning on her, scolding her for not having at least owled. "We were out all night looking for you!"
"Oh, so you didn't go to the Cannons game?" It was a standard comment from the voice in her head, but this time it sounded different. With horror, she realized it was because she'd said it out loud. Before Ron could finish puffing up defensively, or Harry work up to an apology, she said, "It's all right. You had good seats, and I'm a grownup. There's no reason you should've missed the game."
"Right," Ron said gruffly. "You know Mum, she was worried to death."
Ginny forced herself to smile, despite the voice in her head shrieking with indignation at being treated like a child. "Maybe you could go tell her that I'm all right, and that I'll send her an owl? And I might be late again tonight, since I'll have to make up the time I missed, thanks to the two of you making a fool of me in front of all my coworkers."
The last bit might've been contributed by her inner Bad Girl, but she fully agreed with the sentiment.
Ron and Harry left, and once it was obvious that the show was over, the people who'd gathered to watch started drifting away. Ginny joined the exodus, halfway to the lifts before she realized Draco was following her. Shrugging, she got in the lift and pressed the button for her floor, but not the one to hold the door open. It closed just before Draco got there, and she felt a small, mean satisfaction as she rode down and then stopped by the loo to freshen up before going into her office.
Not really surprised that Draco was there waiting for her by the time she got to her office, she hung up her cloak and brought all her notes to her desk. "I'll have you know, not everyone just randomly sleeps with people at a moment's notice. I don't appreciate your assumption."
"You're wearing the same clothes and running late," he pointed out, but then held up his hands as she glared at him. "Got it, got it. I'm not to assume that you have a perfectly normal sex life. Got it."
Ginny did not feel particularly assuaged by this, but she still got out the lockbox for confidential material that accidentally made its way to the regular archive and put her notes inside it. Once she was done, she folded her hands primly on the desk and asked, "Did you need anything, Mister Malfoy?"
Rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, he said uncomfortably, "I guess not. I just wanted to check that you were all right, see how you were doing."
Unconsciously, Ginny's hand flew up to touch her face, which was unmarred by anything more than freckles. "There's no reason why I wouldn't be just fine, is there?"
"Well, apparently it's fairly uncharacteristic for you to be out all night," he said, making himself comfortable in her empty visitor chair. "And you were late for the first time ever after taking off yesterday afternoon. You'll miss out on this year's perfect attendance bonus if this keeps up."
Smiling a little at his teasing expression, she said, "I suppose it'd be only fair to give someone else a crack at it."
"Between you and me, you're in for a hefty bonus this year even if you never show up for work again." Draco's casual facade cracked a bit as some bitterness seeped through. "If he wasn't afraid of seeming like he was bribing a witness, my father would've been down here already, offering you everything short of the crown jewels for keeping me out of jail and thus saving him from having to tell my mother about all this."
"I don't think I have anything in my wardrobe suitable to accessorize with the Kohinoor, so I'll have to pass." Not to mention that the thought of having to deal with Lucius Malfoy directly was enough to give her the screaming heebiejeebies, but it seemed undiplomatic to say so. "I do have to talk to you, though, privately."
He looked around at the deserted office, on a floor no one ever went to. "More private?"
Grimacing, she shrugged and cast a silencing spell around the room, then said, "It's about the things we were discussing before, but if you're absolutely sure no one could get in here, say, under an invisibility cloak, or with extendable ears, or with muggle listening devices, or--"
"I see your point," he said, cutting off her list of alternatives. "Come on, we'll go somewhere. My office is probably subject to the same issues."
With a nod, Ginny opened the lockbox again and pulled out her notes, only to have them snatched out of her hands. "Not a lot of operational security if you've written..." He paused and looked down at the papers. "Actually, a lot of gibberish."
"I'll explain when we get where we're going," she said, taking back her notes. "Trust me, the cloak and dagger routine is necessary."
Before they could leave the office, an owl fluttered in and dropped a red envelope on Ginny's desk. They shared a look, and Draco gave her a quick salute before leaving quickly, allowing Ginny to listen to her mother's howler in privacy, if not peace. The Bad Girl in her head was seething at the very idea that a twenty-three year old woman would have to put up with getting a howler just for spending one night without being at home. There were plenty of times that Ron or Harry missed dinner or stayed out all night, and all they got was a smaller helping at the next meal for which they appeared.
If you had your own flat, your mother wouldn't know whether or not you came home, and you'd get to sleep without hearing Ron and Hermione going at it upstairs. The thought was as tempting as it always was, but she wouldn't do anything about it. The money she brought in helped with the household expenses, and her mother would be deeply hurt at the thought that her baby girl had left home to be on her own. It wouldn't be proper.
Ginny felt unbearably tired. She didn't want to deal with her mother, but she didn't particularly want to deal with Draco right now, either. Locking up her notes once more and adding a nasty hex in case anyone came around prying, she took her cloak and swept out of the building, not sure where she was going to go, other than 'away.'
It took almost a half an hour of walking to clear her head, and she walked into a store and bought an expensive set of business robes, casting a freshening spell on herself before allowing them to tailor it precisely to her measurements. She debated sending an owl, but decided that the element of surprise might serve her better. Instead, she arranged for a private coach while she was having her hair done, and it delivered her right to Pansy Parkinson's doorstep.
Expecting to be turned away, she nevertheless knocked on the massive front door, and informed the house elf of her name and that she wanted to see Miss Parkinson. After the first rebuff, Ginny stuck her foot in the door and said desperately, "Ask her - can you just ask her, how well did her face heal?"
"Let her in." Ginny looked up to see Pansy Parkinson standing on the staircase, looking fragile and beautiful. Her skin was pale as milk, dramatic against the dark blue of her satin robes, and her hair fell in soft waves over her shoulders and covered half of her face. It was a dramatic look, but Ginny wondered what Pansy was hiding with her hairstyle.
It didn't make a difference to feeling like a grubby peasant, despite the expensive new robes and hairstyle. Pansy looked her over and shook her head, then waved an arm to one side as she wafted down the staircase. "Bring tea to the morning room," Pansy said to the elf, then showed Ginny the way.
Once they were seated, with Ginny clutching a cup of tea and Pansy looking her over like a curious panther, Ginny found that she couldn't quite work up the nerve to say anything. The silence was unbearable, though, so finally she burst out with, "You're looking very well."
"Am I?" Pansy lifted her hair with one delicate hand. The skin underneath was still livid, puckered and scarred in a rough half-circle that curled up from the corner of one eyebrow, around her temple, and then down to trace the outline of her cheekbone, ending just below her eye and pulling the corner of her mouth slightly upwards, like a permanently mocking smile at her own disfigurement. "You'll forgive me if I beg to differ."
A gasp escaped Ginny, and she felt her cheeks heat up as Pansy looked at her mockingly. "I'm sorry, I hadn't expected it to be that bad."
Pansy laughed, a sharp sound that caught both of them by surprise. "I'll give you full marks for honesty. The question is why you expected it at all."
"She didn't stop with you," Ginny said softly, her hands clenched so tightly around her teacup that her knuckles were white. "My brother and Harry are the ones investigating, and they won't believe Draco's innocent. They wouldn't believe him if he said the sky is blue."
"True, but why don't you just tell them? Aren't you Potter's girlfriend?" Pansy let her hair fall back over her face and looked flawless once more.
Grimacing, Ginny said, "Not exactly. Sort of. Anyway, he wouldn't listen to me."
With a lift of her eyebrow, Pansy said, "Definitely not a girlfriend, then."
See? Even Pansy Parkinson gets it, and she doesn't give a damn. So why do you keep holding on and pretending you don't see what's right in front of your face? Keeping her face from betraying her inner turmoil by dint of long practice, Ginny turned her attention back to her purpose. "Can you tell me what happened to you? Would you testify officially, so we have more to show the investigators?"
"No." Pansy's hand shook as she poured herself some tea, then snapped her fingers. A house elf appeared and poured a generous measure of whiskey into Pansy's cup, then disappeared again. "Maybe. If it meant saving Draco's life. But I don't want to."
Ginny didn't know what to say and so she sat, trying not to squirm as her new robes scratched and rustled and Pansy sipped at her whiskey and tea. She thought again how glad she was that she'd spent the money on the clothes and the hairstyle, because without them she wouldn't have had the courage to stay, to wait and be still under Pansy's gimlet stare.
"What are you getting out of this?"
The question was surprising, and Ginny didn't quite know how to answer it. Remembering how the other girl had been while they were at Hogwarts, and the way Tom thought about things, she said firmly, "Draco's already told me his father's very grateful for my efforts. That gratitude could be very rewarding."
Pansy laughed so hard that some of her drink splashed out of the cup and left a mark on the beautifully plush carpet. "Try again, darling. If Lucius Malfoy's gratitude had bought you new robes, they wouldn't come off the rack."
Blushing fiercely, Ginny said, "It's the right thing to do."
"And that matters to you." Looking down at her hands, Pansy said, "It never did to me, you know. The right thing is a distant second to self-interest."
"Don't you care, at all? About justice, not just for Draco, but for you?"
Pansy thought about it, and put her cup down. "No, I don't think I do." Before Ginny could collapse under the weight of her disappointment, Pansy put her cup aside and said, "But I do find that I like the idea of revenge, and that's almost the same thing, isn't it?"
Ginny wasn't sure how to answer, but Pansy wasn't listening anyway. "Draco and I grew up together, because our parents had arranged that we'd get married someday and thought we might as well like each other. And we did, most of the time, but then the Malfoys fell out of the Dark Lord's favor and the wedding was off."
"But... You were in love, couldn't you..." Ginny's words drifted off as Pansy looked at her in amazement.
"Where did you get that idea?" Pansy shook her head, reflexively reaching up to make sure her hair remained in place over her scar. "Maybe things are different in your social class, but amongst the best families, marriage is too important to be left to hormones and infatuation. It would've been a solid alliance, and I liked Draco. That was enough to make it a dream match."
Pansy shrugged and waved a hand dismissively. "In any case, we were still friends, and we got a bit closer after the Dark Lord's defeat. Talked about reviving the contract, but my mother was planning a different match, and the Malfoys had some retrenching to do, what with the expenses in repairing the manor."
Not only did Ginny have trouble grasping the concept, but even the voice in her head was appalled at the concept. Marry for money and you'll end up working for every cent.
"I had no idea that she was even interested in Draco, not until I came home and she was there, waiting." Pansy's eyes were fixed on the distant past, and she fingered her scar absently as she whispered, "I was so scared. I've seen plenty of bad people and insane people, and I was still absolutely terrified. When she said I had to stay away from Draco, I swore that I would. I didn't even hesitate, but she cut me open anyway. Carved open my flesh and then made me swear on my own blood that I wouldn't see Draco again."
"Couldn't you rescind that, though? An oath taken under duress..."
Trembling so hard that she was practically vibrating, Pansy turned her eyes to Ginny, the pupils so dilated by fear that there was barely a sliver of the iris showing. "I have never doubted that she will kill me if I make any attempt to see Draco in even the most innocent or casual of ways. I stay here, where I'm safe, where I won't run into Draco, because she's out there. She's out there, and the agony I went through when she ruined my face is nothing compared to what she'd do to me if I broke my oath."
Ginny wished she knew how to call back the elf with the whiskey. As it was, the most she could do was say soothingly, "It will be all right. Draco and his father already have a team of investigators finding out everything about Constance Wilton. It won't be long before they catch her."
"Constance Wilton?" Still trembling, Pansy picked up her cup and it rattled against her teeth as she drained the last of the whiskey and tea. "I don't know who that is. I thought you were going to find Katie Bell, go after her with all your Gryffindor heroics and finally set me free!"
The cup Ginny had been clutching fell out of her nerveless fingers. "What do you mean, Katie Bell? Constance is the one who's been--"
"Get out," Pansy said icily, sweeping to her feet. "Get out, and don't come back."
Her mind reeling, Ginny scrambled to obey. "I'm sorry for hurting you," she called out as she cleared the front door, unsure if Pansy heard her. The coach she'd hired was long gone, and Ginny started walking, pondering whether her new hairstyle would survive a stint on the Knight Bus, and whether she should have it take her home or back to work.
The question was moot, because as soon as she'd cleared the front gates of Pansy's property, a muggle car pulled in front of her, shining and silver and dangerous looking. The door was thrown open and from inside Draco growled, "Get in."
That took a bit of maneuvering, as her robes where long and the car was low, but she managed it by pulling up the skirt and sort of half-sliding, half-dropping into the car. She'd barely had time to close the door before Draco took off, his attention unwavering as the car practically flew down the road. Ginny leaned back as something wrapped around her, buckling itself with a click and strapping her to her seat.
It was a bit disconcerting that Draco didn't even look at her, let alone say anything, and eventually she said timidly, "What's wrong?"
"You have to ask?" Draco shifted gears and they sped up even more, making Ginny want to close her eyes against how fast the scenery was passing by. "Are you stupid? If you don't care about yourself, can you at least give a damn that maybe I don't want anyone else to die because of me, that I shouldn't have to see you like I saw Astoria?"
Ginny's hands flew over her eyes as it seemed like they would crash into a building that she could've sworn hadn't been there a moment ago. "Slow down!"
He stopped instead, the car sliding slightly to one side as he turned it off and turned to face her. "How could you put yourself at risk like that?"
Frowning, Ginny wondered why he was so upset. "I just wanted to find out what Pansy knew. I wasn't at risk."
With a deep breath, Draco scrubbed his hand over his face. "Constance Wilton didn't exist until a few years ago, just after Pansy disappeared. They might be the same person, and you just walked into her house!"
The thought hadn't occurred to Ginny that Pansy could be Constance, but then, it hadn't occurred to her that Constance had ever been someone else. "She's not, though. She was just her first victim." Thinking about that, Ginny shook slightly. "At least, I'm pretty sure she was the first."
"But I haven't even caught a glimpse of Pansy in years," Draco said, appalled. "She just dropped me completely, barred me from contacting her in any way, disappeared from my life - how could Constance possibly have anything against her?"
Ginny cringed against her plush leather seat, knowing how much he'd hate hearing this. "Constance - Katie - cut Pansy's face open and made her swear not to have anything to do with you. At least twenty girls you dated had their faces attacked."
"Twenty." Draco crumpled down into his seat, looking defeated. "Were they all..."
He trailed off and she reached out to put her hand over his. "I think they were all attacked by the same person, yes, and they were all girls you had dated."
"You said Katie - did you mean Katie Bell?" He didn't pull his hand away, just looked at her with anxious eyes. "Not her, the girl with the necklace. She couldn't be doing this."
Ginny grimaced, but nodded. "It... I don't want to think so, but Pansy couldn't possibly be mistaken about who attacked her, and no one's heard from Katie in a long while."
Shuddering, Draco turned his hand to squeeze hers tightly. "I can't stand it. I don't know how to live with this, knowing it's all because of me."
Ginny turned in her seat and said passionately, "It's not your fault!"
"What if it is?" Draco looked away from her, staring out the window as he said distantly, "What if it’s me? What if there’s something wrong with me? What if my getting her cursed and then promising her I'd take care of her bills and anything else she needed was enough to make her mind snap?"
Not knowing how to answer, Ginny just let him keep his grip on her hand and stayed quiet. After a while, still looking at something in the distance, he said softly, "Why didn't anybody see it?"
It was a good question, and she was ashamed to think of the answer. Taking a deep breath, Ginny forced herself to say, "She just sort of... drifted away, and we let her. We thought we were being kind, that she took it really hard when Fred died and didn't want reminders."
"Another thing that was my fault," Draco muttered, hanging his head only to look up in shock as Ginny slapped him, hard.
"Don't you dare, don't you dare reduce my brother's death to an excuse for your self-pity." Breathing hard, Ginny struggled against the belt that kept her from storming out of the car and away. "I believe in you, but you can't, I won't let you. You're not that important, Draco Malfoy!"
She managed to get free and shot out of the car, but Draco was right behind her. "Ginny! Ginny, I'm sorry." Catching hold of her arm, he forced her to turn around and face him. "I'm sorry. Please believe me, I didn't mean to hurt you."
Wiping her eyes, she said fiercely, "You can blame yourself for being a stupid kid, or for toying with women's affections. You can even blame yourself for being a guy and wanting to sleep with as many women as you can, like it's some sort of game where you're trying for the highest score. That's fine, since you actually did those things, but you don't get to blame yourself for anything you didn't do."
Fine words, but do you live them? Ginny froze as the voice spoke up, not even noticing that Draco had pulled her into his arms and was telling her not to cry. You blame yourself every day. You blame yourself for not really wanting Harry anymore, for not being what your mother wants you to be, for everything you do and don't do. What you don't blame yourself for would be a shorter list.
Pushing the thought aside, Ginny forced herself out of Draco's arms and said the first thing that came to mind. "I'm hungry."
"Of course," he said, standing up straight and holding her car door open. "I can drop you off anywhere, or we could go to your office and we can order something."
Sliding into the car, she said, "My office. I can get my notes, and we can go somewhere to talk in private, like we were going to earlier."
"I had your floor swept, and security in your office is now top-notch," he said, starting the car. "We should be safe to talk there, as well as to withstand a siege. No aurors, no tabloid reporters, and no waiting for reinforcements if there's an emergency of any sort."
Ginny's eyebrows shot up in surprise and he shrugged. "Father didn't want to take any chances that something would happen to our best character witness, and I thought it'd be helpful if your office was as secure as mine, as well as more private since it's so secluded."
"I'm pretty sure secluded refers to islands and other exotic locales," Ginny said, her mind busy working through all the new information she'd gotten today. "My office is just isolated."
Draco shrugged and took a corner so sharply that she dug her fingernails into the seat and closed her eyes. He didn't seem to notice, saying casually, "What do you think, should we have Chinese, or maybe pizza? What do you like?"
"Arriving in one piece," she said from between gritted teeth. He laughed, but slowed down. "I don't care what we eat. Just so long as it's not beef and potatoes."
They settled on vindaloo and lamb kebabs, and Ginny wasn't exactly sorry that they never quite got around to discussing her notes. Instead they chattered about inconsequential things - who would win the League Cup, what they'd done since Hogwarts, and what each of them actually did during the day. It bothered Ginny just how much of what she said about herself bored her to tears. Oh, now you pay attention. You've been bored and restless for years.
As she was clearing up the leftovers, Draco said hesitantly, "Do you think you could do me a favor? I mean, more than you've done by looking into all this, which I can never repay you for."
"Just ask," she said, wiping off her desk. "I'll say yes or no, depending on if I can."
Getting up to toss the remains of their lunch into the trash can, Draco said, "Well, it's really just a matter of staying late tomorrow, and maybe the day after. Really late, actually." Looking uncomfortable, he brushed his hands off and sat down again. "See, my mum and dad have been staying home with me all the time, so that I have an alibi for every second of the day and night."
"That's..." Ginny thought for a moment and decided on honesty. "That has to be incredibly annoying, even if it's a sensible precaution."
"God, yes." With a scowl, Draco said, "I love my parents, but I love them a lot more when we see a bit less of each other, and I can close my front door and run around in my underwear, eating whatever I want."
That sounds really good, actually. And not just the part about him being in his underwear.
"Anyway, my mum was really looking forward to the premiere of Les Troyens, and she's convinced she can't go because of needing to be home with me." Forestalling Ginny's obvious question, he smiled a little and said, "Mother absolutely refuses to go to the opera with me along. Apparently I fidget, and the comments I make about the staging and the singers and the libretto, etc., aren't as amusing as I think they are."
Hiding a giggle behind her hand, Ginny said, "I'm sure they'd be amusing to someone not there to actually listen to the fat ladies singing."
"Precisely my position," he said. "In any case, if I have someone else to sit with, my mum and dad will go, and we'll all be a lot happier. I'd offer to actually take you out somewhere interesting to express my appreciation for saving me from Trojans shrieking in French for two nights in a row, but with Constance out there somewhere, I don't want her to get any ideas."
Constance wasn't the only one liable to getting ideas. If the Malfoys hadn't found her, she was pretty deeply hidden, and Katie wasn't stupid enough to come out without a reason. What if a reason presented itself? What if the reason was another Gryffindor, a former friend, a threat not just to Katie's current persona, but to her old one? What if, to come right down to it, Ginny used herself as bait?
"Ginny?" Draco was standing in front of her, waving a hand in front of her face. "Are you all right? You went blank there for a minute."
"What?" Looking up at him, she shook herself and said, "Yeah, I'm fine. And I'll stay late with you, but you're buying dinner."
He smiled at her, and she was a bit dazzled and cursing herself for it. "Great. I'll see you tomorrow, then." He left, but then ducked back in the door to say, "That outfit looks really good on you, by the way. Sorry I forgot to say so before."
After he'd gone, for real this time, she sat herself down at her desk to have a long talk with herself on the subject of how incredibly stupid it would be to get attached to Draco Malfoy. Her list of reasons started with her own terrible history at getting crushes on unavailable targets, detoured through what Pansy had told her about relationships in the upper class, and ended with the fact that it was quite literally a life-threatening condition. But he's actually kind of nice, whined the voice in her head. And that's on top of being handsome and charming, and you're going to be putting your life at risk anyway...
Once again telling the voice in her head to shut up, she made her way out of the building, stopping on the corner to buy a newspaper so she could scan the flats to let and see if there was anything in her price range. She had some money set aside, and really, it was past time she got to try running around in her underwear while eating prepackaged or exotic foods. And if she was going to try her mad, brilliant idea, it would be just as well not to endanger her family while baiting a trap.
She'd barely entered the house when she sensed something was wrong, and when everyone at the table went silent, it was confirmed. "Since when does dinner start early without everyone at home yet?"
"As you'd decided not to grace us with your presence last night, and chose not to even send an owl to let me know when to expect you home, I thought you might not be coming." Molly rose to her feet with a queenly dignity, moving to the icebox to pull out a covered plate. "If you'll sit down, the perfectly good dinner you missed last night will be warm and ready for you."
It was the exact same thing Molly had done when one of her children had turned up their nose at dinner - the same food would reappear until the recalcitrant child ate it, and apologized. Ginny knew that the best thing to do would be to apologize, sit down, eat the food quietly, and thank her mother. Everything would be forgiven, and she'd probably get a piece of today's dessert as a reward for being a good girl.
Fuck being a good girl! "I'm not hungry, thanks. You can pack it for lunch for Ron or Harry."
The gauntlet was well and truly thrown now, because neither of the boys ever had leftovers for lunch. Since they were doing important, manly work, they got important, manly lunches. Ginny was expected to see the sense of being frugal, even though she contributed to the household finances from her 'little secretarial job,' the one that was slightly shameful for her to hold but probably all right as long as she gave it up easily when she got married. Neither of the boys contributed, because they were growing lads and needed some pocket money. And they can't afford it, as their wages are crap.
Tightening her lips, Molly wrapped the dish back up and moved to put it in the icebox. "If you won't eat your food, you won't eat at my table. I can't afford to be a restaurant just because--"
"Just because one of your children is putting on airs," Ginny finished for her, having used her wand to bring the plate to her hand. For a brief moment, her father and Ron and Hermione and Harry relaxed, and Ginny was tempted to sit down and eat, to let it all blow over and not cause any more trouble.
Then Harry smiled at her mother, not at her, and everyone turned back to their food and it was like she'd been forgotten, like as soon as she was back being a good girl she wasn't even worthy of attention. Quietly, Ginny walked over to the rubbish bin, unwrapped the linen napkin from the plate, and started scraping its contents in with the rest of the trash.
No one said anything, and once all the food was off the plate, Ginny let the plate and silverware fall into the sink with a crash before reaching into her robes for her money pouch and pulling out a handful of money. "That should be enough to cover the restaurant bill."
The coins jangled merrily as they rolled over the tabletop, clinking against glasses and silverware as Ginny swept from the room, heading up the stairs to her room. The thought occurred that doing so was probably childish, but storming back out without so much as a toothbrush wasn't going to be a good option.
She wondered who would get sent up. Her mum wouldn't come; it'd be beneath her dignity to chase a sulking child. Ron might come, as being actually related meant it should be his job. He'd want Hermione to come up, though, because a girl might understand better why Ginny was acting so mad. It'd probably be Harry, though. As her boyfriend, it was definitely his job to handle her, especially since her mother would probably take the opportunity to hint about Ginny needing to be mistress of her own household.
Well, she did, and not whenever Harry decided to make a Mrs. of her, but now. Digging around in her desk drawer, Ginny found her old school trunk and expanded it to its real size. Once the inside had been dusted out, Ginny looked around her room and started thinking of what she would take with her.
The collection of soft toys could stay; Ginny had wanted to give them to charity more than once. Her jewelry box went into the trunk, as did her basket of toiletries. She started to pack all of her clothes, then stopped and started discarding everything that she hated but kept because it still had plenty of wear left in it. Her broom went in, as did a selection of her books, culled in a similar way to the clothes. Photographs of her family went in, because she loved them no matter how angry she got. The posters that she'd adored when she was ten stayed on the walls, sparkling in rainbow colors that she could finally fall asleep without seeing.
Her trunk seemed pitifully empty, but she couldn't think of anything else to put into it. Sitting down on the bed heavily, she wondered if she should want to cry.
The knock on her door was too soft to be Ron or Harry. Ginny braced herself to put up with Hermione when instead she heard her dad calling her name softly. She stood and let him in, then allowed him to gather her into his arms. "It's time for you to go, isn't it?"
She sniffled a bit, but nodded. Still speaking softly, her father said, "I thought I'd be sad when this day came but, do you know, I'm glad? Not that you're leaving, but that my little spitfire has started peeking out again. I thought she was lost, and I missed her."
"Daddy, what if..." She swallowed hard, but then made herself give voice to her fears. "What if I'm not a good person? What if I disappoint you and Mum?"
He shook his head and patted her back. "You'll always be a good person, even if you do bad things - all of us do, sometimes. And you can't disappoint us so much we don't love you. It's not possible, Ginny-bee."
A few more tears soaked into his shirtfront, but she pulled herself together quickly, pulling back and smiling as best she could. Her dad smiled back and patted her shoulder. "Do you need any money? If you don't have a place to say, your aunt--"
"It's okay." This time Ginny's smile was stronger, and she gave him another quick hug. "I've got money saved up, and I can bunk with Luna or stay at the Cauldron while I look for a place."
Picking up her trunk, Arthur said, "You're always welcome to come home, if you want to."
"I know, Daddy." Ginny felt shaky, but good - strong, in a way she hadn't felt for a long time, longer than she could remember. "I think I need to be on my own now, though."
He nodded and preceded her down the stairs, and when the others started talking, he looked grim, less like the dad that hid his plugs in the shed and more like the man who had faced down Death Eaters and come out triumphant. "Ginny is an adult, and she is making her own decisions. None of us have the right to question that."
"Arthur!" Her mother's wail was almost pitiful, but her dad shook his head and, unhappily, her mother stepped aside.
Once outside, he waited for her until the Knight Bus came, then kissed her forehead and said, "Don't stay away too long, all right? And if you're in trouble, any kind of trouble, you run straight home and we'll handle it together."
After one last hug, she climbed up the steps, dragging her trunk behind her. "Goodbye, Daddy! I love you!"
Alone at last. It was a frightening thought, and an exhilarating one. An inspection of her current funds showed that she didn't actually have that much cash after her grand gesture, nowhere near enough for a night at any inn she'd be willing to sleep in, and the thought of interrupting Luna during a sexual escapade was distasteful. Seeing her normal work stop up ahead, she decided that she'd take advantage of the floo in her office to make a decision, even if it was to sleep in her office until Gringott's opened.
Luna didn't answer the floo, and so Ginny was just contemplating which piece of furniture would respond best to transfiguration when a contingent of burly guards burst in, wands pointed at her face. Too scared to scream, Ginny dropped her own wand and backed into a corner, cringing.
"What the hell are you doing here?" For all that he sounded furious, Draco's voice was one of the most welcome sounds Ginny had ever heard. "No, stand down, she's with me - stand down, I said."
Remembering the identification rituals they'd had to follow during the war, Ginny cast about for something that would identify her to Draco and came up with, "You drive too fast."
"And you write gibberish." He gave her a half-smile and moved to stand between her and the guards. "She's just confirmed her identity, and she's allowed to be here whenever she wants. Just a false alarm."
She waited until the last of the guards had gone before letting out the breath she'd been holding. "Thank you. I--"
"What possessed you to break into a building where you know security's been heightened, and you know they're looking for a dangerous woman? Do you know what could've happened to you?" He had her by the shoulders, and she didn't think he was entirely aware that he was likely to leave bruises.
"Sorry, I guess it was stupid." Wriggling slightly, she managed to break his grip and took a step away. "I just wanted to use the floo, that's all."
Spotting her trunk, he raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Did you run away from home over a howler?"
"Not over a howler," she muttered, moving to sit down at her desk in the hopes that it would help her feel more in control of her circumstances. "Aren't you supposed to be with your parents?"
He shrugged. "I had to work late, so I promised to keep one of the guards with me at all times." With a crooked grin, he said, "Congratulations, by the way, on your promotion to being a guard."
"I don't have to wear a uniform, do I?" Ginny giggled. "I'm pretty sure they don't have any in my size."
"You can be plainclothes," he said generously. "Although that's not to say I don't encourage you appearing in clothes that aren't plain."
Shaking her head, she laughed. "You know, I'd be a terrible guard. Someone would be coming for you, and I'd be throwing myself out of the way rather than between you and the hexes."
"If I recall correctly, you threw some of those hexes, once upon a time." Rubbing his face, he said ruefully, "I was sore for a week after that stunt at the end of fifth year."
The reminder made her stop laughing, as she realized, as if for the first time, that this Draco Malfoy was the same one that had been a horrid git at school, who'd teased her mercilessly if he caught her alone, and ignored her totally if there was anyone else around. The Draco Malfoy that had let the Death Eaters into school when his family was threatened. Draco Malfoy, who had ultimately not been a hero, but not quite a villain, either. Who needs me.
"I want to be bait." She said it quickly, in a rush, as if she had to get it out quickly or not at all. "Katie will come out to attack me if she thinks you're interested in me, and you can catch her."
"No!" The word exploded from him with a vehemence she'd never have dreamed of seeing from him over anything. "Are you insane? There's no way on earth I'd risk you like that."
Ginny was nonplussed by his reaction and said, "Was there someone else you thought you might risk?"
"What? No, of course not." He looked actively disgusted, and offended.
Hastily, she said, "I didn't mean to imply anything, I just thought... Well, I'm here, and I know Katie. I don't think you'll catch her unless she's angry enough to attack someone else, so either you live your life in fear, or you have to do something to control when and who she attacks."
It was highly unnerving, the way he stared at her, but she endured and just waited for him to respond, sure that he'd see the sense of her suggestion. Finally, he just shrugged and said, "We'll discuss it tomorrow, when we've both had a chance to calm down. You've got a point, but I still hate the thought of putting you in danger."
At least he'd listened to her, and Ginny was sure when he thought it through, he'd agree that it was the best possible plan. "I guess you should call one of the guards," she said, tucking her hair back behind her ears.
"Anxious to get rid of me, are you?" He was back to being amused, which seemed to be his default state around her. "You wouldn't be planning to sleep in your office, would you?"
"If I say yes, does the guard escort me from the building before resuming babysitting duties?" Ginny was somewhat horrified to hear that she sounded flirtatious, and told herself firmly to stop it.
He didn't seem to mind, as he sounded flirtatious right back when he said, "I'd just invite you to a much better place to sleep."
No wonder he has women queueing up outside his bedroom. Tartly, she said, "I hardly think we need to go that far in setting me up as bait."
It almost seemed as if he looked hurt, but the impression was so fleeting that she must have imagined it. "Actually, there's dormitories upstairs, for the guards. They're allowed to sleep in shifts to increase their availability, which has come in handy now that I'm in this building most of the time."
Of course he hadn't been offering her a spot in his bed. Nowhere near enough sex appeal for him, and if that's not the biggest disappointment of a disappointing life, I don't know what is. "That would be lovely, thank you."
He nodded and went to the door, and a guard promptly arrived to heft her trunk over one shoulder and start for the lift. "I'm sorry to be so much trouble," Ginny said timidly, which prompted a full-out belly laugh.
"Yes, you should be. Saving my life, keeping me sane - you're no end of troublesome." She lifted her head a bit and he laid a hand against her cheek, pushing her hair back as he gently forced her to fully look into his eyes. "You're my silver lining, Ginny Weasley. I can't thank you enough."
She couldn't move, could barely breathe, and she thought hoped he might kiss her, and then what would she do? He didn't move, either, and so they stayed, locked in each other's eyes, until the lift doors whooshed open again. Draco pulled away rapidly, and Ginny wondered if he was ashamed to be seen like that with her. "Come on, I'll drop you off on my way up."
There were two guards in the lift, and one was a woman. Ginny followed her placidly into a spartan room which held nothing but a row of beds and a table beside each one. Her trunk was beside the one closest to the far wall. "We thought maybe it wouldn't disturb you as much when people go in and out this way - if you want, we can put up a sheet or something, give you some privacy."
"No, no need to go to any trouble," Ginny said hastily. "I just appreciate having a place to lay my head for the night."
The woman nodded briskly, then said, "I'm due back on rounds, but if you need anything, just let the duty officer know, and the same if you need to move around the building for any reason."
Ginny agreed and then was left alone, feeling totally at a loss. She went through the only door other than the one through which they'd entered and found a bathroom, complete with shower stalls. After washing her hair and changing into a warm flannel nightgown, Ginny crawled into her bed, careful not to disturb the woman sleeping two bunks over. It was surprisingly comfortable, and as she fell asleep, Ginny's last thought was a sense of wonder, because she was on her own, and even this was better than spending another night in her childhood bed.
"If he was really fucking her, would he let her sleep down here?" The comment, along with the accompanying laughter, pulled Ginny out of sleep the next morning. "Unless it's some sort of kinky domination thing, and then wouldn't he use a dungeon or something? No, the paper's full of shite, that's all there is."
"Look at the sodding picture," another voice said firmly. "That's not a man who's just out for a quick lay. That's Draco 'manwhore' Malfoy offering comfort to a woman who isn't related to him."
Some footsteps were followed immediately by the sound of a group breaking up, and Ginny felt it was safe to sit up. No one was around and so she took her time with her morning routine, then picked through her trunk to find the nicest outfit she could, determined to go shopping right after she'd settled any and all expenses of finding a flat. Dressed and ready to face the world, she tried to lift her trunk and couldn't, then decided it would be too undignified to drag it through the building. Rather than shrink it and chance it getting lost, she made her way to the duty officer's desk to ask whether someone could bring it down to her office, or store it for the day.
"You can leave it here, miss, but you're needed upstairs immediately." He gestured for another guard to escort her, and Ginny felt terrified beyond all reason. Draco wouldn't demand she be escorted like a criminal, but upstairs meant the Malfoys or their direct underlings, and someone as low as her being called up to see one of them could mean nothing good.
"Do you..." Ginny's mouth was too dry to talk, but she started again. "Did they say why?"
The duty officer shook his head, but he looked sympathetic, and handed Ginny a copy of the day's newspaper. As she walked mechanically behind her escort, Ginny shook the newspaper open, and shortly knew why she was being called upstairs. It was a fairly reasonable reaction to her picture being in the newspaper, even if her face could barely be seen because it was buried against Draco's chest as he held her while she stood next to his car and cried for Fred. The headline seemed to take up half the page, and she choked as she read, "MALFOY'S LATEST FLAME?"
Mum's going to kill me! Katie won't even get close! When she'd proposed the idea to Draco, she'd been secure in the knowledge that she'd at least be able to warn her family not to go off the deep end. She might've stormed out, but she didn't want her mother to actually have a heart attack. Unfortunately, the guard didn't look at all like he'd be amenable to popping down to her office so she could send an owl before reporting upstairs to the Malfoy inner sanctum.
"I won't have it!" The lift doors weren't even fully open before the sound of shouting filtered through to Ginny. "Pansy wasn't a wilting flower, either, and she's spent years terrified by this lunatic! I won't have Ginny put in danger, and that's final."
Narcissa Malfoy looked even more beautiful in person, ethereal and delicate, but her voice was steady as she said, "Darling, we're just going to talk to her. She's in danger regardless."
"And it doesn't look as if she's the one who initiated that embrace, or chose to roam the countryside in that flashy muggle toy of yours." Ginny's knees attempted to lock at the sound of Lucius Malfoy's voice, but the guard had his hand on her elbow and firmly escorted her forward, clearing his throat to draw attention to their arrival.
"Ah, Miss Weasley!" Narcissa held both hands out as she came toward Ginny in a cloud of cerulean crepe de chine and expensive perfume. "It's so good to meet you at last."
Fighting the urge to duck her head and tuck her hands behind her back, Ginny allowed her hands to be taken as she murmured a polite greeting. Narcissa didn't seem to notice, as she led Ginny farther into the room, offering her a chair and tea in between saying, "I believe we're actually distantly related, aren't we? My Grandfather Black's cousin married a Weasley, I think."
"Yes, ma'am. Cedrella Black was my great-grandmother." Ginny vowed to send a thank-you note to Auntie Muriel for blathering on about the family history, and in particular her saintly parents.
Narcissa smiled like a Renaissance angel while Draco handed Ginny a cup of tea. She tried to convey to him with her eyes her rather desperate desire to escape or at least to know what was going on, but he just grimaced and shook his head.
"We aren't here to discuss antecedents, dearest." Clutching at her cup to avoid flinching, Ginny forced herself to look at Lucius as he spoke. "Miss Weasley, you've been of great assistance thus far, and although we have no right to ask, we--"
"Speak for yourself," Draco interjected. "I want it clear that it's not me asking this, as I think it's mad and dangerous and I won't go along with it."
Understanding had been delayed by a side trip through the land of terror, but it finally arrived. "Is this about me being bait?"
The glare Draco turned on her might have terrified her if his father hadn't been in the same room. His beatific smile was much, much more frightening. "You said she was intelligent, Draco, but I hadn't expected her to be so quick on the uptake, let alone so immediately accommodating."
"Mother, Father, could you excuse us for a moment?" Before they could agree or disagree, Draco snatched Ginny by the wrist and yanked her out of the room.
Rubbing her wrist, she looked around and scowled. "Draco Malfoy, did you just drag me into the bloody loo?"
"Would you just listen?" Draco shoved a hand through his hair and scowled. "Look, you're too valuable to just have you going out there putting yourself on the line for me. I couldn't bear it if you were attacked, just for trying to save my miserable hide."
Ginny's breath caught in her throat as she tried to tell herself that it was absolutely, positively, 100% not possible for Draco Malfoy to... She couldn't even think it, but her heart was pounding and every inch of her skin felt hypersensitized, alive with anticipation. Their eyes were locked and she couldn't look away - she didn't think she'd be able to so much as blink until he released her from whatever had connected them.
Softly, he said, "There are any number of women on staff as guards that could serve as bait."
That was enough to break Ginny out of her haze, but he was still talking. "You're much too valuable to be risked, you know."
"Quite the heroine of the hour, coming up with Constance's existence and then the fact that she's Katie." Ginny's tone was calm and reasonable, which was a clear case of false advertising, given she felt on the point of exploding. "Goodness knows what I might discover next if I just stay quietly in my office and look at pictures."
"Exactly," he said, smiling happily. "I'm so glad you decided to be... reasonable..."
He trailed off as she twisted out of his arms and threw the door open, stalking out. When he tried to follow, she slammed the door in his face and it felt good. Striding over to his parents before she could change her mind, she announced, "I'm already set up as the perfect bait, I can take care of myself, and I know Katie. Whether he's agreeable or not, I'm doing this, so what do you have planned?"
The plan was simple enough. She'd be prominently displayed entering Draco's flat, where armed guards would be waiting to protect her when Katie came to attack her. If she didn't attack right away, they would manufacture more visible signs of an attachment, and provide opportunities where it looked like Ginny was unguarded.
"One condition," Draco said when they were finished hashing out the details, down to what time Narcissa would take her shopping so that she looked believable as someone in the Malfoys' orbit. "One condition or I go to the papers and say that she's just some suitable pureblood you're trying to foist on me in a matchmaking scheme."
Ginny couldn't stop herself from snorting in disbelief. Blushing as they turned to look at her, she said, "Well, it's not like that'd be a believable denial. Pureblood I might be, but anyone who thinks Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy would want their precious baby boy to marry a Weasley would have to be a muggleborn first-year at Hogwarts."
"Oh, but dear, your mother was a Prewett, and there's the connection to the Blacks," Narcissa said comfortingly.
"No, Narcissa, the girl has a point. People might believe we were won over by Miss Weasley's..." The pause was tiny, but still rankled. "Personal merits, and possibly by the strength of Draco's attachment to the girl, but no one would ever believe she was our choice."
Shooting a glare at her husband, Narcissa said, "Maybe not yours, dearest, but you're widely known as a supercilious boor. I, however--"
"Fine, I'll just stay out, drunk and alone, so I present a better target than Ginny ever could." Draco was practically snarling, and Ginny wished she'd gotten to talk to him about the whole enterprise without his parents being involved, and that she hadn't lost her temper and gone around him. Surely, if she'd gotten to talk to him directly, he'd have seen sense without being made to feel helpless or upset.
Both of his parents were arguing with him, Narcissa with sweet words and Lucius with ridicule, and Ginny felt her heart twist a little to see she wasn't the only one who had continued having overprotective parents well past attaining the age of majority. "What's the condition? I'll agree to it if I can."
"It's two things, but one's a request." Draco took a deep breath and crossed his arms before saying, "You're to have a guard with you at all times. I don't care if the guard has to be under an invisibility cloak or on a broom or whatever, you never spend one second unattended until she's caught."
Lucius rolled his eyes. "That went without saying, boy. We're not setting Miss Weasley up to die."
"Then it should be no trouble to also grant my request, that we don't start this until tomorrow." Giving Ginny a pleading look, he said, "You need to think it through, have a chance to change your mind."
"Of course, darling." Narcissa swept up to Draco and kissed his cheek. "That will give me enough time to have something made up for her, so she'll fit in when we go shopping."
It'd be offensive if she didn't have a point, Ginny thought. And any flickers of conscience that might try to protest a new wardrobe courtesy of the Malfoys can just shut it.
She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do, other than think about whether or not to go through with her own plan, so she stood up and tried to sidle towards the door as Narcissa bid her husband goodbye. It was a success as far as the elder Malfoys were concerned, but Draco was hot on her heels as she went into the lift. "If you're just going to lecture me all day about my plan, I'd prefer if you found somewhere else to be."
"Has anyone ever told you you're a really hard woman?" Draco gave her a lopsided smile and said, "If I promise not to tell you you're being foolhardy and likely to give me a heart attack with throwing yourself into danger, do I get to look after you for today?"
Do not get your hopes up, Ginny Weasley. He feels grateful and obligated, and he's still mourning the woman he loved. She could have sworn that was her Bad Girl talking, except that it sounded sensible, and it was followed by a quiet, Are you sure he loved her? I mean, if he and Pansy were going to marry without loving each other...
"I suppose we should go over my notes," Ginny said, trying to sound neutral. "Or I could catch up on the normal work, although it might be a bit awkward to do your clippings with you actually sitting there."
They arrived at her floor and he allowed her to precede him. "I vote that we just use your office as a hideout and spend the day playing Exploding Snap or chess or something."
"Just so long as I won't get written up for not performing my duties, I suppose I can live with that." Shoving papers aside to clear her desk, Ginny said wryly, "Although, if you think about it, pleasing the boss is my primary duty, isn't it?"
"Are you talking dirty to me, Ginny Weasley?" Her eyes went wide at this teasing statement and he laughed. "Okay, maybe not. A man can dream, though, can't he?"
Shaking her head, Ginny said, "You just can't help yourself, can you? You just flirt automatically, without thought."
He protested, but she threw a pen at him. "Never mind that, Casanova. I haven't had breakfast and it's almost time for lunch. Is there a chance of you getting some food when you go get the games we're going to play?"
"It's possible, I suppose. Do you have a preference, other than staying away from beef and potatoes?"
"Something insanely fancy and complicated, please." Ginny laughed and added, "Bonus points if it's 'overdone Frenchified muck.'"
Bowing deeply, he said, "All shall be as my lady commands. But I'll have a guard come down while I'm gone."
Resigned, Ginny shrugged. "Ask them to bring my trunk down so at least something useful comes out of it."
Draco agreed, and Ginny took advantage of the few minutes by herself to place a floo call to The Burrow. She'd barely connected when she felt something pressing into her back. "End the call, Ginny."
Her mother had started a harangue the instant the call connected, so Ginny couldn't even be sure that she'd heard. "Goodbye, Mum. I love you."
"I'm really sorry about this." A tug on her hair prompted Ginny to stand up, and she could see one of the guards that had been standing around that morning, looking at the newspaper. She didn't look like either Constance or like Katie - she had dark blonde or light brown hair, scraped back into a loose ponytail, not like Katie's dishwater-blonde french braids or Constance's raven chignons. Her facial features, her build, even the color of her skin was different, but the eyes were Katie's, burning with the intensity that had turned her into Constance.
"I don't suppose you're sorry enough to let me go on my way unharmed?" The Bad Girl had direct access to the vocal cords, as Ginny was much too terrified to speak. Moody would've yelled at her, but what was done was done, and Katie had picked up Ginny's wand from her desk and now tossed it into the fire. Quickly, Katie retrieved her own wand from her waistband, never releasing her white-knuckled grip on the knife she held.
Katie's face twisted with the conflicting urges to laugh and cry, just like it had at Fred's funeral when George had finished the eulogy by playing Amazing Grace with armpit noises. "I wish I could, Ginny. I promise, you won't suffer. I can do that much for you."
"Thank you." It was such a bizarre thing to say, but it might have been exactly right, as Katie's grip loosed and she smiled, shakily. "Can you start the note? There needs to be a note."
Ginny sat at her desk, her mind racing to try to think of ways she could escape. "What should I write?"
"Tell him we're going to be waiting for him, where it began. Make sure you write it down exactly: where it began." Ginny obeyed, and Katie said anxiously, "He has to know where that is, don't you think? He has to."
Biting her lip, Ginny tried to decide whether she should ask for details so she could leave a clue for Draco, or leave the note as vague as it was, to protect him. Katie saw the gesture, though, and prodded Ginny with the knife. A thin trickle of blood flowed from the corner of Ginny's mouth as Katie said, "I know that look. Tell me the truth, Ginny. Aren't we friends?"
"I'm not sure he'll know, since you didn't say what 'it' is," Ginny said quickly, resisting the urge to bring her hand to the cut on her face. How many more would there be before the end? "It could be this investigation, or..."
Katie was smiling approvingly at Ginny, and she used the knife to gesture back to the parchment. "Tell him we'll meet where we knew our destinies would be intertwined. Where he found me, and made me see we were always going to be the most important person in the world to each other."
Writing it down, Ginny hoped it made sense to Draco, because she didn't understand. Once she finished, Katie nodded and added, "Tell him he has until precisely one minute past noon to get there if he wants to see you while you're still alive."
It was too much to take in, and Ginny was shivering as she wrote it down, wishing she could do something as normal as cry. Katie put her wand back into her waistband long enough to grab Ginny's chin and clean off the drying trickle of blood. She then wiped her finger across the bottom of the parchment, leaving a bold crimson signature.
There was a noise at the door and they both looked up to see Draco, his arms filled with a stack of boxed games. They fell in a rush, while Katie cursed and seized Ginny's arm with her knife hand, using the other to hold her wand and apparate them away.
"He wasn't supposed to see me yet," Katie said fretfully as soon as they'd arrived in a grey room, bare except for a vanity against one wall. "Does my hair look all right? I need to change! Maybe he'll forget about how awful this uniform looks once he sees me in my dress. Wait until you see it, Ginny, it's gorgeous!"
Ginny, dizzy from apparition, was staring at her arm, where the knife had slashed as Katie held her tight. She was going to die; there didn't seem to be any question left about it. It had been just past eleven when she left the meeting with the Malfoys, so the amount of time remaining to her was measurable in a finite number of minutes. The only question now was how she would spend the final moments of her life.
Pulling open her robes and letting them fall to the ground so that the long skirts wouldn't impede her ability to move, Ginny ignored the exposed feeling of being in her underwear and went into a defensive crouch as she moved away from where Katie was pulling on a gorgeous black dress. There were only two things she wanted to accomplish before she died: to protect Draco and to go out fighting. She interrupted Katie's fluttering over her appearance by saying, "You know that Draco doesn't love you, don't you?"
Enraged, Katie whirled, holding up the knife. "Why are you lying, Ginny? I'm being nice to you, even though you tried to come between us, and you talk to me like that?"
She could fight the knife, but if Katie switched to her wand, the fight would be over quickly. Keeping her distracted seemed the best way to make Katie focus on using the knife, so Ginny called up her most taunting tone and kept her eyes on Katie's. "You wanted me to tell you the truth, didn't you? It's what a friend would do, just like when you told me my makeup looked terrible just before the Yule Ball."
"But I fixed it for you." Katie smiled, wistfully, a tear rolling down her cheek. "You looked so adorable, like a baby playing dressup, but I helped you look like a beautiful young lady."
"You did." Crying would impede her vision and so Ginny couldn't afford to let the horror and regret overwhelm her, that the same sweet girl could be a murderer. "I wanted to be like you, you know. Back then, when you were such a great quidditch player and such a good friend and so pretty."
"I wasn't pretty enough," Katie snapped. "I needed to be beautiful, and I am. I made myself beautiful, suitable for Draco."
Bracing herself, Ginny said snidely, "That's funny, he seems to like me just fine the way I am."
Katie threw herself at Ginny, still holding the knife, but Ginny had spent her formative years with a houseful of rough and tumble boys, and this wasn't her first fistfight. Dodging the force of Katie's charge, she weaved to avoid the slashing knife and added tauntingly, "You don't look as beautiful as Pansy, you know. You're close to her looks, but Pansy's features are more refined, and her hair is glossier."
Laughing, Katie said, "She's not so pretty anymore."
"You had to destroy their faces, didn't you?" Ginny stumbled slightly and barely managed to dodge a slash across her eyes, but used the momentum to jam her shoulder into Katie's ribcage, sending them both tumbling to the ground. "Your face wasn't good enough, so if you destroyed theirs, maybe he'd look at yours."
"You're wrong," Katie said shrilly, rolling away from Ginny and pulling to her feet.
Backing up as she stood, Ginny clutched the wand she'd pulled from Katie's waistband and considered whether she could risk a spell backfiring if she tried to use it. She needed her hands in working order, so she snapped it instead, throwing the broken pieces as far as she could. "That's what they'd do just before locking you up, you know. Just as well for me to do it now."
"They're never going to catch me," Katie said contemptuously, circling Ginny warily. "Draco will get here, and then we're going to die together, fulfilling our destiny."
Despite the icy terror that shot through her, Ginny forced herself to laugh. "Do you honestly think Draco knows where we are?"
"Of course he does." Katie looked smug and made a sweeping gesture with the knife. "This is where he came to me, after he changed our lives forever. He stood right there, and he told me how sorry he was that he'd hurt me, and I knew."
"He apologized for you getting that necklace?" Ginny almost tripped over her discarded robes and she stooped to pick them up before Katie could dart close enough to take advantage of her distraction. "But wasn't it Madame Rosmerta that gave it to you?"
Katie shrieked, a cry of pure wordless rage as she leapt towards Ginny, slashing with the knife. "It was Draco! It was Draco, and he was sorry, but it was all right, because it meant we were connected."
Holding her robes taut in front of her as a shield, Ginny desperately tried to back away from Katie's wild fury, but there was nowhere to go. She could hear pounding and someone was shouting, but all she could see was the knife, flashing and shining as it sang through through the air.
"You ruined everything," Katie whispered as she paused to listen, but only for a brief second. "You ruined everything!"
The knife tore through Ginny's forearm, ripping her open from elbow to wrist, and the pain made Ginny's world turn red before it faded to hate and a mad, rabid determination to cause her enemy to hurt every bit as much as she did. Without thinking, Ginny threw herself through the distance between them, slamming into Katie's stomach in a bruising tackle.
They were on the ground and Katie still had the knife, but Ginny held that hand down with her left hand and she pounded her fist into Katie's face. Bone crunched as Ginny shrieked, "Who's pretty now, Katie?"
Katie was bucking and twisting under Ginny, her free arm hitting upwards until she managed to break Ginny's hold and roll away, still clutching the knife. The pounding was coming through one wall now, and Ginny could see the outline of a door that had been plastered over and was now being rattled from the outside. She had to survive until they broke through.
Shaking, Ginny moved away from the door and held her hand over her bleeding arm, pressing the edges of the jagged cut together. "How could you do it, Katie? We loved you, we all did."
"Not enough." Katie sank onto the chair in front of the vanity, her eyes brimming with tears. "Nobody did. The way Draco looked at you in that picture..."
"We were talking about Fred," Ginny said, warily reaching for a section of her torn robes to bind her arm. Crouching behind the vanity, Ginny tried to stem the flow of blood and blink away the sensation that the room was starting to spin. "Draco blamed himself for Fred's death, too, and I didn't like it."
The knife fell to the floor with a clatter and Katie moved towards Ginny, still crying desperately and with her arms outstretched and trembling. "I'm sorry, Ginny. I'm so sorry."
Ginny wasn't sure at first if it was the dizzying weakness that had been gradually stealing over her that made the wall seem to bulge, but then time seemed to stop as she realized the pounding had stopped and she screamed, because Katie was right in front of it. Everything was quiet and still, the air pregnant with anticipation as the world stopped for a single, frozen moment.
It came back with a shriek of sound and it was her own as she stumbled forward, losing her grip on the blood-soaked rag she had against her arm as she fell against the drift of splintered wood and plaster that covered Katie's body. "Just like Fred," Katie sighed, a peaceful smile on her bruised face.
"Katie?" Ginny fumbled to push away the chunks of wall so that Katie could move, but Katie had stopped moving, her eyes staring fixedly at the hole in the ceiling, and Ginny was too weak. Her hand slipped and she saw that a piece of wood was sticking through Katie's stomach, shining obscenely with fresh blood. Choking on a sob, Ginny picked up Katie's hand, the same hand that had tossed her countless quaffles and passed the mashed potatoes at any number of dinners and tried to make sense of the world while it rapidly slipped away.
"Ginny!" She lifted her head and frowned, but it was too hard to see where the sound was coming from. Something moved her and she opened her eyes to see Draco, holding her and looking desperate, but without a scratch.
"You're okay," she said, feeling strangely calm. "I protected you."
He said something, but she didn't hear it as she slid into a welcome oblivion.
It wasn't exactly a happy surprise to wake up and find that she wasn't dead, because being alive meant that she was in pain so excruciating that she didn't think she could bear it. "Lie still, dear, the blood replenishing potion stings a bit but you need it. You lost a lot of blood, and we just don't work that well without it!"
Ginny had no idea who the owner of the chirpy voice might be, but it was just as well or she would've vowed to wreak a horrible vengeance for the inanity of the chatter. As it was, she clamped her hand tightly around whatever was beneath it and tried to keep as still as possible while she waited for the agony to recede.
When she could open her eyes, it took her a moment to adjust to the brightness of the light, and another to the sudden explosion of noise. "Could you be quiet? My head hurts."
Everything went still and she squeezed the hand she was holding again before sighing, "Thank you."
The hand let go and she felt its loss keenly, trying to sit up so she could get it back. This caused another wave of noise, but now she was feeling more able to cope and she could identify it as her family and Draco trying to get her to lie back down. "Am I in St. Mungo's?"
"Private clinic," Draco said, and reached out to touch her shoulder, as if he couldn't help it. She took his hand, recognizing it as the one she'd held on to. "You're too important for the regular emergency ward."
"Hurrah for being important." Her irreverent tone was enough to break the dam and her mother was sobbing, apologizing and scolding Ginny with the same breath. "It's okay, Mum, I'm sorry too. It's okay."
A mediwizard came in and ordered everyone out, which came as a great relief to Ginny. "You're a very lucky girl, Miss Weasley."
She grunted in response, not feeling very lucky given the amount of pain she was in. The mediwizard smiled and cast a spell, making the pain recede drastically. "You'll need to stay here tonight, to make sure your blood's replenished and to make sure your skin's healed completely. We managed to minimize the scarring, but there will be some permanent damage."
Taking the mirror he held out, she looked at her face to see a tiny line, almost like a dimple, was shining silvery-pink just to one side of her lips. "I like it," she said resolutely. "I guess I deserve a battle scar."
"An excellent attitude, Miss Weasley." The mediwizard patted her shoulder as he took the mirror back, and she managed to smile. "I think we'll allow your visitors back, but maybe one at a time?"
Ginny nodded with relief. "Draco first, please."
"Oh, I wouldn't dare stand between you and the young Malfoy." The twinkle in the mediwizard's eye was practically Dumbledorean as he left the room.
Draco didn't quite look like himself as he entered, and it took Ginny a minute to realize it was because he was dirty, with plaster dust clinging to his hair and clothes. She smiled wryly and said, "You look like hell."
"It's been a hell of a day." She held out a hand and he took it, sitting down at the chair next to her bed without letting go. "We tried to use your blood to track where you'd gone, but the spell didn't work. I was terrified, thinking you might be dead. Worst feeling in my entire life."
"I'm not." It was a silly thing to say, but it made the harsh lines of his face soften as he brought her hand to his lips. "How did you find us?"
That brought out a harsh laugh. "Your mother came to your office to hex someone, and got there as we were tearing through Katie's background information to figure out what she meant. Your mother questioned me like a trained inquisitor and figured out that Katie must have meant the place where I went to apologize to her after the incident with the necklace. I can see where you got your brains from."
Ginny giggled even as tears welled in her eyes. "Poor Katie."
"I wish I hadn't..." He trailed off and his lips twisted wryly. "I suppose I'm not going to be allowed to blame myself for her going round the twist, am I?"
"You suppose correctly." She winced as the pain relief spell the mediwizard had cast started to wear off. "Any chance my mum doesn't know I was fighting in my underwear?"
Laughing, he said, "None at all. The only reason she wasn't wrestling me to be the first one through the door is because your father and brothers were holding her back."
"Oh, God." Ginny let her head thump back against the pillows as she let out a frustrated sigh. "As soon as she's over the shock of me almost dying, mark my words, she's going to start harping on how many people saw me half naked."
"Fair warning, she's also going to carry on about how I'm not good enough for you, and that there's no way I can really be in love with you after so short a time." Tilting his head slightly to one side, Draco continued, "Mind you, I think there's a contradiction in those two statements."
She was less shocked than she should have been by the revelation, and she wasn't sure why. "It could be that we're being fooled by hormones. You're very handsome, and you did see me in my underwear. Or it could be from being thrown together by circumstances."
The crooked grin that she loved lit his face as he drawled, "I suppose that it could be some sort of folie à deux, although I understand that's common with people who fall in love."
"We'll find out before we make any permanent decisions," she said, her heart feeling light as she tried to look serious instead of smiling like a fool.
Draco lifted her hand to kiss it again. "A long engagement seems called for, although I'm not sure I'd be able to find someone else who's smart, brave, loyal, beautiful, and a hell of a fighter, who would be willing to have anything to do with a useless idiot like me."
Lifting her hand to pat his face, Ginny said lovingly, "No, you definitely wouldn't."
He laughed and stood up, squeezing her hand. "I suppose I should let your family start coming in before they tear the walls down. My mother and father are waiting to know how you are, too."
"Let them wait," she said, but he leaned over to kiss her forehead. It took a lot of effort, but she managed to throw her arms around his neck and hold him in place. "I want a proper kiss, and I'm told I'm a hell of a fighter, so it's probably better to surrender and give it to me."
It was awkward, because of Ginny's bandages and Draco having to bend over the bed, but it was glorious, too. Gentle and sweet at first, Ginny gradually managed to pull Draco down onto the bed so that she could let herself show the passion that wasn't about being a Bad Girl but about living for herself, for the passion that she didn't need to repress in order to fit in. With Draco, the real Ginny, the whole Ginny, fit in just fine.
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