Chapter 1 : Pale September
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All my armour falling down
In a pile at my feet
And my winter giving way to warm
As I’m singing him to sleep
Light caught on the faces of the assembled crowd, casting deep shadows across their skin. Standing at the back of the room, Ginny folded her arms around her body, an unsettling chill sinking into her bones. She huffed, the air pushed from her lungs in a sound almost like a gasp. A few heads turned to look, to check who was dying, or perhaps to check who had passed out drunk on the floor.
‘Stupid,’ Ginny thought, giving Padma Patil a fake smile. The dark-haired woman turned away, and Ginny was positive she was smirking.
“Stupid,” Ginny muttered under her breath, snatching up a drink from the nearest table and elbowing her way towards the exit.
Escape was in sight when someone closed in on her, their arms sliding around her waist in a way that was both personal and impersonal – a caress and a preventative measure. Ginny twisted her neck, recognising the face. Scowling, she fought her way out of the circle of his arms, considering dumping her drink on his very blonde head.
“Excuse me, Malfoy,” she snapped, stepping away from him and straightening her dress. The blonde raised an eyebrow, and Ginny could almost see the mechanisms turning in his brain as he concocted some derogatory remark. She rolled her eyes, waiting. Some things, at least, had not changed since they left school.
‘Some things,’ she thought sadly, her eyes swinging over Draco’s head to where Harry stood talking easily and comfortably with his old classmates, ‘definitely had.’
Ginny closed her eyes briefly, allowing her mind to drift back to that time, in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, years ago, when Harry had accomplished the task seemingly set for him since birth. Another face pressed into her mind, and Ginny opened her eyes, watching as Harry, with Hermione now on his arm, laughed at some shared joke with Ernie McMillian.
Neither Harry nor Hermione had seen her, and she was not sure whether to be annoyed or grateful. Part of her still saw Harry and Hermione’s relationship as the worst betrayal, to both her and her heartbroken brother. After the war, they were happy, the four of them, both in their friendships and their relationships. Ron and Hermione looked set to marry, after years of dancing around one another, and Molly Weasley watched them like a hawk, prepared to swing into action and plan for another wedding. Ginny and Harry, however, did not even come close to making it down the aisle. There was something missing in their relationship; something that neither of them could identify and therefore fix or even compensate for. All Ginny had wanted had been Harry, and once she finally had him, things were so much different than what she had imagined.
How Harry ended up falling in love with Hermione was a mystery no one had been able to solve. Ron, devastated and heartsore, had left England, heading to France. Fleur’s family had offered him the use of their holiday villa once they found out what had happened, and Ron had packed up and left without a word to anybody. Ginny recalled the intensely traumatised look he had given her before he apparated away from his family, Molly pleading with him to stay, to try and work it out. Ginny and Harry had broken up months before, and while Hermione had been there to console her friend, it seemed the majority of her efforts were spent on Harry.
Hermione’s laughter cut through the air, the familiar sound settling in Ginny’s chest, her stomach twisting as she watched her old friend laid her hand on Harry’s arm, drawing him close to her and pressing a kiss against his cheek.
Ginny turned back to Draco, angry now that he had stopped her escape. If not for him, she would never have seen Harry and would never have been reminded why she did not come to these reunions, and why she had shut herself away from everyone from her past; why she hated to go to sleep at night.
“Well, spit it out, Malfoy. I haven’t got all night you know.”
“Someone has their knickers in a twist, or are you not wearing any tonight, Weasley?” Draco retorted, sneering at her.
“Where’s Pansy? I’m sure she’s not wearing any knickers,” Ginny spat out, nodding her head in the direction of Draco’s old part-time girlfriend. The brunette had her arm linked through Seamus Finnigan’s – a union that had caused Ron to ask Seamus was he completely mental and Ginny to almost loose her breakfast. Still, they had been together for almost two years, and they both seemed happy enough.
Draco scowled at her, and she smiled sweetly, turning and stalking away before he had a chance to come back with some unnecessarily nasty comment about Harry. Ginny heard his undignified hiss in the background, and smiled.
The reception hall balcony was virtually empty and Ginny sighed in relief. The only other person out there had their back to her, and she could tell by the broad swell of the shoulders that it was a man. She shrugged, not caring, and downed her drink. If getting smashed were the only way to get through the evening, then she would gladly comply.
She sighed softly, turning and leaning her hip against the railing, looking back into the hall. She could see Draco, now on the far side of the room, sitting with his wife, a rather pleasant French witch named Marcella. Her eyes passed over Marcella, her dark hair perfectly coifed and rolled around her head, a few loose strands of hair dangling down to brush her cheekbones. She was a strikingly beautiful woman, with deep brown eyes and a gentle smile, delicate limbs and creamy skin.
Ginny felt her eyes drift to Draco, and again, she smiled. He was still looking annoyed and put out. She had not intended to be so nasty about Pansy, knowing that it had actually shocked the blonde when Pansy finally told him to get lost. She sighed again, deciding to find him later and apologise. It was not his fault that she was angry, although she was still mad about his comment regarding her knickers. She wondered briefly how Marcella could put up with him. Looking at them, at the way Draco touched her cheek, and the swell of her belly, Ginny knew he was all talk. He loved his wife. She sighed again, feeling depressed and breakable.
“Do you need a Healer, or something?”
The man on the balcony turned, the light from the hall dancing across his face. Blaise Zabini. Ginny would know that face anywhere – it stared at her from the covers of the magazines her mother liked to buy. The git had become a model. Ginny took in those cool eyes, so dark and deep, and that hair, tightly curled and elegantly styled. His skin was warm and glowing, and his nose perfectly formed. Without thinking, a small whimper of pleasure escaped Ginny’s mouth. Even though Blaise Zabini was an utter arrogant bastard, he looked absolutely edible.
He chuckled, moving a few inches closer to her in the near darkness, his eyes appraising her body. Ginny shivered, reminding herself that he was still the stuffy pureblood Slytherin from school, the sort of man who liked to use women, tossing them away when he was done. Still another of those faces from the past she did not waste time thinking about. She looked at him sternly as his eyes trailed over her breasts, half-exposed through her low-cut dress, his gaze warming her as much as it turned her stomach. She looked down at herself, to avoid Blaise’s eyes as much as anything, remembering why she had worn the revealing dress in the first place. It had been a favourite of Harry’s, and as she dressed for the function earlier that evening, a part of her hoped that he would see her in it and be reminded of everything they once wanted for their future together. The action had been in vain.
Ginny lifted her head, Blaise staring at her curiously. She folded her arms across her chest protectively. “Are you still here? What do you want, Blaise?”
His laughter spread over her, rich and melodious, tingles dancing through her blood at the sound, both mocking and genuine at the same time. “Potter let you off your leash, did he? Wait, I forgot. He’s with Granger now,” Blaise answered softly, his words cutting her with misery as much as they filled her with fire. Ginny tossed her head back, her long red hair spilling over her shoulders, fixing him with an angry look. Blaise chuckled softly.
“I wouldn’t be too worried, if I were you, Weasley. Forget Potter. I saw you watching them earlier from the other side of the room, and I got to thinking. What does Miss Weasley think about me if she has such nasty thoughts about Potter and his new girlfriend?”
“You don’t want to know,” Ginny muttered and Blaise raised his eyebrows. “What? Not used to that? Sorry, but I refuse to stroke your over inflated ego. Not every woman alive is lined up to kiss your butt, Mr Witch Weekly.”
“Who said anything about kissing butts? There are much better places to plant your lips,” the man replied casually, ignoring her insults, and Ginny scowled.
“This night is worse than I imagined,” she moaned, wringing her hands. She snuck another look at Blaise.
They had never been friends, never really spoken much at school, expect for a few words shared during sixth year when they were both part of the Slug Club. Then, there was the age-old Slytherin-Gryffindor grudge, intensified due to the Dark Lord’s rise. All she knew about Blaise Zabini, to be sure, was that he was Draco’s friend, and his mother was an exceptionally beautiful woman whose husbands mysteriously died on her. She had never bothered to read the interviews that graced the glossy pages of the magazines.
She jumped slightly when Blaise reached out a long finger, running it down the length of her arm, his eyes following the action. Ginny shivered, pulling her arm away from him, tucking it around her body out of his reach. A waiter appeared with a tray of drinks, and she grabbed two glasses of champagne, ignoring the man’s look of disapproval. She downed one, placing the empty glass back on the tray, and snatched another, turning and stalking away into the darkness.
Blaise was behind her in an instant, two glasses held in his own large hands. Ginny frowned at him.
“Go away. Why are you following me?”
He shrugged. “I’m bored.”
“And I’m a barrel of laughs,” she replied sarcastically.
Ginny sighed, walking faster, descending a small staircase that led from the balcony into the lavish garden, concentrating on not falling over in her heels. He kept pace with her easily, so she gave up trying to outrun him and decided to ignore him instead. That didn’t seem to bother him either, and she glowered at him, plonking herself down on a bench seat at the far end of the garden, drinking another glass of champagne.
“Have you been happy with your life, Ginny?” Blaise asked her suddenly. He was sitting beside her. She frowned, as her own voice, spoken from years ago, rose in her thoughts. I will make you happy. Words she had uttered to Harry in desperation, as he walked away from her, turning his back on everything he had ever promised her. She scowled, pushing the words away, new ones rising to take their place. Please, don’t leave. More hopeless words. Broken memories that settled in her chest and grew to become flesh as she dreamed the nights away. She turned her face towards Blaise, seeking his eyes, letting him see the answer for himself.
He flashed a sad smile, one that said he understood, that he too had been hurt and suddenly her head was filled with a million questions about him.
“I didn’t think so,” he muttered. “I read it, in the papers. I’m sorry.”
Ginny nodded, cursing the media circus that had become her life for a few months, but said nothing. Her throat was constricted and she was feeling dizzy from two glasses of champagne, and she still had one in her hand. Her fingers shook a little and she forced herself to breathe steadily, blinking to clear her vision. She remembered suddenly that she had not eaten dinner, her stomach too clenched in the hours leading up to the party.
“I hate reunions,” she moaned. Blaise laughed.
“Me too. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have people staring at you all the time?”
Ginny snorted. “You’re the one who became a model, Zabini. What did you expect? It sort of comes with the job.”
“And you? What did you become? Other than bitter and annoyed?” he teased, flicking a lock of her hair casually. Ginny glared at him, her face falling.
“Nothing. I became nothing. I was something, once, but that is gone,” she murmured, turning her face away. The sounds of her schoolmates enjoying the reunion floated to her ears and like a wave, her depression increased. She drank the last glass of champagne, holding the fine crystal in her hands almost desperately.
Blaise sighed. “You shouldn’t let it get to you, you know. Potter and Granger.”
“I don’t want to talk about it!” Ginny whispered furiously, making to stand up, but he placed a strong hand on her shoulder and pushed her back down.
“I’m sorry. That was rude. If you don’t want to talk about it, then you don’t have too,” Blaise said softly. “We can talk about whatever you want. Or we can talk about nothing at all.”
Ginny studied him in the near-darkness, scrutinising the enigma of him. She realised she knew absolutely nothing at all about him, except for his name and occupation. She cleared her throat, looking at him burning curiously.
“What’s your favourite colour?”
“Excuse me?” He was startled, his eyebrows shooting up his forehead, but he was smiling.
“You heard. Favourite colour,” Ginny demanded. Blaise frowned.
“Green,” he replied after a pause and Ginny rolled her eyes. “What?”
“Figures,” she muttered and he laughed. “Favourite food?”
“Oysters,” he answered with a grin, and Ginny made a face. Blaise forced an innocent look into his eyes. “I like the way they feel. They remind me of…”
“Enough.” Ginny held up her hand, her lips twitching. “Favourite book?”
They went on and on, Ginny asking him all the mundane questions she could think of. She could sense his amusement, but he answered them all with honesty, pondering over his responses.
“Why modelling? Don’t you get enough of yourself in the mirror every morning?” Ginny asked with a giggle. She was feeling quiet drunk.
Blaise shrugged. “I thought I should share myself with the world. Perfection like this shouldn’t be kept a secret. It would be rather selfish of me, don’t you think?” He winked, and Ginny snorted.
“Where’s your brother?” he asked suddenly in his rich velveteen voice. Ginny frowned.
“France,” she replied softly, not wanting to think of what took him there.
“Good. I don’t want to risk the wrath of the boy-wonder’s sidekick,” Blaise smiled.
“What are you talking about?” Ginny sighed, rolling her eyes at his not-so-subtle Slytherin-ness.
“Well, if he were here, I’m sure he would get mad at me,” Blaise replied, his smile deepening.
“This.” Blaise slipped a finger under her chin, tilting her head up, before touching her lips gently with his, eliciting a startled gasp from Ginny. The wine glass slipped from her fingers, bouncing onto the grass at their feet. Blaise chuckled, releasing her and sitting back, watching her face closely.
“What say we get out of here, Weasley?”
She narrowed her eyes in suspicion, her head still spinning from his unexpected kiss. He chuckled.
“You misunderstood me, Ginny. I just want to talk. I know a lovely café that is open this time of the night. No tricks. I promise. I’ll be a complete gentleman.”
Ginny stared back at him, Harry’s face floating into her mind. Angry, she pushed it away. Her eyes locked with Blaise’s and she nodded. He stood and offered her his hand, which she took, letting him pull her too her feet. Smiling, he moved his long lean body closer to hers, his eyes never leaving her face. Ginny breathed deeply, the scent of his cologne invading her nostrils, making her head swim and her thoughts muddled. He smelt amazing.
Unconsciously, Ginny felt her body lean into his, until their chests were almost touching. Her eyes fell closed, her head screaming at her to back away, but her body could not deny the attraction she felt towards Blaise. It seemed she was not alone in her thoughts, and a small groan slipped from her lips as his fingers brushed against her hips, tantalising and strong. With a low growl, Blaise stepped away from her as Ginny opened her eyes. His face was closed, his hands resting by his sides. Ginny saw his fingers twitch, as if he wanted to hold her, and she could not help a smirk creep over her face. The rest of the evening would be interesting, although she was not entirely sure what she wanted to get out of it. Just having someone to talk too would be nice for a change, but if he wanted to kiss her again, she would not object. She was sick of being lonely.
“Where are we going?”
“Into town. Not far. We can apparate, if you want, but I’d actually prefer to walk,” he responded. Ginny shrugged.
“Walking is fine. I’m feeling a little tipsy,” she confessed with a smile and he laughed.
“I’m not surprised.”
Blaise led her back through the garden, up the stairs and into the dinning hall. Most people had left for the night, and Ginny frowned. They must have been sitting outside for hours, although it only felt like minutes. Draco gave Blaise a ‘come here’ wave, but Blaise shook his head. Ginny jumped as she felt his hand on her lower back, guiding her. She shared a look with Draco, who raised a surprised eyebrow at them.
Across the hall, Harry and Hermione were still standing arm in arm. Ginny cringed, turning her face away.
“Can’t we move a bit faster?” she hissed at Blaise, her eyes swinging back to her former friend and boyfriend. Hermione looked over, feeling Ginny’s eyes and her mouth popped open in a silent ‘o’ of surprise. She nudged Harry, who lifted his head. Ginny took a deep breath, forcing herself to turn away as Harry’s eyes flickered to Blaise.
“Get me out of here,” she moaned. Blaise looked across the room, seeing the source of her discomfort, and nodded. He steered her through the room with ease, and Ginny realised people were moving for them. She giggled. Hanging out with famous people was not really all that bad.
It was a short walk to the café, and they shared the time in silence. It was late, and the streets were virtually empty, the odd thump of bass reverberating through the night and into the concrete under their feet. Ginny frowned, trying to remember the last time she had been to a club, or danced, or had any sort of fun.
They reached Blaise’s little café, Ginny sighing appreciatively. The place was gorgeously simple and rustic, set facing the street with views to a park across the road. Tables sat on the sidewalk, shielded by large umbrellas, the café emitting a warm glow to the outside world. Small tea-light candles sat on the tables, both inside and out, providing a pleasant atmosphere. Smiling, Blaise directed her to a table outside, leaving her briefly to order their drinks. Ginny sat smiling, enjoying the touch of the cool night air on her skin, her thoughts clearing with every second. She liked September for the weather, nothing more. There were too many memories associated with that month to make her feel happy in any other way.
Blaise returned, seating himself opposite her. A tired smile lit his face, his eyes clouding briefly, brightening as Ginny returned his smile. They sat and talked about nothing in particular while waiting for their drinks. No mention was made of Harry, or Hermione. Blaise talked a lot about Draco and Marcella, Ginny picking up on the wistful note in his tone as he voiced his thoughts about their marriage. It was clear that Blaise admired his friend and what he had done with his life after school had finished. Ginny knew that Draco was really into his charities, having inherited his father’s money. Seeing him through Blaise’s eyes, she felt a grudging respect for the annoying blonde wizard.
Their drinks arrived, Ginny cradling hers between her fingers, enjoying the warmth that spread through her body. Sipping her drink, she raised her brows in delight and surprise, looking at Blaise questioningly.
“Hazelnut and vanilla,” he responded with a grin. “I thought you might like it.”
The night wore on as they sat and drank, sneaking glances at one another. Ginny was slightly surprised, as well as alarmed, at how relaxed and light she felt in his company. It had been a long time since she had let her guard down around another person outside her family, and she sensed things were the same for Blaise as well. She watched him, sitting back casually in his chair, his eyes drawn to the park across the street. The stars were out, twinkling gently against their indigo backdrop. Blaise turned to her, setting his cup down on its saucer, Ginny shaking her head at his offer to buy her another drink. They had already had three coffees, and she knew she would not be sleeping for the rest of the evening.
“I feel like a walk,” Blaise announced, standing up gracefully. “I need to work some of this caffeine out of my system. Care to join me, or have you had enough of my company for the night?” he teased, and she shook her head.
He offered Ginny his hand, which she took without hesitation, letting him pull her gently to her feet, bringing their bodies close together again. Their eyes locked and her breath hitched in her throat as Blaise stared at her, penetrating the barriers she had set up around herself. His hand rose to cup her cheek, his thumb moving gently over the gentle curve of her face, tingles floating through her body at his touch.
Something inside her dissolved, and as he slowly lowered his face to hers, she sighed blissfully, not caring that she was again about to be kissed by a man she hardly knew. She wanted release from the continual pain, from the emptiness that dogged her days and nights. As Blaise pulled her against his body, Ginny smiled, feeling misery slide from her skin, dropping and melting into the ground at her feet. His lips brushed against hers, light and delicate, Ginny’s eyes closing, her heart thundering in her ears.
As soon as it began, the kiss was over, Blaise tugging on her hand and leading her across the street to the park. Under the cover of the trees, he kissed her again, his lips lingering on her throat and her jaw, his hands sliding along the length of her spine. Ginny groaned, electricity flowing through her body as Blaise continued to wreak wonderful havoc on her neck. His lips found hers again, his kiss deep and intense, searing and searching, tearing her apart as it wound her back together.
They broke apart, staring at one another with glazed expressions. Blaise smiled, tucking a piece of her long hair behind her ear, dropping his head to catch her lips again briefly. Ginny closed her eyes, falling against his chest as his arms went around her.
“I have another question for you,” she muttered into his shirt, the fabric silken and caressing against her cheek. Blaise laughed softly, squeezing her, eliciting a giggle from her lips.
“Really? Don’t keep me in suspense,” he whispered into her hair. They stood wrapped in one another, the warm afterglow of the kiss enfolding their bodies.
“Ever had your heart broken?” Ginny asked softly. He stiffened and she held her breath, waiting to see if he would be as honest with his answer this time. His arms tightened around her.
Ginny said nothing. There was nothing to say. His story was like hers, she guessed, told through the pain in his voice as he uttered that single word. She did not need to know the details.
Blaise’s chin rested on top of her head and he sighed, pulling her closer to him, their bodies pressed tightly together. Ginny frowned, puzzled. She was not sure what she wanted. She had decided that she liked Blaise, liked his wit and his charm, his smile and his laugh, his generosity and his truthfulness. She could not deny she was attracted to him, and valiantly she searched beneath that, looking for something more that could hold them together after this night was over.
As if reading her thoughts, Blaise pulled back from her, his eyes searching her face. “I want to see you again,” he said firmly, looking into her eyes. “But I’m not sure you want that. Are you ready to do this? Are you ready to leave the past behind where it belongs?”
Ginny studied him in the wane light seeping through the branches of the trees overhead, the bright glow of the street lamps surrounding them diffused by the intricate architecture of nature. Her thoughts swept back to Harry, and the pain she had felt when he walked out on her. To the pain Ron had felt when Hermione left him. To the pain her family felt as two relationships they had been sure would experience nothing but love and growth were mowed down around their feet. Slowly, she shook her head.
“It will come to nothing,” she whispered, suddenly very afraid of letting herself go, of feeling and loving and laughing. She shook her head, stepping away with difficulty. Harry’s face floated into her eyes and her heart clenched painfully in her chest. “Nothing.”
“Does it have too?” Blaise gave her a sad smile, reaching for her, his fingers weaving through hers as he pulled her back against him. “Only we can decide that, Ginny. We can take it very slowly, if you like.”
Ginny considered him seriously, her eyes tracing his face. She searched for any hint of deceit, any reference of cruelty, finding only a yearning for happiness and truth. His eyes were clear, resting on her face, hopeful and filled with passion. Slowly, very slowly, she nodded, pushing the dark thoughts from her mind, imagining and remembering what it was like to be truly happy. She nodded, releasing his hands and winding her arms around his neck, pressing her lips to the hollow at the base of his throat. She heard him sigh in response, his arms tightening around her body again, comforting and secure.
His lips brushed her ear, his whisper faint and delicate, sinking into her skull and vibrating there, laced with promise.
“I will make you happy.”