Will you be my favorite regret
Could I be your sweetest mistake
Trade one step back for two ahead
Just a little time that's all
Don't be afraid to fall
This catch I won't forget
My favorite regret
Won't you let me chip away the stone
Are you really better off alone
Won't you let your guard down one more time
Just like I've done mine
We'll look until we find something neither will forget
My favorite regret
-My Favorite Regret by Gigolo Aunts
A few weeks passed quickly as Draco mulled over this new information. His mind immediately went to Slytherin when he thought of Ginny’s rapists. Not all Slytherins were Death Eaters, nor all Death Eaters Slytherins, but it wasn’t the preconceived prejudice that Death Eater equaled Slytherin for nothing. He mentally checked off all the people who it couldn’t be, until he was left with a small pool of Slytherin males that fit the description. Assuming that Ginny’s rapists were in the school, his only conclusion was that three of them were Crabbe, Goyle, and Zabini. He didn’t even want to think of the possibility that it could be their fathers.
He told Ginny of his theories, and though it was comforting to put a possible name and face to the men that had hurt her, it was also very frightening for her. She took the information silently and numbly, along with his numerous warnings to be cautious around the school. To say Draco had become a bit overprotective of Ginny would be an understatement. He didn’t let her go anywhere alone, walking her to class, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even the privy and standing outside on guard. He haunted her like a shadow, though she didn’t seem to mind, she even mentioned she found his constant presence comforting. When he could not walk her to class at the risk of being late to his own, he made sure she traveled in a crowd of students that included her own house, whether the Gryffindors liked her or not. And he never left her alone with a Slytherin.
Of course, they had no proof, other than a hunch, that Crabbe, Goyle, and Zabini were the right men, so they could not yet prosecute them. And even if they did have evidence, Draco could not, no matter how hard he tried, figure out who their leader was. A blue eyed male was not much to go on, even if he narrowed the house down to Slytherin. He hadn’t a clue what colored eyes all the males had in his house, nor could he easily find out without putting himself and Ginny in danger. For the moment the hunt was on hold as he contemplated a way of systematically going through every male in Slytherin and finding out their eye colors and if they had any…distinct piercings. Ginny didn’t seem to mind, in fact, she seemed thankful that Draco was no longer grilling her with questions.
Ginny and Draco had grown used to their new living arrangements. It was a bit difficult at first trying to work out a pattern so they didn’t accidentally walk in on the other changing or annoy one another with their odd habits, but they managed. Draco set up a permanent bed on his lumpy old couch, never complaining about back or neck aches in the morning, not wanting to make Ginny feel guilty. Occasionally, when she could not sleep, had a bad dream, or felt lonely, they would sit on the couch together and stare into the fire or he would lie beside her in bed until she could fall asleep. It was nice to have her as a companion, even if a bit awkward or embarrassing at some points, especially with their odd, more than friends relationship.
That wasn’t to say life was perfect. Ginny’s friends and brother had still made no moves to talk to her, with the exception of the Granger girl, and though it saddened her, for the most part she seemed to enjoy the quiet of living with only Draco. Thankfully, either no one had informed McGonagall of their arrangement or she simply hadn’t found the time to pester them about it, giving them free reign to do as they pleased. He was sure it was against the rules for a male and female student, a Gryffindor and Slytherin no less, to live together, and if or when they did finally get caught there would probably be hell to pay. But for the present, it worked.
Draco could keep an eye on Ginny and watch her progress. He got her to eat more, even if he had to sneak down to the kitchens with her and convince the house elves to give them leftovers to do so, and soon she was beginning to look healthy again. She slept better with his reminder for her to take a dreamless sleeping draught at night, and on those nights when she forgot it or ran out he held her and calmed her if she had nightmares. They even went outside more often, and finally freckles began to form on Ginny’s pale white skin, giving her a healthy glow. The shadows under her eyes lessened, her haunted appearance lightened, and she smiled every day now.
They were walking outside that afternoon, in mid-November, and despite the frigid cold it had yet to snow. Ginny wore Draco’s heated cloak and he cast extra heat spells around them just to be sure she was comfortable. They were strolling slowly along the edge of the lake at that moment, alone except for a few birds that pecked at the scarce, patched earth. The clouds were low, heavy, and dark, hanging over them like a gray blanket. The waves rhythmically lapped against the shore, blown by the periodic, chilly wind that rustled the leaves in the trees, making them fall to the earth in spirals of red, purple, brown, and orange. Ginny stood beside him, her hand in his and her body pressed against him for warmth as they stared out at the lake in silence.
That was when Draco felt something cold and wet brush his cheek. He glanced up at the sky, blinking in surprise at what he saw. Fat, slushy flakes of snow fell towards them quickly, weighed down by their melting water, swirling around in circles like the inside of a snow globe. He smiled, nudging Ginny, and told her to look up. She did, her eyes widening in wonder, a bright smile lighting up her face. Draco forgot all about the snow as he stared instead at her. A large flake landed on the tip of her nose and her eyes crossed to stare at it, a giggle of surprise leaving her lips. A wind kicked up, blowing her hair out of her face and a flurry of snowflakes around her small body. The snow began to fall faster, sticking onto her red hair and heavy cloak, and she dropped his hand, lifting her arms and spinning in a circle. The way she acted, as if it were the most magical thing in the world, you would think she’d never seen snow before.
“Draco, it’s the first snow of winter.” She laughed again, pausing in her spinning to glance at him. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Beautiful,” he repeated breathlessly. Draco found his feet moving without his command, shuffling him towards her as if in a trance. He reached out, grabbing her wrist, and she gave him a surprised, confused look.
“What’s wrong Draco?” the redhead asked, her head tilted to the side.
Third time’s the charm. Wasn’t that how the saying went? “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Ginny lifted an eyebrow, trying hard not to laugh at the serious, dramatic expression on his face. What, exactly, was he talking about?
He moved forward, one, two, three steps, reaching a hand up to brush her face. His eyes were smoldering and churning with emotions—emotions she had seen before. Emotions that usually frightened her. But she did not back away. She did not turn from his touch. She felt rooted on the spot by his eyes, as if they held her down to the earth like an anchor. “For breaking my promise.”
Ginny shook her head. “Draco, I’m lost. What are you talking about? What promise?”
His fingers grasped her chin, gently but firmly, so she could not move her head if she wanted to. She was nervous, but not afraid. Mostly confused. His face lowered towards hers, his breath leaving his lips in white, puffy clouds of steam. She felt that warm breath on her face, brushing her lips lightly. “I promised that I wouldn’t kiss you. I apologize. I’m going to break that promise now.”
Before she could even understand or contemplate what he had said, he closed the distance between them. His lips descended on hers quickly; they pressed together, gently yet roughly, as if he could not control himself. Her eyes widened in surprise as she stared up at his, which were squeezed tightly shut. For a few minutes they just stood there, him with his lips pressed against hers, her with arms limply at her sides, her brain having lost all thought processes.
And then he pulled away gently, and she felt as if he were taking her warmth with him, leaving her cold and numb. His eyes opened, sad and apologetic. He tried to laugh to lighten the mood, but it died off. “Say something, Ginny. It wasn’t that horrible, was it?”
She lifted a hand to touch her lips. Then, in a trance, touched his lips with her fingers, tracing their outline. He gasped, closing his eyes, his hot breath coming out in a shudder. Her hand lowered, to his chest, and she could feel his heart racing. Draco took her hand in his, his body shaking, and again brought her fingers to his lips, kissing each one, then the palm of her hand. “Please say something,” he begged, his lips brushing her hand, and he again squeezed his eyes shut, this time as if he were trying not to cry.
“No,” she whispered. His face fell, and she saw a few tears slip out of his eyes. Ginny’s heart swelled with warmth and she smiled, stepping forward, her body pressed into his. She lifted both her hands, holding his face. “It wasn’t that horrible.”
He chuckled, his lips pulling up in a smile. His hands found their way to her hips as if on reflex, and he pulled her tighter against him. “You sound so amazed. Did you expect I would be a bad kisser?”
Ginny shook her head. “No. I thought I would be.”
“You’re a terrific kisser.” Draco laid his forehead against hers, their noses touching. “You just need practice. Lots and lots of it. I’ll help you.”
And then he kissed her again. This time he wasn’t as gentle; he seemed more sure of himself. One of his hands tangled in her hair, holding her face against his, while the other firmly grasped her hip. Ginny wrapped her arms around his neck, and though she was surprised at her own daring, she kissed him back with the same intensity and passion.
It felt strange, kissing him. He wasn’t the first boy she had snogged, but it had been so long that she had forgotten how it felt. It was strange; his lips were foreign and wet. Neither of them were particularly skilled in the art, and sometimes their noses and teeth bumped or they accidentally bit the other one’s lips. But it excited her, filling her body with an extraordinary heat, making her cheeks flush bright red. When his hips brushed against hers she felt an unfamiliar tightening just below her gut. And when he pulled away to allow them both to breathe she yearned for him to return.
“Wow,” he whispered breathlessly, smiling at her in wonder. “Our first kiss in the first snow of winter.”
“There must be something magical about that.”
Draco grinned, sighing. “Everything about you is magical, Ginny.”
They were walking back to Draco’s room, still high from their kiss, when the moment was ruined. It was inevitable, Ginny and Draco couldn’t have avoided them if they tried. They were in the hall, rushing towards the couple, their robes whipping around them furiously, their eyes and voices angry. Granger followed behind them, a nervous, frightened look on her face.
“Malfoy!” Weasley yelled at the same time Potter shouted “Ginny!”
Draco froze beside Ginny, unmoving. He tried to yank his hand away from hers but she held it firmly, to his surprise. The boys stopped before them, Weasley pulling out his wand and pointing it at Draco’s chest. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
“I’m walking back to my room, Weasley,” Draco drawled, lifting an eyebrow arrogantly and daring the boy to challenge him.
Again he was shocked when Ginny stepped between them, pushing Ron’s wand out of the way. “What is the meaning of this, Ronald?”
The boy growled, his fists clenching, and Draco was afraid he would hit the small girl that stood in front of Draco protectively. “We saw you two outside of our window. Snogging!”
She lifted her chin, giving him a cold look that could kill. Draco felt pride swell in his chest when he saw her stand up for herself. Finally, she was growing a backbone after all. “And?”
“And? And?! What the bloody hell do you think you are doing kissing Malfoy?!” Harry demanded.
“I think I have every right to kiss my own boyfriend,” Ginny retorted.
Draco almost choked on the air he was breathing. Boyfriend? He stared at the little spitfire before him in astonishment. He certainly hadn’t expected that. Apparently, neither had the male Weasley.
“Since when did you become boyfriend and girlfriend?” Ron asked. “I never said—”
“I don’t need your permission to have a boyfriend, Ronald Weasley.” Ginny stood firmly. “I am sixteen years old and I have every right to date whomever I so choose, regardless of whether or not you agree with it.”
“What are you thinking Ginny?! You can’t date a Malfoy!” Ron exclaimed. “He’s just trying to get in your pants! Just you wait until Mother hears of this!”
“I hope you tell Mum!” The girl yelled back at him, standing toe to toe and nose to nose with her brother, showing no signs of backing down. “At least she would have heart enough to accept that he loves me!”
Time seemed to slow to a stop. Ron Weasley stared between his little sister and Draco in astonishment. He shook his head in disbelief, trying to understand what she had said. Obviously, the word ‘love’ had thrown him off. When someone spoke again, it was neither Ron Weasley nor Ginny.
“Ginny, I love you,” whispered Harry. They all turned to look at the raven haired wonder boy in surprise. His expression was hurt and confused. Ron backed away from Ginny, giving Harry room to step forward and lay a hand on the girl’s cheek. “You told me you loved me.”
Ginny’s shoulders drooped as the anger flooded out of her. She stared sadly at her ex-boyfriend. “I did, Harry. I mean…I do…”
Draco’s heart clenched painfully. He felt breathless, as if he had taken a kick to the chest. He wanted to disappear then. Wanted a hole to open up in the ground and swallow him whole. But he couldn’t move, could only listen and stare with a breaking heart, and remind himself that this was to be expected. Ginny belonged with the golden hero, after all. She could never be with a loser like him.
“You’re like a brother to me, Harry. And I will always love you. But I’m not in love with you.” Ginny shook her head sadly.
“But…” The boy couldn’t seem to accept her rejection. “But I love you. Despite everything that happened to you, I still love you.”
Ginny pulled away from him, a surprised, hurt expression on her face. Potter tried to find what he had said wrong, but he obviously came up with nothing. Draco, however, caught it immediately. Despite everything that happened to you. As if it was a chore for him to love her. As if his love was a gift that she should be thankful for.
Draco expected Ginny to become angry. Hell, he felt pissed. He expected her to lash out, to hit the boy for his careless but biting comment. But she did none of these things. She merely shook her head. “That’s the difference between you and Draco, Harry. You love me despite my problems, but Draco loves me because of them.”
And then she turned to Draco, smiling up at him, and took his hand. She pulled him forward, he still felt like a stone statue, unable to move, and past the boys. She didn’t glance back at them, but Draco did. He saw Potter and Weasley staring after them in shock and hurt, but Granger stood off by herself, a proud smile on her face. Their eyes met and she nodded at him before Ginny pulled him around the corner.
Draco didn’t remember the walk back to their room. He felt as if he was in a trance, and he let her lead him. He finally seemed to wake up when they were back inside, Ginny sitting him down on the couch and going to the fireplace, stirring up the dying embers to warm the room. Draco watched her fluid movements in awe, trying to comprehend all that had happened. Finally, she paused when she felt his eyes on her.
“What?” she bit out. He smiled at her and she softened her tone. “Sorry. What?”
Draco shook his head, shrugging. “Just…wow.”
She gave him a confused glance, sitting on the edge of the couch beside him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m just shocked by you is all.”
“Why do you say that?” she asked.
Draco grinned. “You stood up for me. You stood up to your brother. For me. And what’s more, you turned down Harry Potter. No girl would ever turn down Harry Potter.”
Ginny sat back in the couch, laying her head against his shoulder. “I don’t love Harry anymore. I don’t know that I ever did, really. I think what I felt for him last year was just nothing more than hero worship. It’s…” She paused.
“What? It’s what?” He asked, leaning forward. “You were going to say something.”
Ginny blushed, her cheeks turning a beautiful bright pink. “What I felt for Harry…It’s nothing like what I feel for you.” She stared down at her hands in embarrassment.
Draco smiled, lifting her face. “Oh? Are you saying you’re in love with me, Ginny?”
“Maybe,” she teased, her lips brushing his.
“I’m not a hero, you know? I’ll never be like golden boy Potter.”
Ginny tilted her head to the side. “Why do you say that? You saved me.” She brushed his cheek with her hand.
“All I’m saying is, don’t make me out to be a good guy.” Draco muttered. “I’m not.”
“Well, you don’t make me out to be a stupid girl, then, Draco. I know you’re no Harry Potter, but you’re not Voldemort either.”
He pulled back in astonishment, lifting an eyebrow. “You said his name. Without flinching.”
“I am afraid of many things, but a name is not one of them.”
“Why not?” Draco asked.
Ginny put a hand on his chest, looking up into his eyes. “The same reason I’m not afraid of yours.”
And then she leaned forward, pulling him into another searing kiss.