Draco was finally adding color to the portrait. He marveled at the lights and darks in Ginny's hair, asking about why her hair was so much different than the rest of the Weasleys. Draco explained that hers was richer, thicker, had more golds and browns. He never once looked at her in a romantic way, though, never blushed while facing her. His face was that of nonchalance, as if she were only a servant.
" Why are you laughing?" Draco demanded, setting down the paints.
" You look so bloody serious." Ginny told him. " As if you're at a funeral."
" Don't make me give you a mustache, Weasley." He murmured, hovering his brush over the glob of black paint on the palette.
" I'll curl into a fetal position if you keep threatening me."
Draco looked up, pushing a strand of blond hair from his face. " What's with the need for attention all of a sudden, you time hog?"
" I am not a time hog." She laughed.
They always teased on and on, bickering in a friendly way. They'd poke fun at each other like dear friends and then eventually one or the other would crack up and they would grow silent, Draco immersed in the painting and Ginny studying him.
Sometimes they would venture onto topics that were a bit more sacred, but Draco would quickly change subjects or Ginny would get tired of asking and getting no reply. After a few days she did develop a particular nagging question, though.
" Are we friends?" She asked.
" Wouldn't you wish?" He replied, smirking.
" No, please, Mr. Malfoy, in all seriousness."
" Miss Weasley, you…" He fidgeted around with the red paint. " … need to comb your hair once in a while, I can see the knots all the way here."
" A painter can't have relations with his subjects." He mused. " He'd feel guilty and paint them as gorgeous nymphs, when they're really gruesome beasts."
" Please be honest." Ginny demanded.
" I don't think we can be friends." Draco looked up. " Does that answer suit you?"
" Why can't we be friends?"
" Well, maybe we can be friends-in-training." He cocked his head to one side, gray eyes shimmering. " Not friends though. We're far too different."
" Tell me how." Ginny pressed on.
" Stop sexually harassing me, Weasley." Draco joked. " Aw, look, I drew you a third nostril by mistake."
" Then erase it." Ginny said, and continued: " Tell me, how are we different?"
" Our faiths." Draco replied harshly. " I'm a Death Eater. I have the Dark Mark branded on my arm. And you - - you crochet and plant flowers and help people."
" Voldemort's gone, Draco. That doesn't count."
" Fine, it's the monetary difference."
" What monetary difference? My family might be better off than yours by now." Ginny said. " No offense or anything."
" I'm depressing and sad, you're good and friendly and warm cookies and all that. It's a villain-hero relationship, not a buddy-buddy relationship. Now for Slytherin's sake, sit still or you'll have a fourth nostril." Draco still remained expressionless, eternally cool and collected.
" And what makes you sad?"
" You're not my therapist." He replied.
" Draco, let's have some honest conversations. I'm really good at giving advice, you know."
" I don't have anything. My job's crap and I'm basically all alone and tied down to this land because of my father and mother. You happy now?" He fumed.
" Well, that could be solved if we'd be friends. You'd have me."
" Why do you need any more friends? You've got a million of them!" He took in a deep breath and the unruffled, uncaring air returned, as all emotions drained from his face, leaving behind a slightly snooty smirk.
" I think you need friends more." Ginny pushed a strand of red curl from her face.
" No! Keep it there, you're messing up the shadows." Draco complained.
Ginny immediately yanked her hair back across her face, hoping that it was somewhat in the same position as before. " We aren't too different at all, you know. Maybe it's just a blend of cultures, really, that keeps us apart."
" Maybe it's my Mother."
" That too."
" Maybe it's the fact that I'd invite myself into a Harry Potter-loving family."
" You've got a point there."
" I just don't need anyone's pity or help." Draco said. " Now sit still, I'm trying to cover up your third nostril."
" I don't feel like posing anymore today." Ginny said, softly.
" Don't tell me you're angry?" He set his paintbrush down and looked up at her.
" No, not at all." Ginny admitted, smiling. " I got a letter from Lavender this morning, though, and I want to read it and write back."
" Women." He stood up and began to clean up the paint area. " Alright, go on then." He glanced up and saw that Ginny was already gone.
Ginny read the letter with amusement. Lavender didn't write very much, which was unusual, because she had the habit of writing a good few pages when the inspiration hit her. She unfolded it once again, feeling the intense scent of perfumed paper, and then read it once more:
Malfoy doesn't think, his parents think for him. Anyway, I don't want to write too much here. Sounds like you're having a pretty unusual time over at the Malfoy's house, I hope it's as alright as you make it sound. You better not be lying to me! Tell me if anything goes awry, I'll be right over to help you out.
Anyway, won't write much, let's just say I have a surprise for you coming up.
She couldn't fathom what sort of surprise Lavender might be speaking of. Lavender always did have crazy ideas though, and if this was one of them, Ginny could only pray she wouldn't get in trouble.
As she walked out of her room and stepped onto the crimson red rug that ran down the Malfoy main hallway, she felt the chilly draft. Immediately, she raced down the hallway and burst into the room it was coming from. She didn't catch herself until she noticed it was Narcissa's room.
She had never been there, she wasn't allowed to approach it. Immediately, Ginny felt her body jerk backwards, but not before she took in an eyeful of the surroundings. Narcissa was lying in bed, tossing and turning, possibly because of the chilly air.
The window just to the left of her gigantic canopy bed was wide open and the curtains were blowing in violently, skimming the sheets just inches from her face. The rest of the room was like something from an old movie – the walls were hung with delicate lacy curtains and pearl-studded mirrors, the light-colored wooden floor had sheepskin rugs, there was golden trim and pearl and ivory everywhere. It was breathtakingly neutral-colored, all about a thousand shades of white, from cold grayish-white to an almost faded yellow.
" Oh." She felt her breath escaping her breast involuntarily. There was a porcelain doll collection standing on a vanity. The painted faces of the dolls and their carnival apparel reflected in the mirror, giving the illusion that there were many more of them. They all looked so festive and pretty, but at the same time haunting, their glass eyes staring hollowly at nothingness and yet seeing everything.
Ginny crept in on her tiptoes and shut the window. If Narcissa had woken up at that moment, with Ginny's hands touching the sill of the wide-open window, Ginny knew she'd fly out of their house so fast her head would spin. Thankfully, luck was on her side. Narcissa was still dozing as Ginny left the room and shut the door.
She continued on her way down the hall and then down the staircase. She headed right for the kitchen, where Draco had just finished eating his dinner. Now he was somewhere in the fireplace room, hovering near the warm flames, trying to warm himself outwardly, though he harbored so much coldness inside.
Ginny stepped inside the kitchen and gasped. Lavender was right there, looking around, unsure of where she was. " Lavender! What are you doing here?" Ginny cried, and then lowered her voice to just above a whisper: " You'll get me into so much trouble…!"
" Oh, Ginny, hush." Lavender said. " If a girl can Apparate, what's the point of never using her gift?"
Ginny felt a twinge of jealousy. She had never been able to apparate, even though it could be taught successfully to others. It was just too difficult to her, and so she had to make up for it by being extra-good in Potions and in Transfiguration.
" Lavender, listen to me. You're going to Apparate right back to your house right now, or I'll be very angry with you." Ginny threatened.
" You couldn't be angry at anyone." Lavender replied, then grinned. " Come on, I wanted to make you happy. Aren't you happy to see me, darling?"
" Of course I'm happy to see you." Ginny felt herself softening away. It was no use to be cross with Lavender.
" Good, good." Lavender looked down, her eyelashes thick with mascara. " I thought I'd see this great Malfoy mansion on my own. Where's Draco?"
" You can't see him, he'll probably tell Narcissa, and then I'm in for it!"
" Don't be so uptight." Lavender strolled out into the next room, where there was a series of photographs hanging on the walls. They mostly followed the Malfoy family from the wedding to Draco's graduation pictures. " He doesn't ever smile. You'd think it would hurt or something."
Ginny shook her head. " Is there something you have to tell me? You couldn't have come here for no reason at all."
" Fine." Lavender's red lips puckered into a pout. " I'll tell you. I ran across your brother a few days back…"
" Which one?"
" Ron, of course!" Lavender rolled her eyes. " Anyway, I ran across him in the store, and you wouldn't believe how well we clicked. He's a real dear, isn't he?" Lavender pulled out her mirror and cast a wayward glance into it. " Do you think red is my color, hon?"
" It's nice." Ginny said. " Let me guess, you hooked up with him."
" You know me like a book." Lavender grinned from ear to ear and then kissed the air lightly by Ginny's cheek before continuing: " It would be just marvelous if we could be sisters, don't you think?"
" Are you considering marriage already?" Ginny exclaimed. She forgot completely to keep her voice down. " I thought you were going out with Seamus, first of all!"
" That old thing? It's over." Lavender winked. " Ron did take me out to dinner and I had the most wonderful time. He's really charming, and I must say it was the best first date I've had in just ages. Which makes me wonder how come you're not seeing anyone."
" Just no time, I guess." Ginny answered.
" Just no time, I guess." Lavender mocked. " You don't want to be an old maid, trust me. Just look at McGonagall, now there's a sorry sight if I've ever seen one." Lavender lifted a figurine from a shelf and then turned it around to examine the price sticker that remained underneath. " Just as I thought, it costs more than a week's worth of food."
" Lavender, as excited as I am about you and Ron, I think it's really time that you…"
Lavender stuck out her lower lip. " Kicking me out already?"
A new voice suddenly joined into the conversation. " If it isn't the meeting of the minds."
Ginny's stomach dropped straight down to her knees as Draco walked towards them. She almost wanted to shout: Where did you come from? Instead, she took a nervous glance at Lavender and began: " She – she was just leaving. Weren't you, Lavender?" Ginny nudged her in the ribs.
" Ouch! Watch your elbows." Lavender murmured. She glanced up and batted her eyelashes, taking in the full form of Draco Malfoy before them. " My! I haven't seen you in ages! How are you?"
'She can be so artificial sometimes,Ginny thought.
" I'm alright." Draco replied. He was more surprised than angry at Lavender. " What are you doing here?"
" She had to tell me something important. It really couldn't wait." Ginny stammered.
Lavender kept looking at Draco, almost as if she had forgotten how good looking he was. She pretended he had asked about how she was and said: " As for me, well… I've been busy, I'm working with Trelawney now."
" Really?" Draco said, bemused, his eyes directed at Ginny.
" Lavender, I think it's time to go." Ginny hinted.
" Oh, fine!" Lavender said, giving Ginny an angry look. " Alright, well, I'm sorry to take up your time, both of you…" She gave Draco a sexy smile. " … I've things to do, people to see." She took out her wand and Apparated. The air around her shimmered and shook like the air over a fire and then she was gone.
" How can you stand her?" Draco turned to Ginny.
" She's not that bad once you get to know… wait! Aren't you angry with me?"
" I think it's punishment enough that you have to be friends with her." Draco laughed. " I'm going to sleep anyway, I'm too tired to care right now."
" Uh… goodnight." Ginny said.
He ambled up the stairs and into his room. She couldn't help but feel suspicious. Draco was in an unusually enlightened mood today. Perhaps he had found her alcohol stash? But it was impossible, he was downstairs the entire time.
'Maybe he's cheering up a little. He's cracking jokes like the old times now.' Ginny thought. She remembered his warm attitude the night before as well, and suddenly he felt as if she might have achieved something. She had already helped slightly elevate Draco from his dark mood. It wasn't much, but it most certainly was a step of progress in the right direction. It would be a matter of time before he might allow her to be his friend. He'd be able to open up to her a bit more, perhaps get some of his problems out.
Once he's ready to face them, he'd be able to get help. It really just took that little – to admit you have a problem. Then you've already taken a step towards help, whether you like it or not.
' I have to make sure that neither Narcissa nor Draco learn that I'm getting Harry Potter to help them out. It's too soon for them, especially for Draco. He'd be furious with me.' Ginny only hoped that Draco would remain in such a good mood. It would most certainly pay off in the long run of things.
Positive thinking was the cure to everything, and she had told him first. It made her feel good inside. 'Now – Ron and Lavender! Now that's something I need to get used to!' Ginny thought with a smile as she made her way up the staircase and to her room.