Lavender glanced up at Ginny from the bowl of chili in front of her. " So what's the update with the wedding gala?" She asked, her red lips puckering tentatively as she blew at a thin streamer of steam.
" Hermione's picked her dress." Ginny said proudly. " She looks gorgeous. She found this nice sleeveless gown with a lace wrap around the shoulders and a long train behind her. It looks really nice."
" What about Harry?"
" Nervous, but he's definitely ready too. He got himself a really fancy suit, black with a pretty white scarf to go with it and white gloves. He looks like a concert pianist." Ginny crooned.
" Wow." Lavender sighed. " Your brother's got himself a nice suit. Pretty sexy-looking in it." She giggled. " I'll be the one wearing the vampy, backless, glittery black dress… in case you can't recognize me." She looked up, her eyes glittering beneath the thick lashes, artificially curled. " I'll look grand."
" Hmm." Ginny twiddled with the button on her sweater.
" Do you have a dress?" Lavender asked.
" Are you serious? Darling, you won't find one at this point!" She sighed. " All the nice ones are gone, what with New Year's and Christmas coming up."
" I might wear that one I wore to graduation." Ginny told her.
" You can't be serious!" Lavender laughed uncomfortably. " Everyone's seen you in it, and it's incredibly out of fashion. Peach muslin? Please, don't humiliate yourself, dear."
" I can fix it up." Ginny offered miserably. " I can use my wand and make it blue or something."
" All the girls are wearing black to the wedding. You'll stand out." Lavender whispered, her eyes boring into Ginny's threateningly. " We must go shopping together. Do you even have a date?"
Ginny felt her face flood with color. " Yes." She lied, hating the judging way Lavender was staring at her.
" Don't tell me your date's Draco." Lavender clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth critically.
" What if it is?" Ginny replied. " I don't see what's wrong with that."
" Well, of course you wouldn't. Can't you look at it from an outside perspective though? Think how Harry and Hermione would feel, how uncomfortable it would be to have the best day of their lives turned into a stinker because they have to stare at that sneering face through the entire night."
" Harry really wants to help Draco out lately. I've talked with him, and…"
" You don't think a soft-heart like Harry would shoot you down, do you?" Lavender asked. Suddenly, all the air-headedness and all the bubbly boy-craziness that filled her head was gone, and she was all seriousness.
Ginny could feel her eyebrows knitting into a frown. She didn't like how everyone was becoming so serious about her and Draco, even Draco himself. " I don't think Harry would lie to me just to make me feel happy." She said.
" I don't know, Ginny. I think you're trying on shoes that are just too big for you." Lavender saw Ron enter the room and she immediately jumped up and ran over, her fishnet tights flashing her lovely legs. " Ronnie-kins!"
" Hi Lavender." He kissed her lightly and turned towards Ginny. " We're leaving for our date. Draco's going to be home any minute now, so just heat up the rest of the chili for him, okay?"
" Alright." Ginny replied, grinning foolishly. She was thinking about having a chat with Draco, alone in their house, without any outbursts from her family. There was some convincing to do.
They left, and just as Ron had said, Draco walked in minutes later. He put his suitcase down on the floor and sat down at the table across from her. " Potter was passing out invitations at work today." Draco told her. " He's inviting anyone capable of sitting upright."
She laughed. " Did you get an invitation?"
" Are you kidding me? By the time he reached the Paper-Sorting room, his invitations were all gone. Those old men at the front desk are real party-goers." Draco's eyes ventured across the kitchen landscape and stopped at her bowl of chili. " Any more of that left?"
" On the stove." Ginny started to stand up.
" I can heat it up." Draco told her.
She sat back down, feeling pleased. She could remember how, long ago, he had refused to even carry her heavy bag as they walked through the Malfoy manor. He was certainly less full of himself.
" I've thought about what you told me." He said, finally, glancing up from the chili pot. "Should I just use a normal Heating spell, do you think?"
" Yes." She replied, then added: " Thought about what?"
He took out his wand and heated the chili. " Just about taking you to the wedding dance. I've really considered it."
Ginny felt a ripple of pleasure roll through her. " Really?" She muted her joy, but under the table, she crossed her toes in surprise. She couldn't wait until she'd retire to her bedroom for the night. She'd write all about it in her diary, which she hadn't updated for a few days now.
" Sure." He grinned and immediately hid the smile from her. " I think that I'll go, but just to prove that I won't be accepted."
" Oh, you pessimist." She sighed.
" No, I'm a realist." Draco told her. " I'll go, prove it, and you'll give up. There's no use to just… continue. Hey, where's my mother?"
" She's feeling weak. She didn't want to talk to me." Ginny replied. " I think she has a headache. Withdrawal from all the sleeping potions she's gotten her body used to."
" Not good." Draco brought a bowl over to the table and sat down.
Ron burst into the room just then, his red hair a frightful mess. " Why's it so damn windy today?" Ron said angrily, pulling down the coattails of his raincoat. It was slick with water from the steady shower of snowflakes outside. Ron nodded in greeting to Draco and told Ginny: " Did Lavender leave a purse in here somewhere?"
Ginny shook her head. " No."
" We had to turn around from our little walk and come right back. She's so upset now she wants to go home." Ron complained. " Now she's blaming me, then she's blaming God, then suddenly she's muttering about how she's an utter failure."
" That's Lavender in a nutshell." Ginny told him with a sympathetic smile. " I'll go check in the bathroom." She slipped out of the room and walked down the hallway towards the rest room.
Draco looked at Ron, an uncertain expression dawning on his face. Draco brought a spoonful of chili to his lips just as Ron asked: " So when are you leaving?"
Draco swallowed quickly and replied: " I don't know."
" You don't know?" Ron said bitterly. " We never said you can live with us forever."
" I can't find an apartment. All the empty ones are so expensive."
" Can't you borrow the money from the bank?" Ron spat.
" The bank froze the Malfoy account." Draco replied coldly. He hated the way Ron spoke to him, he hated the very demeaning nature of his tone.
" Oh, yes." Ron said, rolling his eyes. " How could I expect you to be able to pay for anything in the real world?"
" I'm saving all my pay to get an apartment." Draco reminded him. " And you better hold your tongue in front of me too. I'm not ever patient either. I'm in your house, but that doesn't mean I have to take all your shit!"
Ron leaned forwards, propping his elbows up on the table. " Listen, buddy, you think you're so high and mighty, you don't see what damage you're doing."
" Damage?" Draco sneered.
" Half the time you're a cruel bastard to Ginny, the other half you're hitting on her. She's young, her heart's innocent, and she doesn't understand games like yours yet. I know you're a creep, but at least have some respect towards Ginny!"
" I have a lot of respect for Ginny." Draco said, firmly. His voice wavered and he added: "I am not cruel to her!"
" She falls in love with you and then gets her heartbroken by you every day! Don't you see? Ginny's different than other girls, more sensitive to things. She's also really devoted and motherly. You don't know what fragile glass you're stirring here."
" I…" He looked down uncertainly.
" Don't you dare lead her on. I don't know how deep her feelings are for you yet, but I know she's being fooled into it. When she looks at you, she sees you as a bit of a mirror. She can find herself, her own joy, in anyone." Ron shook his head. " And if she can't find any good in a person, she invents it in her mind."
Draco could feel the sharp pain inside, he couldn't even identify it.
" You're killing her. She works so hard to keep you happy here, you know?" Ron kept going. " She's probably the most devoted friend you'll ever find. She's the greatest girl I know, and she's my little sister. I won't let some asshole bully himself into her heart. She deserves better."
" I agree." He whispered.
" What?" Ron looked up.
" She deserves better than me." Draco told him, eyes foggy with thought. " That's why I do what I do."
" What do you mean?" Ron shook his head.
Draco sighed. That's why I do what I do, His mind echoed, then continued: I can't just be mean to her, to shrug her off. I'm just drawn to her, like the idiot I am, and then I panic and move away. It's because I want the best for her.
Ginny walked into the room at that moment, clutching Lavender's leather handbag. " She left in the bathroom after all." She said, merrily, looking at the grave faces of the men at the table. " What happened in here?"
" Nothing." Draco replied, his voice glacier-cold.
Ron stood and took the purse from Ginny. " I'll go get this to Lavender, okay?" Ron said to Ginny. " Good night." He kissed her forehead lightly and added: " Take care of yourself."
Ginny smiled. " You too."
Ron left, giving Draco another wary glance. Draco stood and headed for his room. As he exited, he turned and caught a last glimpse of Ginny as she sat down at the table and picked up her Witches In Love: Crushed Satin novel. Her face was flushed as she read through a series of steamy lines, her lower lip quivering in thought.
He almost wanted to say something, felt the air pungent with need. He kept going to his room though, ripping himself away.
Ginny ran the comb through her hair thoughtfully, paused, and then stared into the mirror at her face. She was trying on her mother's white pearl earrings, both the color of dove wings. She smiled at herself and stood, twirling around in a circle. Her hair followed her, mimicking her orange scarf as it whirled in the air. She stopped but her hair kept going, wrapping around her waist through her pajamas.
She liked her image in the mirror, but her pajamas were forest green, while the earrings called for a white dress. A guilty thought crept into her mind – her mother's wedding dress. She raced to the closet and shrugged her gown off and quickly climbed into the wedding gown. It was a bit loose, because Molly was heavier than Ginny when she was getting wed. The dress stilled smelled faintly of Molly's favorite perfume.
Ginny looked in the mirror again. Her ivory skin, her ember-red hair falling down, rivulets of lava, down her white arms and standing out against the gentle white of the dress. She turned slowly, humming softly to herself.
" It's nice on you."
Ginny spun around and saw that Draco had entered the room. He laughed and added: "That is what you'd want to hear, isn't it?" Before she could reply, he added: " Yeah, you'll have a lucky husband." He laughed again nervously and continued, rockily: " You left this downstairs, thought I'd bring it up." Draco lifted up her Witches in Love book.
She blushed. " It's a silly book, I know, but I love them to death."
He handed it to her. " Good night." He said, quickly, and left.
Ginny turned back to the mirror and spun around slowly, thinking: You'll have a lucky husband. I'll be the wife to a lucky man…. He didn't say 'to him'… he didn't say 'to him'!… Why am I so upset though? It's not that big of a deal. I should be flattered… well, next is the wedding party… I guess the judgement comes there. I have to decide…