Draco was sitting right across the table from her but he seemed to be in another world, one all of his own. He was moving his fork across his plate, back and forth, trying to arrange the bacon strips so that they looked more promising, but all he saw were thin slats of meat, leaking with oil. " I'm not fond of meat in the morning." He said.
" I was getting tired of oatmeal." Ginny replied, spearing her fork through a piece of bacon and popping it into her mouth. " Come on, you're really getting thin, you know."
He gave her a look.
Ginny continued: " You're not getting any nutrition from what you eat, you know. Just some oatmeal in the morning, then in the evening you eat some crummy dinner and then drink down some empty calories." She waited to see his reaction.
" What are you trying to say? That I'm an alcoholic?" He exclaimed.
" I'm not saying that, I'm just trying to say you need to feed yourself better. I'm telling you, you'll feel and look better too." Ginny smiled warmly.
" And you must be the authority on this?" Draco said, smirking. She knew what he was referring to – she wasn't exactly stick thin. She was just a bit round, mostly lingering baby fat, but it suited her. It gave her a motherly sort of look, like someone easy to confide to.
" You've been drinking a lot."
" It's not a crime."
" It's a crime against yourself. You're poisoning your liver." Ginny told him.
" Oh, please." His eyes darted to the alcohol cabinet involuntarily, but he caught himself. "I am in no way dependent on alcohol."
" Really, now?"
" Yes, really."
They sat there, giving each other hard looks over the table. Draco's gray eyes flashed humorously as he wiggled his eyebrows. Ginny started to laugh and broke the staring contest by looking down at her place mat. " Why are you so stubborn about everything? If I caught you with your hand in the cookie jar, you'd still insist it wasn't you."
" That's just how I am."
" No, you just don't know any better." Ginny sighed. " You really have been beaten over the head with all these Malfoy values your entire life, haven't you?"
" Beaten over the head?" He exclaimed. " I think my childhood was pretty cushy, thank you…"
" Mr. Malfoy." She said, finally. " You can't deal right with any emotions. When you were a kid you made a baby out of yourself in school."
He glared at her.
" You'd make a huge deal out of everything, from the event with Buckbeak to…"
" Hey, that was traumatizing." He was smiling.
" Wipe that stupid grin off your face. I'm not joking around here." She put her head down on her hands in frustration. " You're so - - so arrogant and obnoxious…" Taking a deep breath, Ginny continued: " Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, now that you're all grown up, you're hitting the liquor as an escape route. You know, instead of reverting to those silly tantrums, you just drown your sorrows."
" Sorrows? What sorrows? I'm not some sort of poor Weasley-type…"
" No!" She shouted. " Listen to me. If you're not an alcoholic, prove it!"
" What? Do you want a hand-chiseled stone tablet? Draco art not a drinker?"
Ginny hid her smile. Success. " I'll take all the alcohol and hide it in my room. If you can handle yourself without running to the kitchen cabinet all day, I'll believe you."
Draco crossed his arms across his chest, narrowing his eyes. " Is that your analysis, doctor?"
" It's a challenge."
" Fine, I'll take it. Malfoy to Weasley." He spat. " You'll see, I'll prove you wrong." He stood, grabbing his suitcase.
" Wait." Ginny said. " Have… have a nice day at work."
" Yeah, sure." He murmured, still caught in the air of competition. " You too." He added, before leaving.
Ginny grinned to herself. " Reverse psychology." She whispered to the Malfoy owl, which was preening its feathers on the windowsill. " Best thing of all, I'm getting my way and he doesn't even know it." It was a delicious thing to know.
Mr. Samuel was busily stacking applications for help at the front desk when Draco breezed in. He could see it right away, something afire about the Malfoy boy. He walked briskly, as if he were heading for some head-to-head word battle at an important business meeting. That panther-like stalk he had when he walked was entirely different from his usual rebellious sulk.
" Good morning." Mr. Samuel called after Draco.
Draco stopped and turned, as if seeing the frail old man for the first time. " Oh, right. Good morning." He said.
" I'd like to talk with you, son." Mr. Samuel called out. " Come closer."
Draco obliged, but he did so with a reluctant attitude. " What is it?" He demanded, once he was standing by Mr. Samuel's desk, his moody eyes staring right into the desk worker's.
" I thought I'd let you know about some of the talk out here." Mr. Samuel told him. " I'd feel guilty if I didn't."
" I really don't think I want to know…"
" Listen, you do want to know, trust me. Your job is hanging by a very thin thread." Mr. Samuel said.
Draco shrugged. " I know already. Big deal."
" You might be young and hot headed now, but you'll regret it someday. You have opportunity, you're intelligent and young and handsome, you can make a name of yourself for all the good reasons, not the bad."
Draco shook his head. " Harry Potter wouldn't dare file the report to the Head of the Ministry."
" So you know about it, then?" Mr. Samuel said. " Harry's already prepared a rough draft. He's submitted it right here." Samuel lifted a rolled up parchment. " I'm to proofread it, and then get it stamped for mailing."
" You mean he's going to send it?" Draco asked, incredulously.
" Well, no, not entirely. It'll sit on his desk until the moment you slip up." Samuel said, nodding sagely. " I wouldn't do as much as step a toe out of line if I were you."
" If you were me, you'd have never made it through what I had to go through." Draco hissed rudely. " Excuse me, I have some real work to do, not just stack and re-stack papers."
Samuel shook his head. Draco mocked him, shaking his head as well, as he left the room. He walked quickly into the paper sorting room and found his cubicle amidst the loud sound of owls flying here and there, delivering and leaving, and the gray fluff and feathers floating in the dusty air around him.
He exhaled deeply, sitting at his desk, and checked to see if anyone was around. Then, he slowly lowered his head so that his forehead was resting on the cool wood panel of the desk. Draco imagined it to be his father's hand. For so many years his father had guided him, hand on his head. Now he couldn't do a thing without his father and without his Lord.
Lord Voldemort, gone completely, no longer on the face of the Earth. There wasn't a shard or splinter of evidence left of him. The Dark Arts were now studied normally in class as something of history, like the Nazi times in Germany. It was no longer revered in any way, just a few lines in a textbook.
Draco's eyes squeezed shut. Was it all worth it? Was there meaning to his life, to all his training, to the Dark Mark on his upper left arm? He was marked forever as a follower of something that didn't exist. He could only wonder if it was worth all the trouble to toil away on Earth, another meaningless gray card shuffled into a deck.
Ginny was finding it hard to sit still as Draco sketched her out on the canvas board. He had explained to her that he hadn't done it in a while, so it took him some time to stretch the canvas and prepare the old withered paints that he found. The set wasn't his, it was his backup, cheaper acrylics box. His good one had been buried with his art tutor.
He looked determined, like an eagle watching fish swimming under water, just waiting to pounce, knowing what greatness he had in his grasp. He took out a sharp-pointed charcoal stick and began, creating a few circles where Ginny's hips, chest, and head were.
The silence in the room, other than the crackle of the fireplace, was overbearing. Finally, Draco began: " So, tell me, Ginny. You're an endless reservoir of advice about peasant life. What am I going to do?"
He didn't mean to make her offended in any way about the peasant comment, so Ginny let it fly by her. She did feel frustrated, still, about Draco's intolerance of Mudbloods and anyone of lesser social class than the Malfoys had once been. She said: " It would be a good step to tolerate others."
" My father rose high thanks to not tolerating oth…"
" Your father…" Ginny cut him off. " Your father was that way because of Voldemort. It suited him. Voldemort is gone now, though. Those traits your father embedded in you would have made you powerful then, but now…" She paused, wondering how to word it best. " … now it makes you susceptible to failure."
Draco was skeptical. He sketched a thick line that connected the three circles and created the arc of Ginny's backbone. He couldn't help it just then. He started drawing her shoulders, round and strong, and began to add her hair in. He liked it most.
" I haven't done this for so long…" He said, changing the subject.
" Wouldn't you rather paint someone like your mother?" Ginny asked, cocking her head.
" No, don't turn! The light pattern in your hair changed." Draco said. " Okay, a little to the left - - ah, there, that's good, sit like that."
" Your mother…?" Ginny prompted.
" No." He smiled. " I need a model who's face I didn't study and memorize since childhood. When you know someone so long, you paint them the way you know they are, not what you see."
She thought about it silently, then asked: " Why does it take you so long to trust?"
Draco looked up at her. " Do I trust you?"
She had never thought about it. She just figured he did. Immediately her cheeks suffused in a blush. " I - - I assumed you did!"
" When I went to Hogwarts, I only trusted people that were willing to be fully loyal to me. Never leave my eye."
" Crabbe and Goyle." Ginny said.
" They were completely devoted to my amusement, so I trusted them. Even they didn't know everything there is to know about me." Draco began filling in her facial features, just blurred dark lines where her eyes were, and then the smooth shadow that her nose made across her cheek. Her lips were parted lusciously, shining in the firelight. He started on them, paused, then decided to work on the neck instead.
" Who do you hate 'Mudbloods' anyway?" Ginny cringed at the word.
" They don't belong in our schools. They aren't true wizards and witches."
" No! That's not it. I'll tell you why. Parents raise their kids to believe what they tell them. All your life your parents raised you to believe that certain types of people were bad. You immediately adopted their prejudices and their enemies." Ginny though about it. In fact, that excuse was poor, because it was her own excuse about why she was raised to dislike the Malfoys and want nothing to do with them. Her entire life, her family and peers had told her not to, so she adopted their beliefs.
Draco shrugged and then filled in the detail of her clothing. " Is it possible to change someone?" He asked, softly.
Ginny nodded, and thought, 'I believe I might be seeing it before my very eyes'.