‘I heard you danced with that Malfoy boy,’ Muriel said, gleefully, as soon as Ginny entered the kitchen for breakfast next morning. Ginny closed her eyes and wished Aunt Muriel didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to gossip with the other elderly ladies on the island. ‘He looks a little pale, I must say. And a man should not have such blond hair,’ Muriel continued.
Ginny grinned and happily agreed as she joined her aunt at the table.
‘But he’s very rich. You could marry him for money!’ she continued, making Ginny gulp. ‘The rumours I’ve heard about what the Malfoy family did to worm their way out of that trouble after Voldemort died…’ Muriel cackled to herself, apparently amused by the notion of the Malfoy family’s underhandedness.
‘That reminds me,’ Ginny cut in, before Muriel could expound on her idea that Ginny should marry Malfoy (or anyone else, for that matter) for money. ‘Last night at the ball I was invited to come see the Grottoes today.’
‘Ah!’ Muriel exclaimed. ‘A date!’
Ginny, who did not want her aunt to think anything of the sort, quickly corrected the notion. But Muriel still sent her off with plenty of advice to dress properly, for once, and to take a sun-block potion. (‘You can’t afford to get any more freckles, Ginevra – it’s a wonder men pay attention to you as it is!’)
She walked down towards the pier, a little nervous. Bathing in the shallows was all very well, but Ginny was not fond of water, and being in a boat made her a little edgy. Only the assurance that the Grottoes were beautiful, and a sight she must not at all miss, had made her accept.
But walking out onto the pier, she very nearly turned back. Those boats were tiny! They looked more like the ones Hagrid used to float the first-years in at Hogwarts than anything else. She was confident that a boat that small had no business on the sea.
‘Hello!’ the girls from the night before called, smiling brightly and waving. Ginny breathed deeply, and walked over to them by the stairs leading down the side of the pier. She was not one to show she was afraid – she was a Gryffindor, after all.
‘We’re just waiting for a few more,’ one of the girls said brightly, almost bouncing. ‘I’ve always wanted to see the Grottoes!’
Ginny managed a reply that conveyed moderate enthusiasm. Those boats were too small.
‘Ohh! Here they are, at last!’ another girl squealed. She had black hair that was styled in waves down her back, and something about the way the slight curls ringed her face made Ginny think it had taken quite a while to achieve.
Ginny turned in the direction the girl was looking and felt her heart sink. Malfoy, again. Was there no avoiding him? The island was not that small. For him to turn up wherever she was sightseeing was exceptionally bad luck. Suddenly, she was a little happier to see the small boats. At least she would not be anywhere close to him.
‘Draco!’ the black-haired girl squealed, making Ginny grin. He sure was popular, that guy. No wonder his ego was slightly inflated.
‘Weasley,’ he said, nodding shortly at Ginny. ‘Cassiopeia,’ he then drawled, not sounding happy at all. ‘Are we leaving now?’
For some reason, the guide seemed determined that there be two to each boat – and not just any two, but a man and a woman. Ginny could distinctly hear him mutter to himself about the Grottoes being very ‘romantico.’
Still, her fear of the water had not lessened, so she let herself be steered into the last boat, gingerly sitting down, and looking straight down at her feet. There certainly would be no romance. She had enough on her plate with trying not to panic.
She nearly squealed when the boat rocked, but sternly told herself to stay calm – it was only someone else getting in.
‘And now, we leave,’ the guide said in a heavy Italian accent.
The boat Ginny sat in started moving on its own, and she looked up, alarmed. What she saw did not calm her down. Malfoy? What was he doing in her boat? What had happened to the squealing girl who had positively beamed at the sight of him?
‘Malfoy?’ she got out. ‘Why are you here?’
He didn’t reply, just leant back, looking so relaxed that she almost wanted to slap him. That was just mean – she was gripping her seat so hard her knuckles were white.
‘Really. Why would you get into the same boat as me?’ she pressed.
‘Oh, shut it, will you?’ he said irritably. ‘If you must know, I just can’t stand Cassiopeia, so you were the lesser of two evils.’
‘Gee. Thanks for the compliment, Malfoy,’ she said, rolling her eyes.
He raised one eyebrow, looking arrogant. ‘I heard Potter dumped you. Is that true?’ he asked.
She groaned. ‘We broke up. Not that it’s any of your concern,’ she said shortly.
Malfoy smirked. ‘What? I’m just making conversation.’
‘Rude conversation,’ she snapped back. ‘What about you, then? None of these girls silly enough to want you?’
‘I got offers, of course,’ he said, sounding unworried. ‘I’m not willing to marry one of them just yet. In a few years, maybe.’ He sounded like it didn’t matter which of them it would be – as if he would simply pick one of them at random and ask her to be his wife.
‘Here we see the opening to the Grottoes,’ the guide called, and she looked away from Malfoy. Whatever else the man might be, he had distracted her from the fact that she was in a tiny boat out on the ocean. Already they were drawing near the cliffs, gliding through an arched opening and into a sunlit space where azure water was framed by towering brown cliffs.
Ginny had to admit it was worth the boat ride. She even forgot about Malfoy’s presence as they drifted slowly through the Grottoes, seeing more azure water and shafts of light streaming down, giving the scene an unearthly and distinctly romantic feel.
‘We pause here, and you may go swimming, if you like,’ the guide called, as they came into a round cave with a circular hole in the roof that sent a narrow beam of sun-light down into clear, deep water.
‘These caves are too hot,’ Malfoy drawled, and she remembered he was there again. Turning to him, she saw him tug his shirt over his head, then stand up and dive from the boat. It rocked again, and Ginny squealed. Thankfully, Malfoy didn’t notice – the last thing she needed was him taunting her about being afraid of boats or, worse yet, thinking she was squealing at the sight of him shirtless.
Ginny remained firmly seated and was happy to see that most of the others did, too. Certainly most of the girls did. But Malfoy did have a point – the cave was beautiful, but sweltering hot.
‘Not bathing?’ Malfoy asked as he pulled himself back into the boat and sat down again, ignoring the fact that he sprayed water on her. To be honest, Ginny wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t doing it on purpose.
‘No,’ she replied coldly, wiping the cool drops of water from her arm, while ignoring the fact that her skin seemed to tingle. It’s just the water being cold, she told herself.
‘I thought you were the sporty type?’ he persisted. ‘Or are you afraid to ruin your hairdo, like the rest of them?’ He nodded in the general direction of the other boats with a contemptuous look on his face.
‘I just didn’t feel like bathing,’ Ginny lied smoothly. She was hardly about to admit to Malfoy, of all people, that her poor swimming abilities made her less than confident in water too deep for her to reach the bottom.
He let out a sound of disbelief, and rested casually against the hull of the boat. Ginny took one look at his chest and then forced herself to keep her eyes firmly on his face. It isn’t that handsome a chest, after all, she told herself firmly. It looked perfectly normal – pale, but normal. He wasn’t all that muscular or anything, so there was no call for that slight twinge she felt, just because water was glinting on it. He should have put his shirt back on, anyway.
‘Why do you avoid Cassiopeia?’ she asked, trying to distract herself.
‘What is it to you?’ he snapped.
Yes, she mused, this sure is one romantic tour! ‘Just making conversation,’ she replied, mimicking him.
He snorted and looked away, ignoring her.
‘I’ll just assume she’s your ex-girlfriend, then, shall I?’ she asked sweetly as they exited the caves again. There was far too much water out here, and while Malfoy was infuriating, she found that the feeling of wanting to whip out her wand and hex him worked excellently against her hydrophobia.
‘You’ll do nothing of the sort, Weasley!’ Malfoy sneered. ‘If you must know, she’s my future wife, if she gets her way.’
Ginny barely restrained herself from making a shocked sound. Sure, Cassiopeia was friendly around Malfoy, but he did not return the favour. Why the girl would want to be around a man who obviously despised her, Ginny had no idea. It’s as silly as the notion that I would want to be his wife! she mused.
‘Why do you dislike her so much, then?’ she asked instead. ‘She looks nice. I’m sure that’s an important criterion for you.’
‘Of course it is,’ Malfoy replied in an exasperated tone. Obviously, he was shallow and not at all ashamed to admit it. It didn’t really surprise her. ‘But not the most important one,’ he added. ‘I’m not an idiot.’
‘So? Why do you dislike her?’ Ginny pressed. To be honest, she was a little curious as to how a twisted mind like Malfoy’s would work. Besides, the topic annoyed him – and anything that annoyed Malfoy was worth talking about.
‘Don’t you ever shut up?’ he drawled rudely. ‘No wonder Potter got sick and tired of you!’
‘Fine!’ she replied coldly. ‘Next time, please find another boat. Or, better yet, swim.’
‘Why?’ Malfoy asked with a smirk, as they drew near the pier. ‘This was much more entertaining than hearing Cassiopeia attempting to flirt for a few hours.’ He got up and leapt onto the stairs of the pier, making Ginny curse inwardly and grip her seat firmly as the boat rocked again.
Early next morning, Ginny woke with a start, heart beating fast, and then she let out a curse. Not only would she have to see Malfoy every day, now she had nightmares about him, too? She firmly ignored the fact that it hadn’t really been a nightmare. Now that she was awake, her dream sure looked like one, so such petty details of exact definition were of no importance. In her dream, she had been alone with Malfoy in the Grottoes and he’d still been shirtless. Somehow the dream Ginny had turned into a drooling fool and leant towards him as if hypnotised. Good thing she had woken up before she had actually kissed him. The memory of that, even from a dream, might have scarred her for life.
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