It was rather late to be having breakfast, at four o'clock in the afternoon, but with only six hours of restless sleep, it still felt far too early. Draco was tired; a bone-deep weariness that seemed to sap all the energy from his soul and left him feeling hollow and broken.
Hermione set another rack of toast down on the table in front of him; he muttered his thanks, took another slice and began to spread it with a thin layer of butter.
"What day is it?" he asked her, as she refilled his mug of tea and then her own.
Draco added milk to both mugs.
"Thursday," she replied, after a pause, her voice sounding as weary as his.
She set the teapot down on the table and slid into one of the empty seats around the kitchen table, fingers curled around her mug.
"It must be nearly Christmas," he mused, speaking more to himself than to her.
She almost smiled at the thought. "To be honest, I've completely lost track."
Both looked up as Ginny entered the kitchen. She tried to smile but it ended up as a yawn. She sank into the nearest chair and fell forwards, her head resting on her folded arms and her eyes closed.
Hermione levitated a third mug from a nearby cupboard and filled it with the strong brew in the teapot while Draco buttered another slice of toast. He magicked a plate from the draining board and slid it across so that it nudged at Ginny's elbow.
"Tea. Toast. Eat," he said.
She yawned again. "Thank you."
For a moment he thought that she would stay where she was but then she opened her eyes, pushed herself up from the table and pulled the plate and mug towards her.
"How's Neville?" Hermione asked, almost managing to hide her anxiety.
Ginny nodded. "He'll be fine. His leg is healing nicely; he'll ache for a couple of days though, but that's the worst of it. He's lucky. Wants to see you and Remus," she said, looking at Draco.
"What the bloody hell for?" Draco asked, reaching for another slice of toast.
Ginny rolled her eyes and pinned him with a glare. He looked up, saw the glare and wished that he hadn't; tired though she was, the glare was at full strength. "He seems to be under the impression that you both saved his life, I imagine that he would like to thank you."
Draco applied himself to the task of buttering his toast, making sure the covering was even and thin. "And I'm sure he saved my life five times over out there and Remus too, we all look out for each other."
"I'm glad to hear it," she said briskly. "He still wants to see you."
Draco fought the urge to fidget in his seat under her firm gaze. "Fine. Fine! I'll go after breakfast... lunch..." he waved his piece of toast around in the air, "Whatever the hell this is."
Hermione pushed her chair back from the table. "I should get back to work, those books won't read themselves." She pressed a kiss on Draco's forehead and then on Ginny's as she passed before heading back to the library.
Draco continued to eat and to watch Ginny pick at her food before she finally pushed her plate away, declaring that she was full. She slumped forwards onto the table again.
He rose and went over to her, pulling her to her feet and then wrapping an arm around her shoulders to support her. "Bed, Ginny. Come on."
They made it upstairs and to the room Ginny shared with the other girls; Draco released his hold on her at the door and watched as she crossed to her bed, toed off her shoes, pulled the clip from her hair and then drew back the covers and collapsed into bed.
"Thanks, Draco," she murmured.
Draco felt a smile tug at his lips. "Afternoon, Ginny."
He returned to the kitchen, tidied the table and put the kettle on again to make a fresh pot of tea. Then be began to make the rounds, visiting every member of the Order currently in the house to collect empty mugs and provide fresh tea and biscuits.
He left the ballroom-turned-infirmary until last and was not surprised to see Remus sitting by Neville's bed.
He gave them their mugs of tea, took one for himself and sat on a nearby cot, brushing Neville's thanks aside, as he always did. Remus rolled his eyes at Neville and hid a smile; it was subtle, for Gryffindors. Draco didn't miss it but thought the better of commenting.
Instead, he turned the topic to other matters. He recalled his conversation with Hermione and turned to Remus.
"What's the date?" he asked, knowing that the werewolf would know.
"December 22nd," Remus replied immediately. "Why?"
"It's almost Christmas," Neville exclaimed.
Remus shook his head. "So it is."
Ginny was woken by forces external; as she came to, she realised that someone was gently shaking her shoulder.
It was Hermione. She forced her eyes open, blinking even though the room was dark and the other girl's face came into focus.
"Hmmmm?" she mumbled. "What is it? Is someone hurt?"
She swung her legs out of bed and began to push her feet into her shoes.
"No, no, no one's hurt," Hermione rushed to reassure her. "Harry and Bill just got back, and Ron and Charlie returned about an hour ago; they're all fine. All tucking into some of your Mum's beef stew. I thought you'd like to know."
Ginny smiled gratefully at her. "Thanks, Hermione." She raised her hands and patted her hair. "I must look a fright. I'll be down in a moment."
Hermione nodded in acknowledgement and then left. Ginny pulled a brush quickly through her hair and then twisted it up and out of the way as she always did, secured with a simple clip. She splashed cold water on her face and patted it dry and then she headed downstairs.
"Hey, Gin!" Ron exclaimed as she entered the kitchen.
She hugged him from behind and pressed a kiss on his cheek. "I'm glad you're safe," she said softly in his ear.
Ron turned to her and smiled. He rubbed the top of her head, messing it up and causing a good fraction of it to come free from the clip, but she couldn't find it in herself to be mad; indeed, she felt quite the opposite.
She turned to Bill then and hugged him too, and then Harry and then Charlie. Molly had stood when she had come in, was now standing by the stove with a bowl of stew in her hand. Ginny crossed the room and swapped a hug and a kiss for the food before taking the free seat between Poppy and Draco.
The lack of tension in the room was palpable. Everyone was home. Everyone was safe. Everyone being all those who were currently living at the Order Headquarters. There were still others out at risk, but a table with no empty seats made the world seem safer and complete. Smiles were freer and everyone seemed to be in good spirits and, despite the dark circles that smudged everyone's eyes, they seemed less tired.
Ginny took a few moments to look around the table, absently fixed her hair and clipped it back again, making sure that everyone really was ok, and simply enjoying the fact that everyone was here and safe.
"How do you do that?" Draco asked curiously from her left.
She turned to him with a smile. "Do what?"
He gestured to her hair. "Do that."
She laughed lightly. She wasn't quite sure which part of 'that' he was referring to, the fact that she could tie the mass of red curls back with a single clip or the fact that the wild mess could be restrained at all, but the answer was the same either way. "Practice," she said.
"Oi, Malfoy, stop slacking," Neville interrupted from Draco's other side. Ginny looked past him to see Charlie tapping impatiently on the Daily Prophet crossword.
Draco laughed. "I knew you couldn't manage without me, Longbottom," he threw back. "Stupid bloody Gryffindors!"
"Yeah, yeah, Malfoy. You're all talk. Are you going to help us or what?" Charlie replied.
Draco grabbed the paper possessively and began to smooth it out on the table directly in front of him. "Why haven't you done this one?" he asked. "It's easy."
Ginny left them to their banter and tucked into her stew.
"Ginny, dear, Severus has just been telling me about some modifications he and Draco have made to the Achease brew," Poppy Pomfrey said to her as she took a mouthful. "You should hear this."
"All being well, the new potion should partially ease the symptoms of Cruciatus," Severus supplied.
Ginny stared at Severus, her eyes wide. She swallowed her mouthful and then spoke. "Really?" she asked incredulously. "Wow!" Cruciatus was not only a very painful curse, but was also notorious for resisting any attempts to relieve the pain it caused.
"Indeed," he replied.
"How?" Ginny asked him. "What did you change? How does it work?"
He began to explain and Ginny tried to remember all of her seven years of Potions classes. She had known the man behind the Potions Master for three years now, but she still found him a little intimidating. He was quiet and kept to himself a lot; but he was just a man. Yet even after three years with the Order following her graduation from Hogwarts, she still felt that she had only scratched the surface. And she couldn't help but remember Potions lessons at school and she felt like she should be taking notes. She needn't have worried, one-to-one, she found he was a lot less scary than he had been in the classroom; he was patient and calm and welcomed her questions. He was also very good at explaining, but then no one had failed Potions yet in his tenure as Potions Master, so that came as little surprise.
At some point she became aware of a warm body pressed against hers as Draco leaned in to hear the conversation and occasionally interjecting with explanations of his own, his even breaths brushing her ear.
She tried to ignore it, to concentrate on the potions and explanations being offered; but the firm planes of his chest, against her back proved rather distracting. His breath tickled her skin, and occasionally strands of that fine blond hair would whisper against her cheek. The feeling of another warm body next to her made her feel safe and warm. And incredibly alive: her senses heightened and her body practically humming.
She felt a disappointed relief when the conversation turned to other matters and Draco leaned back and sat back in his own seat. She felt cold and yet all the parts that his body had touched felt like points of fire.
She let the conversation in the room wash over her as she finished her meal - still hot thanks to the specially charmed dishes - and tried not to think about the young man sitting next to her. In particular she didn't think about the way the length of his thigh pressed against hers, squashed as they were around the table.
Draco Malfoy. Draco bloody Malfoy, of all people.
It wasn't that he wasn't good looking. Because he was. His face both angular and soft; his eyes both warm and cold; his lips both smiling and smirking; his tone both sarcastic and playful; his form both slight and masculine. He was the embodiment of contradiction. And he seemed to engender such conflicts in others; for while Ginny's head said no, her body said yes.
He had 'crossed over' to their side on the summer after her OWLs, between his sixth and seventh years, and had joined the Order proper with Harry and the others upon their graduation. Caustic and Slytherin, with six years of bitter rivalry and hate, he had not been well liked. Now, it was hard to remember a time when he had not been a part of the Order, such as it was. His sharp words had softened to teasing jibes as gradually he had begun to trust them. And gradually, so too had they begun to trust him. He had proved himself time and again as loyal as any Gryffindor (although it was best not to point that fact out to Draco himself), hardworking, intelligent, committed and trustworthy. And, above all, a good friend. Ron still didn't like him much - or at all, to be honest, and the feeling was mutual - but they tolerated each other; and everyone else considered him to be a friend.
Ginny had always thought that he was rather good looking; ever since her fourth year when she really started taking an interest in boys beyond Harry (and the less said about that, the better), but given the mean and evil little shit that he had been then, any positive thoughts about him had been tempered by a severe dislike. Then he had come to the Order, and she had still found him attractive, but was still unsure whether he was to be trusted.
Finally, he gained her trust, and she his, but by this point, he was a friend, and they were colleagues and she couldn't think of him like that; wouldn't think of him like that. And they were in the middle of a war, for Merlin's sake. It seemed wrong to focus on building a relationship, to focus on him; she felt that all her energy she be focused on her healing and on the fight. She wouldn't let herself entertain the idea of being anything more than a friend to him.
Yet there were times when such thoughts managed to creep in; particularly in times of relative calm and safety such as they were currently enjoying.
She shook her head to clear such thoughts, the action clearly catching Draco's attention because he turned to her.
"You ok?" he asked, his voice low and his eyebrows raised.
"Hmmm? Yeah," she answered just as softly and nodding as well to confirm her answer.
"Good," he said. And he smiled at her.
She smiled back.
Much later, as they all headed off to bed, Draco ran to the head of the party and took the first few steps two at a time. Halfway up the stairs, he stopped and turned back to them. "I had an idea," he said.
Silence fell, and all eyes fixed on him.
"It's Christmas in three days time. I thought maybe we could have a party of sorts. We can let everyone know, they can drop by when they can and stay for as long as they are able," he suggested. "I know that it doesn't seem like the best time to be celebrating; but we should take the moments while we can. We're alive; isn't that worth celebrating? We can celebrate the lives of those we have lost fighting along side us. Celebrate what it is that we're fighting for."
He looked uncharacteristically uncertain. "What do you think?"
Remus was the first to speak. "That's a splendid idea, Draco," he said simply.
"I'm game," Neville added as everyone else began to express their appreciation for the idea.
Draco smiled. "Good."
Ginny lost the rest of the conversation as she helped Neville back to the Infirmary, where he would be spending the rest of the night. She made sure he was comfortable and settled and then returned to the hall.
At first, she thought it was empty but then she noticed the figure sitting half way up the stairs.
She smiled at him as she began to climb. "I didn't realise it was so close to Christmas," she said. She stopped a few steps below him but, since he was sitting and she was standing, she had the height advantage.
"Neither did I," he replied.
"Well, I'm glad you remembered. I think a Christmas party is a really good idea. Thank you." She put her hands on his shoulders, bent down and kissed him softly on the crown of his head. "Goodnight, Draco."
She moved back and then headed back up the stairs again. She had reached the top when she heard his reply.
The next two days were mercifully quiet. Sometimes it was almost possible to forget about the war that was happening outside. To pretend that they were a large, if somewhat curious, family; all living under one roof and working separately but towards a common goal. To pretend that the research that they were engaged in was simply academic, fuelled by a thirst for knowledge, not borne out of a desperate need to get the upper hand. To pretend that the hours spent locked away in the living room were spent playing chess or cards and discussing Quidditch, not planning and strategising for upcoming surveillance missions or attacks and dissecting new information.
Draco relished these times. The relative calm gave him a chance to catch his breath and to find his focus. When they were safe, the very house seemed to relax around them, drawing them close and keeping them protected. He was able to throw himself into his work without having to worry about who had yet to return from danger, or who had been seriously injured in the last attack and still lay close to death in the ballroom. There was still the ever-present anticipation of the next attack, but he taught himself to be thankful for the time he had to work in, and to make the most of that time by focusing on his work and pushing any other thoughts aside.
When Ginny Weasley knocked on the door to the small room that had been converted into a Potions lab, where he and Severus were working in an easy silence, he realised that not everyone would feel the same sense of occupation in such times. There was no one in the ballroom; she was a healer with no one to heal.
Draco looked at her, standing nervously in the doorway, her eyes and nose red and puffy as if she had been crying, biting on her bottom lip that had already been bitten so hard that it had bled. This quiet time had left her free to think; to think about the war outside and all that it had cost them.
"I... uhm..." she started. "I wondered if I could come and help," she said quietly, looking first at Severus and then at Draco. "Maybe chop some roots or powder some fairy wings for you." She forced a smile to her face. "Might as well make myself useful." Her voice was full of false cheer and wobbled as she spoke.
"Poppy said this morning that we're running low on Pepper-up Potion, why don't you get started on that," Severus said evenly, as if he had not noticed her unhappy state. "There's a spare cauldron the far workbench and books on the shelf should you need them."
Draco watched as she drew in a shaky breath and exhaled slowly before crossing the room to the workbench Severus had pointed out. "Thank you."
They continued to work in companionable silence. Once Ginny had finished the potion, Severus gave her a whole list of medical potions to make and she applied herself industriously to the task.
Draco found that he was aware of her. He was able to concentrate on his potion-making and never slipped up - seven years in Snape's classroom made sure of that - but he couldn't keep from looking at her every so often, and he found that he knew the progress of her potions as well as his own.
His eyes would stray over to her workbench and he would watch as she delicately chopped roots, plucked petals from flowers or swept ingredients from a chopping board into her cauldron. Her hands were small and her movements deft and graceful.
He had a feeling that Snape had noticed his distraction, although he suspected (and fervently hoped) that the lady herself had not. Snape had said nothing; but Draco had received a raised eyebrow and a small smirk. Undoubtedly the Potions master would exercise that sharp tongue of his later when they were alone. Draco made a mental note to avoid Snape if at all possible over the next few days. And that, he told himself, combined with the fact that her presence meant an empty hospital ward, was the only reason he wished Ginny to continue to work in the potions laboratory with them.
Christmas morning dawned bright and cold. Ginny woke early and rose shortly after; she cautiously pushed the covers back, shivering in the cold morning air, and gathered up her clothes from the day before. She padded softly across the room and carefully opened the door, slipping quietly out and closing it silently behind her, leaving Hermione sleeping on.
The bathroom was empty but had obviously been used already, the air was warm and damp and smelled of masculine soap. She showered quickly, changed and headed downstairs.
There was a sliver of light under the door to the sitting room, the only indication that she was not the first one downstairs. She pushed the door open and stopped just inside the room in amazement.
A large Christmas tree stood in one corner, hung with a multitude of bright baubles, in all possible shapes and sizes, tinsel and candy canes, and little fairies carrying even smaller lights buzzed around the tree. Wreaths of holly and ivy hung across the fireplace and the top of the large mirror that dominated the wall above it and candles floated all around the room.
She watched as Draco levitated an angel up to sit on top of the tree. He turned to her then and smiled. "What do you think?"
She smiled back. "It looks amazing. How long have you been up?" she asked.
"Not long actually; magic is really quite useful," he replied, walking towards her and waving his wand around as if to prove his point. A few coloured sparks shot from the end and he stopped waving it immediately and it disappeared back up his sleeve.
He stopped at her side, looked up and then bent down to press a kiss on her cheek. "Happy Christmas," he said in her ear before moving past her.
Ginny raised a hand to her cheek, the skin burned where his lips has touched. She remembered that he had looked up just before his kissed her, and so she tilted her head back to follow his gaze. She was standing directly under a sizeable sprig of mistletoe. Well, that explained it then.
She smiled and followed him into the kitchen. "That the best you can do then?" she teased.
"Tree too small for you?" he shot back.
"The tree's fine, it's the kiss I'm concerned about. All that mistletoe and all I got was a peck on the cheek," she said as she filled the kettle.
"It's early yet. Besides, have you been a good girl this year, Miss Weasley?"
She laughed at this. "Why? Fresh out of coal?"
"Sadly yes, but I'm sure I could find some fresh pickled toad, would that do instead?" he inquired innocently.
"Oh shut up!" she exclaimed, throwing a nearby tea towel at him. "Are you ever going to stop teasing me about that?"
She put the kettle on the stove and was about to reach for her wand so that she could light the burner, but then Draco was standing behind her, both arms reaching around her, his chest pressing warm and firm against her back, and he lit it with his own.
"I wasn't planning on it, no," he said, his lips right next to her ear.
She shivered, she couldn't help it, and he chuckled.
Then there were voices on the stairs - Severus and Hermione from the sounds of things - and Draco pulled back and sprawled elegantly in one of the chairs around the large oak table in the centre of the room.
Ginny closed her eyes briefly, took in a deep breath and let it out again slowly. It might be Christmas; but they were in the middle of a war, for Merlin's sake. She couldn't let herself get distracted like this.
Nevertheless, it was the memory, the lingering feeling of Draco pressed against her back that brought a smile to her face as she turned around to bid the others a good morning and a happy Christmas.
The party was a great success. The start time had been set at two in the afternoon to allow some work to be done in the morning; Hermione had been the first to bring the subject up, and though Ron and Harry had protested, it had been more habit than anything else, and in the end they had worked so long that they had only shown their faces at half three.
Ginny was pleased to see that so many members of the Order had shown up. Some had stayed for hours, some had stayed only briefly simply to say hello and enjoy a couple of mince pies before heading off again.
Somehow, the war seemed a little further away today, and their goal seemed just that little bit more achievable.
Everybody seemed to be in good spirits; relishing the reminders of just what it was they were fighting so very hard to save.
"Hey, Gin," George said as he wrapped one arm around her shoulders.
"Oh, sister dearest," Fred added as he embraced her from the other side.
"Are there any more mince pies?" George asked as Fred handed her an empty plate.
Ginny burst out laughing, wriggled away from them and clouted them both around the head. "You're bloody hopeless, you are!" she exclaimed. "You know where the kitchen is."
"Yes, but you arrange them so prettily on the plate," Fred tried.
"Consider it a Christmas gift to your wonderful brothers," George chimed in.
She rolled her eyes, still laughing, and took the plate from Fred. "Ok, fine," she acquiesced. "I'll go and find some more."
"Thanks, Ginny," said Fred as they hugged her again.
"You're the best sister we've ever had," George told her.
"I'm the only sister you have," she pointed out.
George just hugged her tighter.
Ginny supposed, as she headed off to the kitchen, that she was really a bit of a push over and incredibly stupid for letting them talk her into fetching more mince pies when they were perfectly capable of doing it themselves, just lazy. She was so pleased to have them there, being Fred and George and making her smile and laugh and hugging her. She saw less of them than she did the others, except Perc... than she did the others and it was good to see them.
When she reached the hall, she realised that the door to the Potions room was open but the room was dark and so she diverted her course and went to investigate. Draco was standing over one of the cauldrons, adjusting the flames beneath with his wand and watching the steam rising from the top was changing colour as he altered the heat. Eventually, once the fumes were blue-green, he stopped and stepped back.
He looked up to see who had blocked the light from the hallway and saw her standing there. He offered her a small smile. "Checking up on me?"
"Not quite," she replied. "I was sent on a mince pie hunt but when I saw this door open, I thought I'd come and check that everything was ok."
He had crossed the room and was standing in front of her now. He was close enough that she could feel the heat from his body, and she had to tilt her head back slightly to see his face.
"Everything's fine," he assured her, "I was just adding some fairy dust to one of the potions and readjusting the heat to compensate, that's all."
Ginny nodded, not really hearing what he was saying. He was looking at her intently, his eyes caressing her face, lingering on her lips. He took the plate from her hands and set it to one side.
"There's never any mistletoe around when you need it," she said softly.
A broad grin spread across his face and he bent his head down to meet hers.
The first touch of his lips was tentative and soft, as though afraid that she would pull away despite what she had said, but she did not pull away and he increased the pressure. She gave in to what she wanted, rather than what her head said she should do and reached for him. One arm moved upwards to slide through the hair at the base of his neck and hold his mouth in place; the other circled his waist and pulled him close.
He took his cue from her and drew her closer so that her body was flush with his, his hands running up and down over her back, leaving trails of fire wherever he touched.
Her mind was spinning, her body humming, as she surrendered to her heart and the feelings he was creating in her. She opened her mouth to him and his tongue slipped inside to tangle with hers.
He manoeuvred her slightly to her left and backwards until she felt the wall against her back and he pressed against her, his erection hard against her stomach. She moaned into his mouth and slipped her hands under his shirt, eager to touch skin.
His mouth moved away from hers. He kissed his way across her cheek and then began to kiss, lick and nibble his way down the column of her neck. She leaned her head to the side to give him better access and arched her back into his hands as he found her breasts. His hands cupping and kneading, his thumbs flicking over pebbled nipples.
She moaned again and she felt his laugh vibrate through her. "Like that?" he asked.
"Mmmmmm, yes," she replied.
She felt his smile against her neck. "Good."
"Albus, it's good to see you. Glad you could.... Albus? Is there something.... Oh, Merlin, no!"
She was aware of movements and voices in the hall and hoped that no one could see in. "We should... ah... go somewhere a little more... ah... private," she whispered. "Or at the very least close the..." she trailed off and they broke apart and looked at each other as the voices in the hall registered in through a haze of want and passion. "Door," she finished.
It was like a large bucket of ice-cold water.
She tugged at her shirt and straightened her hair as he did up the buttons on his shirt that she wasn't even aware that she had undone in the first place. Then they emerged from the shadowy Potions room into the harsh light of the hall and the war.
Everyone had flooded into the hall upon hearing Remus's dismayed "Oh Merlin!" and now they all waited for Dumbledore to speak.
"I bring bad tidings, I'm afraid," he said, his blue eyes dull and haunted. He looked suddenly incredibly old. "These past few days have indeed been the calm before the storm, as we feared. There have been a series of attacks on Muggle families up and down the country. As far as we can tell, the families were picked at random; they have no ties to each other or to any members of the Order or Voldemort's enemies. Indeed, they have no apparent ties to anyone in the magical world at all.
"Of course, because they are all Muggle families, Fudge is refusing to send any of his dwindling number of Aurors and so it is up to us, once again, to clear up the mess.
"The attacks were orchestrated with great precision, all took place at exactly six o'clock this evening. We believe that all those responsible will be long gone by now, but I need not remind you all to be cautious.
"Go safely," he said finally, and with that he dismissed them.
The hallway was suddenly a flurry of activity as everyone attended to their jobs. Some left immediately, others had tasks to perform or equipment to collect. Ginny watched somewhat helplessly as those around her readied themselves for the horrors that undoubtedly lay before them. Her skills were not needed here, not yet, and the hospital wing was already prepared; all she could do for the moment was sit and wait for the casualties to start coming in.
And so once everyone had left, she and Poppy went into abandoned living room - the tree and lights and decorations seeming less cheerful and more out of place now faced with the reality of the war they fought. Poppy sank down into one of the armchairs and Ginny took another. They waited in silence.
Draco had never been happier to see the Order Headquarters appear as he thought the address. He was tired, bruised and scarred, his knees felt like they were about to give way and his shoulder was screaming. He'd been sent off with Harry and Tonks to a little house in St Ives; they had gone about their jobs quickly and efficiently and had been about to leave when they were ambushed by five Death Eaters.
They'd killed three before the other two had fled, but it was not soon enough to prevent Tonks from being badly hurt.
Harry and Draco had hoisted her up between them and headed for the apparition site. At first, Tonks had been able to walk a little but now she was almost a dead weight between them.
Harry kicked at the front door twice with his boot and almost immediately it was pulled open to reveal two anxious faces: Remus and Charlie.
"Oh, thank Merlin you're back," Remus greeted them as they staggered through the door. "Everyone else got back over an hour ago; they're all sleeping. We were about to wake them again and start sending out search parties."
Both men stepped in to take Tonks away from them before they dropped her and they made their way into the ballroom. "What happened?" Charlie asked.
"We were just starting back to the apparition site when we were ambushed," Draco replied. "They'd obviously been waiting for us to finish so they could have a bit of fun."
Poppy met them at the entrance to the ballroom. "Put her on the bed please, gentleman," she ordered them. "What happened to her?"
"Cruciatus and one and a half bone-breakers," Draco said tersely.
"One and a half?" Remus questioned.
"She half-deflected the first and got a fracture; the second was bang on," said Harry.
"Poor dear," Poppy said as she began to work on Tonks. "And neither of you two are hurt."
"Just a few scrapes and bruises," Harry replied.
"Well then, gentlemen, take a seat on the beds over there; Ginny should be finished in a minute, she'll come and clean you up." She gestured behind her with one hand even as she drew curtains around the bed with the other.
Draco watched as Harry sank gratefully onto one the beds and then he collapsed onto another. He closed his eyes, shutting out the rest of the world.
"I thought you said that everyone else was sleeping," he said.
He heard somebody fill two glasses with water and then felt someone sit down on the end of his bed, and he knew that it was Remus when the werewolf spoke. "Kingsley and Bill returned with a few scrapes and burns from some well-laid booby-traps. Kingsley's been healed and has left already and Ginny is seeing to Bill's burns as we speak. Everyone else has either returned or reported back without incident."
Draco sighed, that, at least, was a relief. The one bright point in another otherwise truly miserable day. His mind was suddenly assaulted with images of soft brown eyes, set in a pale, freckled face surrounded with bright red curls; and he could almost feel her lips on his and her body under his hands and her hands on his back. The one bright spot in another otherwise truly miserable evening, he amended.
"What time is it?" he asked.
"Just gone two," Charlie replied.
Draco opened his eyes and looked first at Remus and then at Charlie who was sitting at the end of Harry's bed. "You should get to bed, you must be tired."
"Will you both be ok?" Remus asked.
Draco pushed himself up so that he was sitting and reached for one of the glasses of water. "Yeah, sure we will. Go. Sleep." He tried to shoo them away but the gesture lacked any real energy.
Charlie pushed himself up from the bed. "Well, night then. You coming, Remus?"
Remus nodded and rose also. "Night."
And with that, they left, Remus calling out, "Goodnight, Poppy," as they passed by.
"You're not falling asleep are you, Potter?" Draco asked the prone figure on the bed to his right.
"Not at all," was the slurred reply. "Just resting my eyes."
Draco would have smiled but it was too much effort.
"Some Christmas, huh?" Harry commented.
Draco didn't know what to say to that, and so said nothing, simply sipping at his water until Ginny came into the room.
She smiled across at him and then ducked behind the curtain surrounding Tonks's bed to talk with Poppy; Draco heard the rumble of voices but could not distinguish any of the words.
She emerged again a few moments later and crossed over to see them. Harry opened his eyes and sat up as she reached them.
"I'm glad you're both back safe," she said as she bent down to hug Harry. "I was worried." She hugged Draco briefly too but she wouldn't meet his eyes. "Now, who's first?"
She looked between the two. Draco shrugged at Harry. Harry shrugged back.
Draco turned back to Ginny. "Harry first," he said, jerking a thumb in Harry's direction and then he lay back down on the bed.
He watched her as she worked, gentle hands healing the cuts and bruises on Harry's face and hands and a nasty-looking gash on his shoulder that Draco hadn't realised the other man had been suffering, leaving the skin unmarred as if it had never been touched. It took only a few minutes, and then, with a soft kiss on Harry's forehead, she was done.
"Thanks, Ginny," Harry said as he stood. He returned the small gesture and touched his lips to her forehead. "Night." He turned to Draco then. "Night, Draco."
"Night, Harry," Draco returned, sitting up as he did so and swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
His eyes were drawn past the dark-haired man to the bed behind him as the curtains were drawn back, revealing a tired Poppy and a sleeping Tonks.
"How is she?" Ginny asked.
Poppy smiled. "She's sleeping now; she'll be just fine. I've healed the bones, and that new Achease variant seems to be helping, Draco." She beamed at him and he couldn't help but smile back.
"Oh, that's fantastic!" Ginny exclaimed.
"Nice going, Draco," Harry said, clapping him on the shoulder.
Draco simply inclined his head in acknowledgement on the praise and fought the urge to squirm. "Severus will be pleased," he said.
"That he will," Poppy acknowledged. "Now how are you boys doing?" she asked.
"This boy was just off to bed," said Harry, with a grin. "And this boy," he patted Draco on the head, earning himself a glare, "is just about to be healed."
Draco didn't miss Poppy's questioning look sent in Ginny's direction nor the subtle nod in response.
"Well then, Harry, perhaps you'd care to escort me upstairs," she said tucking her arm into Harry's.
Ginny sat down on the bed next to him and she began to heal him.
He wouldn't stop staring at her. It was disconcerting.
He didn't say anything as she set about healing his cuts and bruises, he just stared at her, his eyes following her every move.
"What happened?" she asked finally, wanting to break the silence and to divert his attention from her.
It worked and she immediately wished that she hadn't done it. He looked away, his eyes focusing on the half-empty glass of water beside the bed and his shoulders slumped.
And still he said nothing as she finished healing him, his physical injuries at least, now staring at the water glass.
It was only as she finished up and tucked her wand away that he spoke.
"It was horrible," he said, his voice was low and quiet and detached. Ginny knew that was how he coped; his passionless reports covered shock and horror and fear at what he had witnessed. "The house was a wreck. They'd obviously been sitting in the lounge opening presents after Christmas dinner. There was a large tree in one corner and it had been pulled down and the baubles crushed; there were a few charred remains of still-wrapped presents underneath. All the other gifts had been broken. The little girl had been given a doll and the head was ripped off. The same had been done to the little girl."
Ginny gasped, tears rolling silently down her cheeks.
"There were three generations of that family in there, Ginny," his detachment was failing him. "Three generations. Grandma and Grandpa, Mum and Dad, brother and sister. What did they do to deserve it? It was completely unprovoked. They have no wizard connections, no connections at all to Voldemort. This was not revenge. It was just mindless violence. Just because he can."
Ginny wanted more than anything to take that pain away but she felt powerless in the face of so much death and destruction. She wanted to say that she was sorry for what had happened and what he had saw; but sorry seemed so inadequate somehow.
All she could do was show him love and friendship; show him that he was not alone.
She cupped his face in her hands, thumbs smoothing across his cheeks, and then she bent down and brought her lips to his.
She had intended for it to be a soft, quick kiss, the merest touching of lips; but from the moment that her lips brushed his, he responded, guiding her back to him, his mouth opening under hers and encouraging her to do the same. He pulled her closer, holding so tightly as if he was afraid that she would fade away if he didn't cling to her so fiercely.
She leaned into him, one arm bracing her weight on the bed, the other settling on his thigh; her body existing as sensation and feeling. The feel of his arms around her, the feel of his lips against hers, his tongue sliding against hers, his body warm and firm against hers. His touch sent fire sweeping through her, fireworks sparking in her veins, centring between her legs and she felt the delicious pull of tension begin in her stomach.
She couldn't think, she couldn't hear, she couldn't see; the world faded away until she was left only with him and the passion rising between them.
He leaned back, pulling her down with him as he shifted to lie on the bed and she followed willingly, her hands reaching up under his jumper to touch his stomach and his chest, fingers tracing patterns that made him moan into her mouth.
His moan filtered through her consciousness and suddenly she stilled in his arms and tried to struggle away. He let her go.
"I... we... I can't do this," she said, her breaths coming hard and fast.
"What? Why?" He leaned towards her, reaching out for her, but she jerked back. He held his hands up in surrender and moved back away from her again. "I don't understand, Ginny. You seemed just fine with it earlier, and we both know where that would have gone if Dumbledore hadn't arrived when he did."
Ginny closed her eyes and rubbed her face with her hands. She didn't understand it either. She wanted to, oh Merlin, she wanted to. She fancied him, however hard she tried not to, and she hadn't been this turned on in... forever. She felt more alive when she in his arms. But they were at war; they couldn't afford distractions like this. It seemed so wrong somehow to selfishly put her own pleasure first when the Wizarding world was suffering so much.
And her head said no. She couldn't afford emotional complications right now, didn't have the energy to focus on building a relationship right now, however much she wanted it.
She opened her eyes again and looked at him. Shoulders slumped in defeat, body weary, mouth thin and turned down at the edges, face downcast, eyes hollow.
"It was Christmas then," she said finally, as if that explained everything.
He looked like he'd been slapped. "Oh right," he spat. "It was fucking Christmas. Or almost-fucking Christmas." He sneered. "That was some wonderful Christmas gift then, was it? Don't do me any favours, Weasley." He pushed himself off the bed and began to walk away from her.
"That's not what I meant," she said quickly, grabbing at his wrist as he walked past her. He tried to loosely shake her off but she held firm and he didn't push it, though they both knew that he was perfectly capable of getting free if he wanted to.
"Then what did you mean, Weasley?" he asked as he turned back to face her again. His face was that cold mask he used to wear at school, the one she hadn't seen in four years; at least, not directed at her.
She rose and came to stand in front of him, still keeping her loose grip on his wrist.
"It was Christmas. The house was full and warm and the sitting room was full of Christmas tree and decorations and love and Christmas cheer. It made the war seem further away," she said.
"That was the point," Draco pointed out sharply.
"And for a moment," she continued as if he had said nothing, "I forgot about the war. I forgot about the work we're doing and why we're doing it. The worry and the loss and the fear. But I can't forget that now. The magic is gone and we're still at war and I can't forget it."
He seemed to understand what she was saying, for which she was grateful. His expression softened and he took a step towards her and raised his free hand to her face. "Do you remember what I said the other night when I suggested the party?"
It was a rhetorical question and he went on immediately. "I know that it doesn't seem like the best time to be celebrating; but we should take the moments while we can. Celebrate what it is that we're fighting for," he said. "What's wrong with letting yourself feel, Ginny? If you don't live your life even now then what are we fighting for? What are we trying to save? If you don't live now, when we're so unsure of tomorrow, then they've won anyway."
His hand was cupping the side of her head, his thumb just in front of her ear and his fingers sliding into her hair.
She leaned into his touch. "But relationships take time and energy. That's time and energy that we don't have, Draco. If we do this, I want to do it properly, and we can't. Not now."
He pulled his wrist free of her hand and twined his fingers with hers instead. "That's true enough," he said. "We can't make any promises for the future. But comfort in a time of war, a reminder that we are not alone in this, to have someone hold you so you don't have to sleep alone a night; isn't that worth something?" He looked as though he was trying not to be too hopeful, and failing at it anyway.
He was wearing down her resistances, deconstructing them and crumbling them to dust. She wanted it so much and he was making it so easy for her....
"Please." The word was little more than a whisper and yet it conveyed so much hope and love that it took Ginny's breath away.
It was that one word that undid her. That completely crumpled her resolve and made her step forwards into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest, the steady beating of his heart as sure and as comforting as the arms he had wrapped around her. He laid his head on top of hers and they stood like that for a moment, content to simply be.
"Ginny," he said, and she felt the word rumble through his chest as he spoke.
"Hmmmmm?" she answered.
"I'm falling asleep," he said tiredly.
She smiled. "Me too."
He took her by the hand and led her out of the room and up the stairs. They stopped outside the door to his room.
She looked up at him and saw the unasked question clear in his eyes and on his face. She smiled and nodded and then reached out to open the door, walking in first and pulling him in behind her.
He reached under his pillow and pulled out a faded bottle green t-shirt with the word seeker written on the back in silver. He held it out to her. "You want this?" he asked.
"Thanks," she said taking it from him.
He pulled his jumper off over his head and she began to do likewise, but she couldn't help but watch him as stripped down to his boxers. It wasn't done slowly to tease and hold her interest; it was the simple, economical removal of clothes, and she found it sexy as hell anyway. She blushed when she realised that he was watching her too and she quickly took off her bra and pulled t-shirt on over her head. She pulled the clip from her hair and then scrambled under the covers on his bed.
The room was cold and under the duvet wasn't much better until he cast a warming charm and then climbed in next to her.
He curled up behind her, his arms encircling her waist, his chest pressing against her back. "Night, Ginny," he said, pressing a kiss on her cheek.
"Night, Draco," she replied.
She closed her eyes and it wasn't long until she felt Draco's breathing even out in sleep. She lay there, quite content to simply enjoy the feel of his arms around her and his body next to hers. It had been decided that none of them would exchange Christmas presents, but it seemed that Draco had done so anyway. He had given her himself and it was the most precious gift that she had ever been given.