That night, Draco had woken twice – once to hear Ginny entering his father's room to tend to Lucius, and the second time it was just some random sound, like footsteps ringing up and down the hallway. He tried to hide his suspicion by assuming that it was Ginny again. And yet, that morning, when he woke up again, his window was open. He was afraid to leave his window open – it would let in a chilly draft, and even a slight chill could kill Lucius, according to Narcissa. They had all been commanded to keep the curtains drawn tight and the windows all shut closed. He did notice Ginny airing out her room regularly, and her window was always open and there was always a very warm and sweet glow around her room. And yet, Ginny kept her door closed most of the time, so it was no problem.
He stood up, stretching, and realized just how much his head hurt. He tried to calculate how many glasses of wine he had, and realized it was four – two more than the last time he was drunk. His stomach buzzed in protest as he thought of skipping breakfast. He knew he'd probably get sick anyway, but breakfast would have to be eaten or else he'd be followed around by a grumble in his abdomen.
He closed his window, trying to figure out what unearthly forces kept opening it. There was something strange about their house, and about the North Wing especially. It had been shut down for very long now, but recently there had been signs that someone was visiting it, or else something. Narcissa had been the one to decide no one should go in there, and she was the strictest enforcer of the law, so he ruled her out. Ginny was too much of a goody-two-shoes to do it, and he knew better than anyone else that he didn't do it. Lucius was incapable of it. So what other inhabitant happened to be in their house? Was there a real ghost as well as the one inside Lucius?
Draco frowned and then shrugged off his pajamas. He slipped into another of his gray suits – he had seven of them, one for each day of the week – and then he made his way down the hallway. It was still early, so when he went to check on Ginny, he saw that she was still sleeping. She looked incredibly pure, and entirely sunny, even in her sleep. Her long red hair was loose and wrapping around her, her slightly rounded body and rosy skin giving her a childish appeal.
" Don't strain your eyes."
He spun around and saw that Narcissa had woken up as well. She stared at him hardly. "Get to work."
He shrugged. " I will." Moving down the hallway, floating down the stairs, feeling like a ghost himself, Draco breezed through the kitchen and grabbed an apple from the wicker basket on the table. He stared at it, trying to figure out how much he wanted it versus how much he'd rather not throw up.
He took it with him to the bathroom, where he sat down on the floor beside the toilet and rested his head on the tiled wall. He bit into the apple and felt it fall into his stomach. Immediately, revulsion seemed to pass through him. He forced the rest of the apple down and then bent over the toilet, watching the wine and the apple all return into the porcelain bowl.
His throat burned and his eyes watered. " God…" He whispered to himself. " Oh, God." Standing up, still feeling nauseous, Draco glanced in the mirror. He looked worn and tired, lean in an attractive way, his hair slightly curling at the ends and falling in blond waves on his forehead and twisting around his ears. He took a deep breath, washed his hands, and left for work. He tried not to think about the fact that he'd been drinking more and more often now.
" You're late." Harry said, matter-of-factly, looking at Draco in a piteous way.
Draco stared hardly at him, trying to appear uncaring. " I'm sorry. Just ten minutes… sir." He could feel his stomach flopping around inside of him. He wished he hadn't come to work at all now.
" I can understand how you need to leave work so often. We've heard about your home situation." Harry said, finally. " But… we've been getting unusually large amounts of complaints. You aren't paying attention to your work. Papers are sorted into the wrong mailboxes. Sometimes letters are thrown out…"
Draco looked at Harry Potter's desk. It was a good example of immaculate cleanliness in the work office. There was an inbox on one side, with absolutely nothing in it, and an outbox, that was filled to the top with perfectly well-done assignments. He had a desk calendar on which he wrote all his work, and there was an assortment of colored markers, pens, and pencils in a cute little tray to one side, on top of some clean pieces of paper. Then, dead center and up front, was the gold name tag – Harry Potter. Harry was huge in the Ministry, possibly one of the most powerful and influential members. Draco figured he was just a lucky bastard.
" … furthermore, your attendance history is pretty flimsy, and your excuses range from comical – like teasingly saying you had to get your beauty sleep – to just rude, like commenting to our, ah, heroic-sized secretary that it took you an hour just to walk around her behind."
Draco smiled. " The truth hurts."
" I'm afraid the truth does hurt." Harry looked sternly at him. " Malfoy, why? Don't you value your job? Why don't you ever ask for more shifts, if you need it? Why don't you ask to be promoted? You obviously don't care for your job."
Draco didn't want to hear this speech, especially not from Potter, on a Sunday. Very few Ministry members had to work Sundays. Harry was super-efficient and a workaholic, so he did Sundays without a sweat. Draco just had the most inconvenient job available.
" This is hard for me to say, but… if you don't start pulling your act together at least a bit, we might have to demote you."
" Demote me?" Draco burst out. " Is a worse job possible? What is it – the stand knee deep in shit job?"
" Listen." Harry said, finally. " I don't want to do this. I know you've gone through a lot…"
" Don't give me that bullshit." Draco said, angrily.
Harry shook his head. " Do you think everyone just wants to attack you? There are people who want to help you…"
" You? Help me?" Draco spat. " The last person I'd ever allow to help me is you."
Harry reddened. He was looking more and more upset, and he was growing fidgety and guilty. Draco knew Harry wouldn't lay him off, because the guilt that weighed Harry's conscience was too much.
" Just go." Harry sighed.
Draco left, and once out in the hallway, ran into the bathroom again, where he stayed for a good hour, trying to keep himself under control from the waves of murderous hate and venomous pain that filled him. He would never accept help from Harry Potter. He would rather kill himself.
Harry hung his coat up in the closet of his home and then sent Hermione an owl to ask her for dinner that evening. It came back within an hour with the answer – she would be right over. He dressed and then started preparing a dinner for them both out of odds and ends he could find around their house. He set up two candles in the center of the table and then two glasses for champagne – it was their third anniversary as an official, in-public couple. He hoped that she'd be surprised to see he hadn't forgotten. In fact, he had highlighted the day on his desk calendar and had been counting down to it for ages.
His hair slightly unruly as always, Harry finally sat down in front of a plate of hot steak, deliciously crisp salad, and piping hot baked potatoes. The minutes slipped by before he heard the knock at his door. " Harry!" Hermione exclaimed cheerfully. " I'm here."
Harry jumped to his feet and then opened the door. Hermione had apparated to come see him. She looked amazing – her dark hair, which she had cut short over the summer, rubbed against her cheeks and gathered at the nape of her neck. " You're all dressed up." She teased, even though she was wearing a slinky black evening gown herself.
He kissed her lightly on the lips, crowding her as he led her inside. Covering her eyes, he led her backwards to the candlelight dinner he set up. Releasing his hand from over her eyes, Harry revealed the table to her and she gasped. " Oh… you remembered!"
" If I'd have forgotten, I'd probably be dismembered tomorrow…" Harry laughed, and then led her closer. " Happy Third Anniversary, Hermione."
" Mmm!" She closed her eyes, looking absolutely delighted. " It's so different from last year, isn't it? Last year you took me to that fancy restaurant, and we had a very public fun time… but then those nasty tabloid reporters sometimes watch you wherever you go…"
Harry sat down and so did she, and they began their dinner.
" Oh, wow, where'd you buy this steak?" Hermione crooned, staring at it. It was a very nice cut, barely any fat on the side. " It's quite nice, isn't it?"
" That new deli, it opened just a few steps away from the Weasley Twin's Joke Shop." Harry replied. " Wasn't too expensive, either." They stared at each other from across the table for a second and then Hermione blushed.
She looked down, pulling up the dropping V-neck of her dress, trying to adjust it slightly. "Isn't this dress just ridiculous?" She laughed. " I was hoping at least you'd be dressed up, and you were - - otherwise I'd feel so silly!"
" It's very nice." Harry grinned.
Her dress had a pretty saucy dropping neckline, which was paired with open-toe, thin-strap shoes that had black glitter dusted on them, and then there were the two dark gems in her ears. It had been a birthday gift from her mother a while back, and Hermione was almost inseparable from her favorite black earrings now.
They were nearing the end of their dinner when suddenly Harry said: " I've been meaning to find time to talk to you about something very serious though…"
" Oh?" Hermione could feel the buoyant atmosphere suddenly and unexplainably deflate. " What happened?"
" I don't really know what to do. I've been getting a lot of trouble from Draco lately."
Hermione took a deep breath before answering: " Harry, you shouldn't let it bring you down. Draco's just a bit off his rocker anyway, everyone knows that."
" I hope it doesn't rub off on Ginny in any way." Harry looked upset now. " I wish I could take back the job I gave her sometimes, I guess I was just so caught up in my work, process and file, process and file… I should have never let Ginny take it on."
" She's the most cheerful person I know." Hermione replied soothingly. " If anyone can bring light to the Malfoys, it's her."
" Maybe so." Harry stirred his fork through his salad. " Oh, I feel as if he wants me to live my entire life in a shameful guilt!"
" Harry, you did nothing worse than saving your cause. If not for you - - who knows, Voldemort would still be around." Hermione pointed out.
" I know, but…"
" Listen." Hermione cupped his hands in hers, holding them warmly. " I think Malfoy is slightly neurotic in a lot of ways. I don't know him very well, but I can tell there's a lot going on inside of him, and it's best not to take his outbursts personally."
" He's disgustingly proud." Harry said, crossly.
" It's difficult not to, for Heaven's sakes, he made me feel as if I'm… I'm some sort of demon." Harry looked downcast. " I can't stop thinking about what happened…"
" Please, don't go back to that." Hermione warned. Then, she kissed his fingers playfully. " Let's enjoy our date, okay?"
Harry nodded and they finished their dinner quickly and soon they were sitting together on the couch, Harry's lips trailing down her neck, lightly kissing her collarbones. " Oh, Hermione…" He whispered, looking up into her eyes.
She smiled, pressing her cheek to his, and said into his ear: " Just two more months, Harry."
He felt her look down at her fingers, where he knew her engagement ring was. It wasn't anything fancy – it was a plain gold band with a small stone in front. The stone itself was more sentimental-valued than expensive, it had a rock they had both found on the beach together. The rock itself was washed smooth and a faint blue tint. The chilly England beach was a romantic getaway, and after an evening of sitting together by a fireplace, they had decided to polish the stone into a gem and use it for an engagement ring.
Harry watched the pale bluish-gray stone glitter as Hermione turned her hand towards him. That glitter – it reminded him of the malevolence in Draco's eyes when he had spoken to him. " I wish there was something I could do." Harry whispered frantically.
Hermione blinked and for an instant, she seemed to have no idea what her beloved was talking about. Then, she exclaimed: " That old rubbish? Oh, Harry, you can't be serious!" She purred merrily and cuddled her face to the side of his neck, whispering: " Kiss me…"
He stroked her hair absently and then continued: " You should have seen the way he glared at me, if looks could kill…"
" Harry." Her voice was harsh.
Harry looked up and kissed the tip of her nose. " What is it?"
" If it bothers you so much, then call a meeting in the Ministry. Talk to Draco yourself. I don't know." She smiled mischievously. " Meanwhile, we have all evening to ourselves, don't we? Let's not bring work home tonight."