Draco Malfoy was a bitter, bitter boy.
He hadn't started out his sixth year bitter. Things had been going fairly well. His father had gotten out of Azkaban, and except for the fact that he now fainted at the least provocation and was wont to address Draco as "Charles", seemed little worse for the experience. Draco was a prefect again, and although he was still losing to Harry Potter every time they played Quidditch, he had found that adding gold racing stripes to his Quidditch ensemble made him look snazzier and softened the sting of defeat. He had dated Pansy Parkinson, broken up with her, gotten back together with her, and had her break up with him, which had given the other Slytherins lots to gossip about and enhanced his playboy reputation.
And yet he was bitter. And it was all because of Ginny Weasley.
Or Ginny bloody Weasley, as he had taken to thinking about her these days. He'd never thought about her before, at least not before this term. She'd always been a vague redheaded blur hovering around behind Potter. Just like her brothers, except smaller, maybe a bit curvier, not that he'd been looking. But this term, suddenly, she was everywhere he went - and always with a different boy.
It wasn't just him. Everyone else had noticed as well that Ginny Weasley seemed to have made it her goal to date every male student at Hogwarts. First she'd worked her way through the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws, moving from Dean Thomas to Seamus Finnigan to Terry Boot with astonishing speed. Then she'd descended on the Hufflepuffs, causing no end of bad blood between the Houses and provoking a dramatic tabletop library duel between Justin Finch-Fletchley and Ernie McMillan. Draco found all this amusing; pretty soon, he figured, she'd get around to him, and he could have fun turning her down.
Only she didn't.
She didn't have anything against Slytherins, either. He stood by and watched as she asked out Malcolm Baddock and Theodore Nott. He gnawed his lip thoughtfully as she cuddled in corridors with Dex Flint. He played with his ink bottle while she snuggled in Advanced Charms with Alastair Higgs. The rumors of her affair with Millicent Bulstrode (who wasn't, admittedly, a male student, but was often mistaken for one from a distance) did not leave him unmoved.
It wasn't that he cared what she did, of course. It was that he felt snubbed. Rejected. Overlooked.
After all, he was the best-looking boy in school. Also the most charming and the best-dressed. And yet she avoided him like the plague, preferring cross-eyed and smelly Desmond Midgen. It was cruelly unfair. It was embarrassing.
Draco seethed. He muttered to himself. He squeezed his ink bottle in rage as Ginny sashayed by, giggling, on the arm of Gregory Goyle's less intelligent younger brother Geoffrey. The ink bottle exploded and ruined his new suede jacket. Draco was incensed. Something would have to be done.
He decided to seek outside assistance.
It had always seemed to Draco that Harry Potter was everywhere he went, getting in his way, clogging up traffic in the halls with all the stupid people who wanted to gather around him and stare at his stupid scar and his stupid glasses.
It appeared, however, that when one was looking to have a private conversation with him, he was nowhere to be found.
Eventually Draco managed to find Hermione Granger sitting by a table in the Great Hall, absorbed in a gigantic volume entitled Spells for Anger Management. When he asked her where Harry was, she regarded him with dark suspicion. "I don't see what you could possibly want to talk to him about," she said.
"Man problems," Draco said. "I mean," he added hastily, 'not problems with other men per se, but you know, problems of a manly sort."
"Never mind." Hermione waved her hand dismissively. "It's your funeral, Malfoy. Last time I saw Harry he was heading down towards the lake. And," she added, "he was in a bit of a strop, too."
"Oh? Any reason?"
Hermione looked at him with scorn. "Well, he's got a lot to be upset about, doesn't he?" she snapped.
"I suppose so," Draco muttered, and headed down towards the lake.
Draco found Harry down on the path that led towards the Quidditch pitch. He was stalking along with a pack of matches in one hand. With the other hand he was towing a dented steel canister attached to a knotted rope.
"P-e-t-r-o-l," Draco read off the words on the side of the canister, bewildered. "What the hell's that when it's at home?"
"NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, MALFOY," Harry bellowed at the top of his lungs. He did appear to be, as Hermione had said, in a bad temper. His black hair stood out wildly all around his head and his green eyes were blazing. "WHAT DO YOU WANT, ANYWAY?"
"I want to talk to you about Ginny Weasley," Draco said. "I want to know why she hasn't asked me out yet."
"HOW WOULD I KNOW?" The canister had gotten jammed on a rock; Harry gave it a vicious tug. "SHE HASN'T ASKED ME OUT, EITHER."
"Really?" Draco tried to hide his smug satisfaction at this news, and failed. "I'd have thought she'd have asked you first."
"NOT SO MUCH AS A BLOODY POSTCARD," Harry snarled. "IT PISSES ME RIGHT OFF, I CAN TELL YOU." He freed the canister with a jerk, and it bounced across the gravel path. Draco jumped to avoid getting hit in the shin. "IT MAKES ME SO ANGRY -"
"Yes, but Ginny, Draco interrupted. "Has she ever said anything about me to you, ever mentioned me...?"
"NOBODY TALKS TO ME THESE DAYS," Harry screamed.
"I can't imagine why," Draco muttered. "Look, you whinging, pie-faced newt, this isn't about you, this is about me. Why would any girl go out with every boy on this campus, and yet neglect me, when I'm obviously the handsomest bloke at this school and in fact for several surrounding counties?"
"Does anything not piss you off?" Draco wondered aloud.
Harry paused and thought for a moment. "I don't mind Hedwig," he said finally, in a normal voice. "She's a good listener."
Draco blinked. "You're barmy, Potter," he said, in a more respectful voice than he'd ever used towards Harry before.
Harry's cheeks flushed an angry scarlet.
"NOBODY ASKED YOU, MALFOY. I'M TIRED OF YOUR FACE. GINNY PROBABLY IS, TOO.
NO WONDER SHE DOESN'T WANT TO GO OUT WITH YOU. NOW SOD OFF, BEFORE I KICK YOU
Draco mulled over the possibility of shoving Harry into a mud puddle, but Harry was waving his box of matches threateningly and Draco didn't want his hair singed. Instead he made a rude gesture at Harry and sloped off back towards the castle. He was halfway up the path when he heard a soft *bamf * noise behind him, and turned to see that the Quidditch shed had gone up in flames and was burning merrily. How odd, he thought to himself, before heading back to the castle.
Draco stood in front of the full-length mirror in his bedroom and stroked his palms up and down the front of his silk shirt. He eyed his reflection thoughtfully. The mirror had been a present from his mother and he occasionally suspected it of providing a biased viewpoint as regarded his looks.
"Hallo, mirror," he purred. "How do I look?"
"You look fabulous," the mirror gushed. "There isn't a man, woman, or talking portrait in this castle who wouldn't get down on their knees and thank Merlin for the opportunity to lick chocolate sauce off your incomparable instep."
Okay, maybe it wasn't biased.
"And my hair?" Draco demanded.
"It is a glorious golden nimbus that frames your angelic face and moonlight eyes like a halo."
Draco squinted suspiciously. "You don't think I'm pointy?"
"Not at all. You're chiseled."
"Or pale?" Draco set his jaw. "Tell me the truth, I can take it."
"Well," the mirror hedged. "Maybe a little on the pasty side -"
'You lying piece of tin!" Draco shouted, seized his tortoiseshell hairbrush from the nearby nightstand, and hurled it at the mirror.
The shattered mirror made an apologetic burbling noise. Draco tapped his feet impatiently for a few moments, then stalked over and thrust aside the sheer floral voile curtain that separated his side of the room from Crabbe and Goyle's. "Goyle," he barked. "Could I borrow your bronzer?"
It took all morning and entire bottle of bronzer for Draco to achieve what he considered to be a truly impressive hue.
Because of this, Draco arrived late to Practical Charms class, almost careening into Flitwick as he raced through the door.
A low murmur of surprise ran around the room as everyone stared at him. Draco gazed back at the stunned-looking class impassively. He had rolled up the sleeves on his button-down shirt and opened his collar so that the maximum amount of his newly tanned flesh was visible. Gently, he flexed a bicep.
Flitwick rolled his eyes. "Do sit down, Mister Malfoy," he said.
As Draco edged towards the back of the room, he eyed Ginny, who alone among her classmates was not staring at him. She was busy holding hands with Neville Longbottom, who was licking her ear in a dedicated manner, like a cocker spaniel with a peanut-butter-covered bone.
Nettled, Draco paused directly in front of her desk and cleared his throat loudly. Ginny glanced up, and her eyes widened.
"Draco," she breathed. "You're orange."
Draco was stung. "I am not orange," he said. "I am bronzed."
"Maybe you have jaundice," Ginny suggested helpfully. "Jaundice turns your skin orange."
"Actually, jaundice turns your skin yellow," pointed out Neville, mid-lick. "Better get yourself to the infirmary, Malfoy, and find out what you've got. I hope it's fatal," he added thoughtfully.
Draco ignored this; he was gazing mutely at Ginny with what he hoped was a searing look. She appeared largely unaffected. If there was anything in her expression, it was pity. Draco, however, was not above using pity to get his own way. Perhaps his tragic circumstances (however self-inflicted) could melt her heart. "Look, Weasley," he began. "About this Hogsmeade weekend -"
The classroom door banged open with a crash, and Harry Potter half-fell into the room. He was staring-eyed, and his robes were smeared with what looked like luminous yellow paint. He glared at Flitwick. "SO WHAT IF I'M LATE?" he bellowed. "WHAT RIGHT HAVE ANY OF YOU TO JUDGE ME?"
"Potter's in a strop again," muttered Draco wearily.
"Well, he's got a lot to be upset about," said Neville indignantly.
"Oh, shut up, Longbottom," said Draco.
Unfortunately he had spoken so loudly that he had attracted Harry's attention. Harry stared at him in fury. "WHY THE HELL IS MALFOY ORANGE?" he demanded of no one in particular. He glared around at his silent classmates. "FINE, DON'T TELL ME. NOBODY EVER TELLS ME ANYTHING."
"Mister Malfoy," Flitwick squeaked. "Ten points from Slytherin for upsetting Harry and coming to class orange. Now sit down."
Draco was the first one out of the Charms classroom, and so was the first student to notice that someone had spray-painted FUCK THE DARK LORD in luminous yellow lettering all up and down the corridor outside. So taken aback was he by this new development that he failed to notice Ginny being escorted off down the corridor by Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan, who appeared to be fighting over who got to carry her books.
"Corridor looks different," Ron Weasley observed as Hermione hurried him towards Potions.
"Must have been Peeves," Hermione replied brightly. "I do hope Dumbledore gets out of the infirmary soon and can deal with him; he's been up to all sorts of trouble lately. It really is just too bad that Dumbledore mistook that Exploding Snazzbomb for a sherbet lemon..."
Last out of the classroom was Harry, who shot Draco an unfriendly look. "WHAT ARE YOU MALINGERING OUT HERE FOR, YOU GIT?" he shouted.
"You know you've got yellow paint all down your front," Draco said.
"SO WHAT?" Harry demanded. "WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO IMPLY, MALFOY?"
"Oh, never mind." Draco did not care enough to press the point. "Look, could you pass along a message to Ginny for me?"
"OVER MY DEAD AND ROTTING BODY WILL I BE DOING YOU ANY FAVORS."
"Yeah, great," said Draco. "Tell her I want to talk to her about this weekend. Tell her to pop by the dungeons after dinner. The password's 'Blutsauger.'"
Harry looked interested for a moment. "With or without the umlaut?"
"I've told you enough, Potter," Draco snapped, recollecting himself. "Tell Ginny I'll be in the dungeons when she wants me."
"THAT WILL BE ON A COLD DAY IN HELL, MALFOY."
Draco turned away, flicking a dismissive wave at Harry over his shoulder. "Yeah, whatever you say, you total wingnut."
Draco skipped both Potions and dinner as he spent the evening in the prefects' bathroom, scrubbing off the bronzer. Several tubfuls of orange water and six Scrub-Away bars later, he ambled back towards the Slytherin common room, dressed only in a low-slung towel and his own skin, now restored to its former milky-complected glory.
Unfortunately, his peaceful mood was rudely shattered when he opened the door to the common room to discover that it was full of drifting white objects that it took him several moments to realize were...feathers?
"Bloody hell." Draco stared around him in amazement. "Looks like the Owlrey blew up in here. What happened?"
"Someone sneaked in and slashed all the sofa cushions to bits with a knife," said Blaise Zabini, who was perched on the arm of a denuded armchair. White feathers clustered in Blaise's curly dark hair. "Goyle and Crabbe are in trouble for giving out the password."
"How does everyone know they gave out the password?" Draco inquired.
"Who else would be stupid enough to give out the password?" Blaise shrugged philosophically.
"Good point," Draco said. A feather had alighted on the tip of his nose; he brushed it away impatiently. "Hey, has anyone come by looking for me?"
"Nobody's come by but Ginny Weasley."
Draco perked up. "What, really, she was here?"
"Yeah," Blaise said thoughtfully, "she asked me out for next Hogsmeade weekend. Boy, was I floored. I didn't even know she knew who I was."
Draco was enraged. "But you're a girl!"
Blaise looked injured. "I am not!"
Draco looked more closely. Up close, he had to admit that Blaise was indeed not a girl. If the beard hadn't given it away, the luxurious moustache would have certainly torn it. "Well," Draco said, "You have a very girly name."
"You mean to say," sputtered Blaise, "that we've been going to school together for six years now and you never knew if I was a boy or a girl?"
"I never gave it any thought," Draco said loftily, and gave the knot on his towel a savage jerk. "Anyway, I'm off to bed. I hope you and Ginny Weasley have a miserable time in Hogsmeade, you rotten lesbian bastard."
With which incoherent pronouncement, he flounced off to his room, leaving Blaise staring after him in amazement.
Despite having performed a swift reparo on his mirror, Draco felt that it was no longer operating at its previous standard. Its tone, when replying to his questions, was distinctly resentful.
"So, mirror," he said, turning around to admire the back of his new gray flannel trousers. "How do I look?"
"Fabulous," said the mirror sulkily. "You always look fabulous."
The mirror's indifferent tone pained Draco. "Yes, but do I look distinguished, different? Will I stand out among all her other admirers?"
The mirror fetched up a heavy sigh. "Who are you trying to impress again?"
"Hmm," said the mirror, "word in the corridors is that she's kind of skanky."
"I KNOW," Draco wailed. "She is skanky with everyone but me! What have I done wrong? How can I win her cheap and sluttish heart?"
The mirror sighed again. "Swear you aren't going to throw another hairbrush?"
Draco crossed his fingers behind his back. "I swear."
"Try leather trousers," the mirror murmured. "All girls like leather trousers."
"I haven't got any bloody leather trousers," Draco said, disgusted.
"You could borrow Millicent's chaps and Transfigure them," the mirror suggested brightly.
"Millicent has chaps?"
"Yes. Also a gimp mask."
Draco was struck dumb with awe. "Who'd have thought?"
Draco suspected something had gone slightly wrong with the Transfiguration spell he had worked on the chaps, but it was too late to do anything about it. They were painfully too small. Breathing was a problem, sitting down out of the question. Draco hated everything about them, but the mirror had waxed so enthusiastic about the way they looked from behind that Draco had felt it was nothing less than a moral imperative that he wear them.
Due to their constriction of his every major blood vessel, he was forced to take very small steps all the way to Hogsmeade and so was the last student to arrive at the Three Broomsticks. It was full of noise, laughter, and the sound of clanking tankards. Draco glanced around wearily, pushing sopping hair out of his eyes. The trousers were making him sweat.
A quick sweep of the room revealed no sign of Ginny or her escort. He did however see Harry, stalking towards him from behind the bar. He was zipping up his own trousers and looking furtive. "WHAT ARE YOU STARING AT ME FOR, MALFOY?" he demanded.
"I was looking for Ginny," Draco panted. The trousers were making it difficult to breathe. "Have you seen her around?"
"I SAW HER IN THE BACK ROOM SNOGGING TERRY BOOT," Harry yelled. "BOY, DID THAT PISS ME RIGHT OFF."
"Oh?" Draco inquired. "Why?"
"IT JUST DID, IS ALL."
"Hey," Draco said, recollecting, "Did you slash up all the sofa cushions in the Slytherin common room with a butcher knife?"
Harry looked more furtive. "I MIGHT HAVE."
"Okay, then," said Draco. "Just wondering."
Shouldering his way past Harry, he limped towards the back of the room, seeking the cool solace of a shaded alcove. He leaned against the wall and pondered unzipping for relief but before he could make a move towards his belt, a familiar voice spoke out of the shadows beside him.
"Hi, Draco," said Ginny.
He spun and saw that she was sitting on the windowsill behind him, her wide dark eyes fixed on his face. Her red hair was done up in pigtails with yellow ribbons and she looked unreasonably pretty.
"What're you doing back here anyway?" she asked, chewing the end of a ribbon in a distracting manner.
"I could ask you the same," said Draco. "Where's Blaise? Or Terry Boot, for that matter?"
Ginny shrugged. "No idea," she said. "Why?"
"No reason," Draco snarled. "NO REASON AT ALL." Realizing he sounded like Harry, he rallied. "Would you like me to get you some butterbeer?"
Ginny beamed. "I'd love some."
Barely had Draco taken a step forward, however, when a piercing scream rent the smoky air. It was Madam Rosmerta.
"The butterbeer!" she shrieked. "The butterbeer is tainted! Everyone put down your tankards immediately!" She put a hand to her impressive bosom. "Someone here has urinated in the butterbeer vat!"
Sounds of choking and gagging filled the Three Broomsticks as students spat their mouthfuls of butterbeer back into their tankards. Crabbe was downing his quickly, before it could be snatched away from him. Some students fled outside to be sick in the snow. Only Harry, quietly buffing his nails against his lapels, seemed unmoved.
"I can't believe someone peed in the butterbeer," Draco observed, watching the melee.
"Oh," said Ginny, "it was probably just Harry."
Draco was so surprised to hear her say this that he sat down suddenly. This was a mistake. There was a loud rending noise that could be overheard despite the din.
Ginny bit her lip and leaned forward. "Your trousers have split all down the back," she whispered kindly, "did you know?"
Back in his bedroom, Draco eyed his mirror with loathing. "You told me I looked good in these trousers," he hissed.
"You do," said the mirror.
"Yeah, well, they split all down the back when I sat down," Draco snapped. "It was utterly humiliating. Ginny had to do a vestitarus reparus spell on my bum. Very debonair that, very impressive."
"Nobody told you to sit down," the mirror said huffily.
"My knees collapsed with shock upon hearing that Harry Potter had peed in the butterbeer vat," Draco explained. "Anyone would have been surprised."
"I don't see why," said the mirror.
"Because he's off his rocker!" Draco yelled.
"Well," said the mirror, "he has a lot to be upset about."
It was the last straw. With a guttural howl, Draco seized up his hairbrush and flung it at the mirror, which shattered with an accusatory squeaking noise.
The next day, Draco went in search of more professional assistance.
"Professor Snape," he declared, presenting himself in Snape's office between classes, "I need your help."
Snape leaned back against a wall full of jars containing spell-frozen monkey parts and regarded Draco through sensuously hooded eyes. "Yes, Mister Malfoy? What can I do for you?"
"I need something that will make me seem more alluring," said Draco.
Snape had begun to fiddle with the top buttons on his robe. He often did this when Draco came to his office between classes. He claimed to be very sensitive to small changes in temperature, which caused him to overheat easily. "But you are already very alluring, Mister Malfoy," Snape murmured.
"That's true," Draco admittedly candidly. "But I need something that will make Ginny Weasley love me."
Snape's robes had fallen open to his waist. He began languorously to caress his tangled chest hair. "Tormented by the pangs of love, young Draco?"
"I wouldn't say tormented," Draco hedged. "More slightly harassed."
"Perhaps a spanking would take your mind off your troubles?"
"No," Draco said hastily. "No more spankings."
Snape looked disappointed. "Very well, but you are missing out," he said, and reached behind himself to pluck a small vial off the shelf over his head. He handed it to Draco. 'This is some of my own personal aftershave," he said. "It has never failed to work wonders for me in the romance department."
Draco was heartened. "Thank you, Professor." He examined the vial more closely. It was made of thin glass and gave off a faint stench of decay.
Snape eyed him. "Do not spill any of it," he said. "Or I will have to punish you."
Draco clutched the vial to his chest. "Does that mean another spanking?"
Snape leered coldly. "Everything means another spanking."
Snape's aftershave smelled no more pleasant on. In Care of Magical Creatures class, everyone kept edging away from Draco. Only Harry seemed unmoved by the smell of rotting garbage that was wafting from Draco's general area. Even Hagrid looked as if he were suffering.
"Where's that smell coming from?" Parvati whispered to Lavender. "It reeks like a dead Niffler."
Draco tried to look unconcerned. Beside him, Harry was staring fixedly at an empty patch of grass a few metres away.
"What are you goggling at, Potter?" Draco demanded finally, knowing he would live to regret having asked.
"THE THESTRALS ARE GATHERING," Harry intoned angrily. "THEY ARE DRAWN BY INNOCENT BLOOD."
"Er," said Hagrid, "Not 'xactly, Harry -" He glanced around, confused. "I 'adn't meant to do thestrals today. Usually they only gather about when I'm shoveling out the rubbish pits..."
"DOOM," said Harry, with some satisfaction.
Hagrid was scratching his head. "They've got to be after something, but what...?"
The rest of the class looked around nervously. "Do thestrals eat people?" worried Lavender.
"No," said Hagrid. "Rotting meat, mostly..."
"IN OTHER WORDS," yelled Harry, "IT'S YOUR FAULT, MALFOY."
"It bloody well isn't," Draco began, incensed, but before he could get another word out a massive invisible weight smashed into his chest, knocking him to the turf and pinning him there. The great wet raspy tongue of a monstrous creature slobbered its way over his face and neck, coating him in drool.
"Help me!" he shrieked. "It's trying to eat me!"
"EAT HIM," Harry bellowed at the thestral. "HE IS A ROTTEN RAT BASTARD AND DESERVES IT."
"I hate you, Potter!" Draco howled. "You're insane! Nobody else has noticed it BUT I HAVE!"
"He shouldn't talk to Harry that way," Parvati whispered to Neville, "Harry's got a lot to be upset about, you know?"
"Get it off me!" Draco shouted, flailing. "I am being killed dead!"
"You're not dying, you're fine," said a calm voice in Draco's ear. A moment later the crushing weight was gone, as was the slobbering tongue, and he was staring up through drool-blurred eyes at the pretty face of Ginny Weasley hovering above him.
"I Banished it," she said, putting her wand away. "But you'd better get back to the castle before any more show up."
Draco was too dazed to be polite. "Harry Potter is completely psycho," he said.
Ginny bit her lip. "I know," she said.
Draco clutched madly at her sleeve. "What do you mean, you know?"
"He's a flipping fruit loop," she said, looking down at his hand. "I've been saying so for months."
A wave of love swamped Draco. He forgot about being covered with thestral spit, about Potter's lunacy; he forgot about the spanking that surely awaited him when Snape discovered that he had fallen on the vial of aftershave and crushed it. He wanted to ask Ginny to the Yule Ball, he wanted to kiss her passionately, he wanted to ask her to marry him on the spot. But when he opened his mouth, all that came out was a peevish-sounding question:
"What are you doing here anyway, Weasley? You don't have Magical Creatures with us."
"I know," Ginny said. "I just came by to pick up Crabbe and Goyle for our date after class."
Draco stared. "I'm sorry, I think I heard you wrong. I thought you said Crabbe and Goyle."
"I couldn't choose between them," Ginny giggled. "So I decided to go out with them both!"
Draco gazed at her. "You should have let that thestral eat me," he said hoarsely.
Ginny patted him lightly on the shoulder. "See you later, Draco!" she chirped, and skipped away. Draco stared blearily up at the sky, too depressed to move. After a few minutes, another shadow blotted out the sun. It was Harry, gazing down upon him with great satisfaction.
"SUCKS TO BE YOU, MALFOY," he said.
Draco could not help but feel that he had a point.
Draco spent much of the next two weeks moping in bed, eating chocolate mice and feeling bitterly sorry for himself. Despite the fact that the Yule Ball was coming up and Pansy had strongly hinted that she was hoping for an invitation, Draco had not had the heart to extend one. If he could not go with Ginny he did not want to go with anyone.
He was plagued by frequent nightmares in which he showed up to the Yule Ball looking dashing only to discover that Ginny was already there, dancing passionately with Snape, Mad-Eye Moody, or the Patil twins. On one memorable night he dreamed that she had gone to the Yule Ball with the entirety of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team who were taking turns dropping the Snitch down the front of her dress.
The next day he wrote his father a letter saying he was in love with Ginny Weasley in hopes of picking a fight. Unfortunately the antidepressants Lucius had been on ever since the Azkaban episode had muddled his memories somewhat, and it was evident from the letter he sent in return that he had mixed up Ginny Weasley with her brother George.
Oddly enough Lucius still seemed not to mind very much.
Draco sent Crabbe and Goyle off to find out who Ginny was in fact going to the Yule Ball with but they returned without any information. They seemed to have enjoyed their date with her but would not say much about it beyond the fact that Ginny was surprisingly good at darts.
The day of the Yule Ball dawned bright and clear, and found Draco still in bed, sucking on a blood-flavored lollipop and ignoring Crabbe and Goyle as they primped for the festivities. They offered to bring him back some cake from the Great Hall, but he merely snarled at them.
He soon had cause to regret this. The pain of his broken heart faded into insignificance as they were overtaken by pangs of hunger. He had eaten nothing but chocolate mice for days and was beginning to feel decidedly lightheaded. Telling himself he'd just pop into the Great Hall long enough to nick some biscuits, he clambered out of bed, threw on jeans and an old sweater, shoved his feet into carpet slippers, and shuffled off towards the Ball.
As always at Christmas, the entryway to the Great Hall was full of sparkling crystal icicles, singing bronze ornaments, musical suits of armor, and colorful floating green and red ribbons. Draco noticed Harry standing on one of the tables near the double doors to the Hall. He was busy laying into an ice sculpture of two swans with a mallet. Draco rolled his eyes.
Once inside the Great Hall he made a beeline for the banquet table, keeping his head down. This method turned out to be counterproductive as halfway to the table he crashed directly into someone - a redheaded someone in floating blue robes.
"Ouch!" said Ginny Weasley.
Draco blinked at her. "You," he said.
She raised an eyebrow at him. "You look terrible."
"I know," Draco said, with some satisfaction, and transferred his gaze from Ginny to her dancing partner, who, Draco realized, with a glum shock to the pit of his stomach, was her brother, Ron, wearing peacock-green robes and looking down his large nose at Draco.
"Bugger off, Malfoy," Ron suggested.
Draco pointed a trembling finger at both of them. "Now," he declared. "Now you have gone too far!"
They both looked surprised. "What are you talking about?" Ginny asked, detaching herself from Ron.
"You! And him!" Draco jabbed his finger at Ron, struggling for coherence. "It was bad enough when you went out with everyone in Gryffindor. Fine, I could have expected that. Then you moved on the Ravenclaw. Then you dated all the Hufflepuffs! HUFFLEPUFFS! Who dates them? And then, to add insult to injury, you went after everyone in my House! Blaise! Malcolm! Crabbe and Goyle! They can't even spell 'date'! They think it's a dried Mediterranean fruit!"
Ginny was staring at him. "I don't see what this has to do with..."
"What about ME?" Draco screamed at the top of his lungs. He was well aware he was making a scene, but didn't care. "Is there something wrong with me? Am I too tall? Too short? Too fat? Too thin? Too unbelievably hot? Too much hair? Not enough hair? I mean, what is wrong with me exactly?"
"Well," Ginny said, "I mean, I haven't asked out Harry, either."
"Yeah, but he's demented."
"Hey!" Ron said indignantly. "He's got a lot to be -"
"Stow it, Weasley!" Draco turned on him. "And you, you pervert, going after your own sister, you should be ashamed, just because she obviously has some kind of problem controlling herself doesn't mean you should -"
"I do not have a problem controlling myself!" Ginny snapped.
"I am not a pervert!" protested Ron.
"Yeah, sure, Weasley," Draco sneered, "tell me you weren't hoping to get any action tonight."
Ginny put her hands on her hips. "Draco, don't be stupid."
"Yeah," Ron said, flushing a sickly violet, "what a ridiculous suggestion...now if you'll excuse me I have to go return a room key to Madam Rosemerta at the Three Broomsticks..."
Ron sidled away.
Draco looked back at Ginny. His temper was starting to fade. From the look on her face, though, hers was just beginning to rise. "Draco Malfoy," she snapped, "you want to know why I didn't ask you out? Because you're an idiot. A complete utter, and total idiot. There is no boy at this school, not one, who is as big an idiot as you."
Draco's heart sank, but he didn't show it. He raised his chin and glared back at her. "Fine," he said. "I hope you and your brother will be very happy together," and with that, he stalked out of the Great Hall, pausing only to swipe a chocolate custard off one of the banquet tables as he passed.
The entry hall was quite deserted. There was no sign even of Harry, or his mallet, although the floor was covered with shards of broken ice. Muttering under his breath, Draco kicked his way through the ice and out onto one of the balconies. It was a frosty, moonlight night and he had a beautiful view out over the grounds. In the distance, down by Hagrid's hut, he could see a small dark figure darting back and forth.
"Raisins," Draco said darkly, poking at his custard, "I hate raisins."
"I wouldn't eat that anyway, you know," said Ginny, appearing suddenly on the balcony beside him. "Fred and George catered the party - there's no telling what it'll do to you."
Draco lowered his custard. "Like you care," he said ungraciously.
Ginny sighed, and tossed back one of her braids. "Look," she began.
"Are you going to apologize for calling me an idiot?"
"No," she said.
Draco thought about this. "Why not?"
"Because you are an idiot," Ginny said. "If you weren't one, you would be able to figure out on your own why I've never asked you out."
"Oh." Draco felt he was not coming off at his best in this conversation, but had no idea what to say. "Because you hate me, I suppose?"
"No," Ginny said. "Because I like you. I really, really like you. I could ask all those other boys out because it didn't mean anything, and I thought maybe if I could like one of them, I could forget about you. But it didn't work, and I couldn't ask you. I was too shy."
"Too SHY?" Draco was incredulous. "You snogged Terry Boot in the back of the Three Broomsticks and you were too shy? You fooled around with Dennis AND Colin Creevey on the Quidditch pitch DURING a game and you were too shy? You did a striptease dance for Millicent Bulstrode under the third floor staircase and you were too shy?"
Ginny shrugged. "I was shy," she said.
"But you like me," Draco said, focusing at last on what was important.
"Yeah," Ginny said. "I do."
"Ah," said Draco, and preened. This was the good bit. "Why, exactly, do you like me?"
Ginny shrugged again. "Well," she said, "you seem so conceited and so superior, like you know just how good-looking you are, and how cool you are..."
"Yes, yes," Draco said, edging closer to her, "pray continue."
"..But," Ginny went on blithely, "really, you're just completely goofy, and sort of dorky and insecure, and you have no idea how to apply bronzer, and while I was watching you writhe around under that thestral, all covered in drool -"
Draco was appalled. "Silence, woman!" he cried.
" - and completely helpless, I just couldn't help thinking that you needed rescuing -"
"Oh, be quiet," Draco wailed in an excess of frustration, sezied hold of Ginny and kissed her - just, he told himself to shut her up, of course. Normally he would never kiss someone who had just insulted him so. Even someone who curled up so nicely in his arms when he kissed them, who wrapped her hands around his neck and had soft lips that tasted faintly of mulled cider and who murmured his name in a manner that suggested that perhaps she didn't think he was quite such a hopeless case after all.
"WELL IF THIS ISN'T JUST THE LAST STRAW!" came a furious voice, and Draco broke away from Ginny to see Harry clambering down over the side of the balcony. His robes were open and he looked oddly bulky. He was glaring at Ginny. "KISSING DRACO MALFOY, YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER. WAIT TILL RON HEARS ABOUT THIS."
Ginny was still holding Draco's hand. "Harry, what on earth is that you're wearing?"
Harry glanced down at himself. Under his robes he appeared to be wearing a complicated array of colored sticks tied around his waist. "DYNAMITE," he said, with dark satisfaction. "I AM GOING TO BLOW UP THE SCHOOL."
Ginny looked agitated. "Why?"
"BECAUSE I'M VERY ANGRY," Harry said, "I SHOULD THINK THAT WOULD BE OBVIOUS."
"That it is," said Draco. "Well, cheers, Potter. Good luck and all that. School needs a bit of blowing up." He held out his hand. "Here, have a custard."
"RAISINS," Harry said, taking the custard, "I HATE RAISINS."
He stalked off the balcony. A moment later there was a loud popping noise, and a few feathers drifted out onto the balcony.
Draco leaned just far enough away from Ginny to peer through the door. "Excellent," he reported. "He's turned into a pelican."
Ginny looked concerned. "Let's hope it lasts long enough for us to get the dynamite off him," she said.
Draco cast his eyes heavenward. "Just the way I wanted to spend the evening, picking explosives off a pelican that used to be Potter."
Ginny squeezed his hand. "Tell you what," she said. "After we're done, we can head over to the third floor stairwell and I'll show you the striptease I did for Millicent."
"I haven't got a gimp mask," Draco warned her.
"I'll make do," said Ginny. "Only - don't be too angry at Harry, all right? I mean, he just needs a little therapy and possibly some, er, prescription drugs, and he'll be all right. I think."
"I'm not angry," Draco said, and bent to kiss her again. She wound her arm around his neck and he smiled at her in the dark. "After all - he's got a lot to be upset about, doesn't he?"