Chapter 1 : Formalities
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Somehow, every single day seemed to appear the same. Every powdery cloud threatened to spill snow over anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves trapped outdoors, but none came. They lingered there, loitering in the sky, almost mocking those below them with their idle threats.
“It’s too wet to snow,” Tom, the barman shook his head dismissively as he cleaned a soapy glass with a dry towel, “if it tries, it’ll turn to slush. Mark my words, little lady, I’ve been around long enough to mark the weather by now. Hasn’t snowed in around thirteen years here; why should it now?”
“Because I said so.” the young woman smirked, lifting her bottle of Butterbeer to her lips and sipping it, passing a wink at the elderly man to prove she was joking. Still smiling, she leaned forward and rested her elbows on the barstool, one slender arm draping lazily from the countertop. She raised a hand, tore a few shreds from the label of her bottle of Butterbeer.
“I don’t necessarily care if it snows or not,” she continued, playing with the neck of her bottle, “so long as it does something. Nothing ever changes around here anymore. Frankly, I’d welcome a bit of snow. Heck, I’d run around in it completely starkers all day long until my feet turned blue. Just… something to do, do you know what I mean?”
Tom merely smiled in return, not understanding the young woman’s need for something to keep her entertained. In fact, she almost would have welcomed a bit of action, the likes of which she had seen only ten years previous in the final battle with the Dark Lord himself. Society was a relative utopia now, one of order and safety. At first, the regime had seemed so comforting. After ten years, Ginny Weasley was ready for a bit of excitement.
“Surely you get enough excitement?” Tom grinned, still polishing that same glass, despite the needs of the surrounding patrons, “don’t they keep you busy enough?”
Ginny laughed, sipping on her drink once more. Busy didn’t nearly describe her lifestyle, but she still yearned for more, something to fill the gap. Not quite qualified as an Auror, Ginny had devoted herself to the work of the Order once she left school. She had fought alongside her friends, protecting and guarding whoever she could. She felt a small pang of guilt at the memory of losing Fred, though every time she started to get upset about it, she thought of George and how his loss was greater. She had no right to be so selfish as to allow herself such petty trivialities as tears, so she smothered the grief.
Even after the final, epic battle, the Order’s work was far from done. They were now a recognised branch in the Ministry, fully funded and supported, not to mention respected. Ginny’s after-school job had developed into a fruitful career, one she immersed herself into completely. Regulation was generally their purpose, but they were granted the same status as the Department of Defence, and often called out to whatever small threat might expose itself.
Ginny’s title, even better yet, was a certain level of Parole Officer. She studied criminals closely, compiling reports on their behavioural tendencies, their past exploits, and most importantly, their current activities. Though often stressful and time consuming, Ginny loved her job; it gave her a great sense of purpose, like she was doing more than clocking in, day after day, sipping coffee and wasting time with her co-workers. Ginny had always wanted to be valued in whatever job she pursued, and indeed with life; she wished to be irreplaceable.
Unbeknownst to Ginny, she was using her work to substitute for her life. Though she would never admit it, she wanted so badly to be needed by another. Her relationship with Harry, no matter how brief, had taught her as much; Harry never needed her. Wanted, certainly, but he never needed her help or her support, so they never rekindled any form of romance. She saw him often, since he was the main liaison between the Order and Auror Departments, but their friendship was rather strained by their equally fiery dispositions.
“Too busy, really.” she sighed, dropping a galleon onto the bar as she finished her drink. “Even in my personal time, they have me working. Charming, isn’t it?”
“Oh, you’ll be meeting him again tonight, then?” Tom nodded knowingly. “Just be careful, all right? They don’t get sent to Azkaban for no good reason.”
“I can handle myself, Tom,” Ginny insisted, pulling up the collar of her robes and wrapping a long scarf around her neck. She bade the barman goodnight and walked around the back of the Leaky Cauldron, tapped the bricks and watched as Diagon Alley unfolded before her very eyes.
The night air was brisk, the cold breeze feeling almost like small, sharp pins pricking against her skin. After the warmth of the pub, Ginny felt all the heat escape her body, despite her heavy cloak. She nestled her chin into her scarf until all that could be seen of her face was her large, chocolate brown eyes peering out from behind long, thick strands of dark red hair.
Not much had changed about Ginny’s appearance since her Hogwarts years. She still possessed fiery, red hair, so thick and long that it fell to her waist in loose, heavy waves. Her eyes still held a defiant spark, though large and wide enough to convey innocence if she so wished. In her opinion, she possessed rather a few too many freckles for her own liking and particularly hated the few that dotted over the top of her lip, giving her the appearance of wearing lip liner almost every day. She failed to notice that, while impish and childish looking, they added such character to her face. While Ginny had never considered herself to be a brazen beauty, most men who had experienced wonderful encounters with her could beg to differ.
Still, at the tender age of twenty-eight, Ginny had no time for men. None, whatsoever. Sure, she had dated, and even managed a long-term relationship that could very easily have blossomed into a stable and loving marriage, if only the man in question had some shred of passion in his being. Ginny felt rather foolish every time she thought back about Philip, how he had always wanted to do what she wanted to, never seemed to express any interest in anything himself. Ginny simply assumed that since she liked going to Quidditch games with him, sitting in quiet bars and having a drink with friends, and dancing at the weekends in noisy clubs, that he did too - he never expressed any inclination otherwise.
Philip had zero interests. He collected stamps. Pretty packaging, vacant interior. After two long, boring years, Ginny sent him packing. She had remained single ever since, opting to wait until she found someone who challenged her enough to keep her interested, someone with a passion for something, anything at all, just so they seemed alive. Heck, if Philip had been passionate about his stamp collection, she wouldn’t have chucked him so quickly!
Strolling swiftly down Diagon Alley, Ginny took a narrow turn into Knockturn Alley. Years ago, it was a place to fear, and even in today’s secure society, it wasn’t a particularly comforting place to be. Boarded up windows sucked a lot of light from the street, and only the reflection of puddles seemed to offer any brightness at all. Ginny frowned, spending all too long staring at one particular puddle, one whose substance was thicker and grimier than the others she had seen. A thin strain of a rainbow could be seen across it, a sort of grim reminder of just who she was visiting. The boy was about as alluring as he was dangerous, but the same ruggedness that earned him the hearts of many girls was about as romantic and beautiful as a rainbow on oil scum.
Tossing her hair over her shoulder, Ginny tugged her scarf down to her chin, exposing her face to the sharp, bitter night air once more. She rapped impatiently on the decaying door, then clasped her hands together to generate some small measure of heat. Narrowing her eyes, Ginny looked upwards to the second storey of the narrow little house, noticing a faint glimmer of light coming from an upstairs room. Her eyebrows knitted into a severe frown, she knocked louder on the door, several pieces of cracked paint splintering and falling from the rotted wood as she did. There was a lot of noise now from that upstairs room; feet slamming onto the floor, a loud, angry groan and then, thankfully, hurried footfalls on the staircase. The door opened a crack, letting out a tiny gust of heat. Though Ginny would much rather stand in the cold than spend time with her client, her body willed to be closer to the heat.
“You’re late,” he sneered, not budging the door open more than a crack. Ginny rolled her eyes and checked her watch, taking her time pulling back her thick robes from her un-gloved hands.
“I’m early, I think you’ll find,” she crossed her arms over her chest, “don’t act like you own a timepiece, since you don’t even own socks. It hardly matters what time I arrive, anyway; I’m here, and I have a job to do, and if you don’t allow me to do
said job, you know where you can go.”
Scowling, Draco pulled open the door and let it smack against the wall of his narrow hall, then turned his back and stalked into the living room. Ginny allowed herself a tiny smirk of victory and gracefully walked into his dingy home, closing the door quietly behind her. She followed Draco and took out her wand, pointing it at him. Seemingly un-phased by her action, Draco stood stock still and ran a lazy hand through his long hair, a bored expression on his sculpted face.
“Must you do that every time?” he yawned, stretching his arms over his head as Ginny waved her wand over his body, “It’s a tad disconcerting, you know. I think you just like to gawk at my body.”
Ginny let out a harsh laugh as she continued to move over his body, “What, this scrawny, old thing? Hardly. Neville Longbottom has better pecs than you,” sobering, Ginny kept silent for a moment before adding, “It’s procedure, you know that by now.”
“Yes, but after two consistent years, you’d think you would’ve learned that they don’t fraternise with me anymore,” Draco spat, turning around and washing a mug in the sink while Ginny continued to cast her spells, searching for some manner of dark substances or spells, “I suppose you’ll want tea.”
Ginny straightened up and dusted off her hands, clearing her throat. Wordlessly, she held out her hand, into which Draco dropped his own wand listlessly. Ginny cast a few spells on his wand, checking all his prior castings. Once satisfied that he hadn’t broken any rules, she placed his wand beside him on the counter and walked over to the kitchen table. She began unbuttoning her travelling cloak and draped it over one of the two chairs in the tiny kitchen, finally addressing his question.
“Only if you’ve got biscuits. You never get the ones I like. Is that on purpose? I mean, you won’t get rid of me that way. I‘ll just start bringing my own biscuits.”
“I live in hope.” he sighed, pointing his wand to the kettle and bringing it to the boil. Ginny rummaged around his presses for a few minutes, scowling playfully at him when she didn’t find the biscuits she liked so much. Being her mother’s daughter, Ginny’s fingers began to itch when she realised the mess of Draco’s kitchen. His entire house was squalor, was always in a complete tip whenever she called over. The first few times, she cleaned up for him, but since it wasn’t in her job description and she was getting no thanks for her efforts, she stopped. Ever since then, there had been a consistent amount of mess, almost as though Draco was cleaning what he needed and left everything else the way it was since she stopped. Ginny rolled her eyes; it was probably his only form of entertainment, watching her squirm as the dirt grew and suffused with the air in the room, tiny particles of dust landing in her tea.
Ginny picked up her own cup of tea and walked out of the filthy kitchen, opting instead for the slightly less lived-in living room. She sat down in an overstuffed armchair, only to have little clouds of dust puff out from the fabric. Draco sauntered into the room just in time to see her sneeze, a pathetic, high-pitched noise rather akin to something a kitten would make. Ginny rubbed her nose with the heel of her palm, her eyes daring Draco to laugh, but all he did was smirk while perching himself into his own chair. For as long as Ginny had been Draco’s Parole Officer, he had always occupied that one chair, a neat little grove settled into it where his body slotted comfortably. Naturally, it was the one piece of furniture in his house that remained clean.
Wordlessly, Draco took out a carton of cigarettes, mechanically offering one to Ginny. She declined, also mechanically. The small formalities were always observed, even though Ginny had never accepted any more than a cup of tea from Draco, and of course, the occasional biscuit.
“Did you find a job this week?” she asked, leaning on the arm of her chair. She crossed her legs at the ankle, her pleated skirt fanning out over her calves, her boots covering the rest. Ginny wasn’t consciously aware of her wardrobe when she had to visit Draco, but had always opted to be covered up in some sense or another. Perhaps it was his playboy reputation from school, or the fact that he was, in fact, a convict, but Ginny had long since abandoned her revealing attire.
“Like I told you last week, Weasley,” he mumbled over his cigarette, “no one wants to hire a ‘useless, convicted, dangerous felon’. I suppose I’ll be mooching off of you kind folk at the Ministry until the day you return my father’s money to me.”
“Draco, we’ve been through this a thousand times. Until you-”
“’Until you prove that you can be a valuable member of society, we cannot trust you with your family’s artefacts,’ yes, Weasley, I know.” he growled, his teeth clenching down over his cigarette. Slightly frustrated, Ginny fixed him with a fierce stare, her eyes pinned to his own.
“Did you even go on that interview I set up?”
“Why are you asking, when you so obviously already know the answer?”
“How can you afford cigarettes when you can’t even afford nice biscuits?”
“When was the last time you had a good shag?”
“Draco! When was the last time you shaved?”
“Oh, it’s been that long? Ouch.”
Frowning, Ginny sat back in her chair, clasping her mug of tea between her hands. Week in, week out, they argued like… well, almost like friends would. If you had told her when she was a teenager that she would be sitting in a cramped, stuffy living room, drinking tea with Draco Malfoy, she would have sent a good Bat Bogey Hex in your direction. Admittedly, it was not always a smooth journey between them, and what could be brushed off as harmless comments now were serious offences in earlier times.
“You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?” Ginny sighed, sipping on her tea. Draco wouldn’t meet her gaze, his pride getting in the way. He never had to work a day in his life - unless you count a loyal, yet short service to the Dark Lord. He had played his part, but had redeemed himself enough in the end to save himself from a life sentence of soul-sucking. To be completely honest, Draco knew that he owed Ginny a great debt; if it wasn’t for her efforts, he would still be in Azkaban. She was trying to help, but Draco was well aware that she took some small bit of pleasure in his suffering. So, for that reason alone, he was determined to make her job a difficult one. The only set-back was that she had to visit every week to check up on him. If he had a job, it wouldn’t be necessary - a simple report from his employer would suffice - but it was a price he was willing to pay.
They sat in silence for a while, neither one willing to admit defeat. Draco didn’t want charity and Ginny didn’t want to waste her time, but neither of them made a move to leave, either. Ginny had a job to do, and it was Draco’s home, after all, no matter how dingy. After a sufficient amount of time had passed, conversation turned to lighter aspects; the Sunday Quidditch Game, a string of kidnappings of the employees of small, localised shops, things of trivial importance. After a few hours, Ginny pulled herself from the comfortable, insanely dirty chair and returned to the kitchen for her travelling cloak. She washed her mug in the sink and thought about how hopeless Draco seemed at times, wondered how she would explain to Kingsley that Draco still wasn’t showing any progress.
“I’ll see you next week,” she informed him as she wrapped her scarf around her neck, “but I’ll send you an owl in the morning once I’ve set up another interview for you. The sooner you get a job, the sooner you won’t have to put up with me anymore, and we both know how much you’d like that.”
Smiling sourly, she buttoned up her robes while Draco remained in his chair, his eyes a pool of boredom. As was usual, Ginny let herself out and apparated home, leaving Draco completely on his own in his tiny little house. As soon as he heard the ‘crack’ of her apparition, Draco heaved himself from his chair, picked up his mug and flung it at the opposite wall. The dregs of his tea stained the water-damaged wallpaper, shards of the mug scattering on the dirty floor.
She infuriated him.
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