Disclaimer: I own nothing from the Potter Universe.
Many thanks to my beta Aerileigh. You rock my socks.
"Ginevra Molly Weasley!"
A shrieking voice woke Ginny abruptly, effectively pulling her from a strange dream of walking down an endless hallway with Draco Malfoy, chased by clowns. She opened one eye and bit back a scream at the sight of her mother hovering above her, lips pursed. She had seen that look during her childhood, and it usually meant that she was in trouble. At twenty-two, she shouldn't be scared of her mother, but she couldn't exactly say that she wasn't terrified that she was about to be tasked with degnoming the garden.
"Hi, Mum," Ginny said, clearing her throat to rid herself of the hoarseness. "What are you doing here?"
"Never mind that," Molly said, hands on her hip. "Ginevra, I did not raise you to live like a pig. How do you even function in this mess?"
"I stay at the office?" Ginny said hesitantly, cringing when her mother began to rant about the mess. "Mum! Mum! Mother!"
Molly huffed and waved her wand to pile all the clothes on the floor together. "I think living in a Muggle environment made you forget that you're a witch. All it takes is a few spells to clean up."
"A few spells too much," Ginny muttered. She yelped when she found herself unceremoniously dumped onto the rug by her mattress. Above her, the blankets and sheets were arranging themselves neatly on her bed. "Mum!"
Molly tutted and shook her head. "And what are you wearing? Ladies don't sleep in their knickers."
Ginny giggled at the word 'knickers' coming from her mother's mouth. "I was raised among boys, Mum. I'm not a lady."
"Put some clothes on," Molly said, bustling about the room and picking up old copies of the Daily Prophet. "At this rate, you'll never find a husband, and I'll never get to plan your wedding."
Ginny eased herself off the floor and grabbed a pair of shorts from the pile of clothes. She shimmied into them and let out a jaw-cracking yawn. "I'm twenty-two, Mum, not thirty. I have time."
"I'll be old and shriveled when you get married." Molly dusted the bookshelf before spelling the rug to dust itself out. "And I promise to be as batty as your Aunt Muriel."
"Are you trying to convince me to have a wedding or not? I can't quite tell." Ginny smiled when Molly smacked her arm. "So what are you doing here, Mum? Not like I mind having you here cleaning up."
"The cheek," Molly said. She pocketed her wand and looked around the clean flat. "That's better."
"Looks nice," Ginny said, pulling Jax from under the bed. "Say hi to your grandmother, Jax."
Molly's expression was somewhere between a scowl and a smile. "I came to see what you're doing today. We're having dinner at the Burrow."
"I'm going to St. Mungo's today," Ginny replied. She walked into her kitchen and opened her cupboard, taking out a water glass. "Would you like some water?"
"No. Why are you going to the hospital?" asked Molly curiously. "You look a little peaky. Are you sick? Do I need to bring you some food? You're practically skin and bones."
"No, I visit some of the kids who are stuck there," Ginny said casually. She tried her best not to let any emotion show, because her mother could read her like a book. "I promised two of the girls that we could paint their nails today so I ought to get going."
"Ginny, does this have to do with-"
"No, Mum. It doesn't have to do with anything." Ginny went and got her wand from the side table and went back into the kitchen. Her mother was still staring at her expectantly, and Ginny ignored her. "Aguamenti."
"Finite Incantatem." Ginny gulped down half a glass of water before turning to her mother. "Mum, I have to go. I'll stop by the Burrow later."
"You shouldn't feel guilty, Ginny," Molly said softly.
"Love you, Mum," Ginny said before Molly Flooed out the apartment.
She wandered into her bathroom and glanced at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was a mess of limp tresses, her skin looked pale and peaked, and dark circles showed underneath her eyes. Her eyes traveled down her body to where she could see the faint outline of her hip bone. The stress of work was beginning to set into her body. It had been a week since the investigation was brought up, and now it was in full swing. Every day at work, Hit Wizards were being called into Robard's office for questioning, and Aurors stood around the department, going through files and staring at them with unsympathetic gazes. She turned around and twisted the tap of her shower. As the sound of running water filled the room, steam began to form and the mirror fogged over, obscuring her reflection.
Ginny smiled a little to herself. Sometimes she felt like steam was clouding her thoughts and obscuring her thinking. At least, she liked to give herself that excuse when she worked. The constant pressure of the public began to warp her thoughts, and, every now and again, she wondered if perhaps she was the enemy-if she was the one causing this continuous war. She had wanted to fight, which was why she joined up with the Hit Wizards instead of staying with the Aurors. Perhaps she didn't want peace after all.
She allowed the hot water to run down her skin, reveling in the scalding feeling of the water. Drops of water beaded on her skin and ran down the length of her body, sliding down the drain. She had once seen blood run from her skin in the same manner, the result of a duel with Walden Macnair. He had split the skin on her arm, and she hadn't screamed in pain or gasped in shock. She hadn't done anything but stand there, and then Marcus had yelled for her. Her wand went up in a flash, and suddenly Macnair was on the ground, bleeding from the chest. His blood had seeped out of his body, and his breath grew ragged. She had just stood there and watched unfeeling and uncaring as he took his last breath, her blood mingling with his on the floor as she stood over him.
Ginny pulled herself from her thoughts when the water began to run cold. She shut the tap off and grabbed the towel, willing herself to think of anything but blood and death. But she couldn't. It was her job; not all of their assignments were easy captures. She could count those on two hands, but she would need several hands and her feet to count the amount of times she ended up in a duel. She placed her hand on her bathroom mirror and swiped the steam away, staring at her blank reflection. She consoled herself with the thought that she could still count the deaths she caused on one hand.
"Barely," she muttered darkly.
She left the bathroom, flipping off the light, and went into the kitchen to feed Jax, who had been sitting at his bowl expectantly. A glance at her clock told her that she was running late, and she quickly went over to her wardrobe. The only clean items she had left were either winter clothes or dresses. She picked out a simple blue dress and threw it on, pulling on a pair of knickers underneath. Jax mewled behind her, and she let out a sigh, shoving her feet into a pair of white trainers and moving over to fill his water bowl.
"I'll be back later, Jaxy," Ginny mumbled, petting his head.
She took her wand from the kitchen, dried her hair and Apparated out of her flat.
Ginny laughed when Esmerelda flashed her multicolored nails and danced about her room in excitement. She hadn't known that there would be a party at St. Mungos, but according to Romilda, they were throwing a summer gala and the girls had been invited. Evelyn was sitting on her bed, staring at her plain, pink nails with a bright smile on her face. Her personality was the opposite of her sister's, and Ginny knew she would grow up to be demure, quiet and brilliant.
"Yes, Evie?" Ginny performed a steaming charm on the girls' dresses.
"Will you come with us to the party?" Evelyn stared down at her nails shyly.
"I don't know, Evelyn." Ginny bit her lip when Evelyn looked at her with sad eyes. Romilda had invited her to the gala, since she was a volunteer at the hospital and it was an event honoring the hospital and its patrons. "I don't have anything to wear."
"But you could get something," Esmerelda said, hands clasped together. "Couldn't you?"
Ginny sighed. She knew it was a losing battle. "Yes, I can get something."
"Oh Ginny, it'll be like in the fairytale books. You can meet your prince." Esmerelda put her hand to her forehead and dramatically fell onto her bed. "You'll get married and wear a pretty crown and pretty dresses."
"What about your prince? Maybe you'll meet him tonight," Ginny said, sitting down on the bed next to Esmerelda. "I'm sure there's a handsome boy there who wants to dance with you."
"We have to dance?" Evelyn paled. "I don't know how to dance."
"Oh it's easy, Evie." Esmerelda grabbed her sister's hand and spun around the room. "You just float around the room. That's what one of the mediwizards said last night."
Ginny laughed and stood from the bed. "I ought to go get a dress then."
"Thank you, Ginny," Evie said, breaking away from her sister and wrapping her arms around Ginny's waist. "I'll have a lot more fun if you're there."
Ginny left the room and stopped to tell Romilda that she would be going after all. The black haired girl nodded in amusement, saying something to the effect that she knew the girls would convince her. Ginny knew those two girls had her wrapped around their fingers, and she felt happy about it.
She Apparated to Hermione and Ron's home and walked up the porch steps to the front door. She raised her hand and knocked on the door, and Ron answered, a small amount of surprise on his face. "Hey, Ginny."
Ginny hugged her brother and stepped inside. "Hi, Ron. Is your wife home?"
"Hermione," Ron called, closing the door and moving over to the chair next to the wireless. A bottle of Butterbeer told Ginny that he was listening to the Cannons Quidditch game. If it had been any other game, he would have been drinking Firewhiskey. "The Cannons are up by ten points."
"A miracle," Ginny said, laughing.
Hermione entered the room, holding a book. "Ginny! I haven't seen you in ages. How are you?"
"I'm alright," Ginny said, hugging Hermione. "Are you busy today?"
"Catching up on some light reading," Hermione replied, shaking the book she held in her hand. "But I could be persuaded to do something else."
"Good. I need you to come shopping in Muggle London with me." Ginny laughed when Hermione's eyes lit up. "I never pegged you for the type to love shopping so much."
"I love going into London," Hermione corrected. "Besides, while we're there, I'd like to get a few books for my collection. I've been trying to drag Ron out there for a while, but he's been busy at work."
Ginny frowned and said, "One favor, don't mention the word work, especially not work related to Law Enforcement."
"Ginny, can we talk?" Ron was standing now, an empty bottle in his hand. "Before you go."
"I'll go get my purse." Hermione set her book down on the fireplace mantle and exited the room with a knowing look.
Ginny held up her hand when Ron moved to talk. "Don't even bother. I've hashed this out with Harry already. I don't want to be mad at you too."
"I took myself off the investigation," Ron said hesitantly. "After Harry told me what happened between the two of you, I thought it was in the best interest of our family for me to not be involved. That's what I wanted to tell you."
Ginny grinned and walked over to him, embracing him tightly. "Thanks, Ron. I know that can't reflect well on you."
"They'll get over it. Mum always says family is most important," Ron said, patting her back awkwardly. "Hermione wouldn't let me hear the end of it either. You should really thank her. She was the one who put the idea in my head to begin with."
"You have a very smart witch on your hands," Ginny said, stepping back. "I realize that the investigation might be in the best interest of the entire department, but I was never the one to think of things in a broad picture. The investigation is going to ruin us, and there are all these rumors going around about Alastor's position."
"Hopefully the mess will be over soon," Ron said, sitting back down in his chair. "Now why are the two of you going into London?"
"I need a dress for the St. Mungo's gala tonight. Two of the girls that I see at the hospital when I volunteer want me to go," Ginny said with a shrug. "I couldn't say no."
"So we shouldn't expect you at dinner tonight?" asked Ron.
Ginny swore. "I forgot. Mum even stopped by this morning to tell me about it."
"I'll let her down easily," Ron said.
"Are we ready?" Hermione emerged a minute later, purse slung over her shoulders.
Ginny and Hermione Apparated to the Leaky Cauldron and exited out into Muggle London. Hermione hailed a cab for them, and soon they were zooming through London. Ginny relaxed and allowed Hermione to tell her about the new research she was doing on Pureblood laws. Ginny watched London fly by, a blur of colors and people, and only vaguely heard all that Hermione was telling her. She loved being in cars and feeling like an average person, not someone helping to orchestrate a secret war that she wasn't sure was entirely necessary anymore.
"So what are we looking for?" asked Hermione when they exited the cab. "I know I want my books."
Ginny repeated her earlier statement to Ron. "I just want something simple."
"These are the twins who were bitten by a werewolf?" Hermione pointed to a store with glittering dresses in the window. "Let's go in here."
"Yes, those are the girls." Ginny cringed at the sight of a feathery dress with ruffles.
"You're still volunteering at the hospital then?" Hermione took a teal dress from the rack and showed it to Ginny, who shook her head.
"I'm still volunteering. What about this one?" Ginny picked out a plain blue gown and held it up to her body. "I think it's nice."
"Are you okay, Gin?" Hermione removed the dress from Ginny's hand and hung it back up. "Ron told me what happened between you and Thorfinn Rowle last month."
Ginny saw Hermione tense at mentioning the name, her eyes glazing over slightly. She knew that Rowle was the one of the Death Eaters they had battled that night in London when they left Bill's wedding. Hermione had modified his memory. It had scared Ginny when she didn't feel anything from killing Macnair. But the cold, ruthlessness she had felt when Rowle fell by her feet, gasping for his last breath. She had watched in satisfaction as his eyes closed slowly, a sense of completed revenge encompassing her.
"I'm fine, Hermione," Ginny lied with a smile. "I've dealt with all of that."
Hermione didn't look convinced, but Ginny didn't give her a chance to question her anymore. "The function starts at six so I should probably get moving."
"Right," Hermione said with a nod. "I guess you're going to go with your traditional black then?"
"I don't know. I think the girls expect me to look princessy," Ginny said, glancing at a flowing pink gown. "And tonight is really about keeping them happy."
"You realize princessy is not a word, right?" Hermione laughed when Ginny pinched her. "Come on."
In the end, Ginny had chosen a dress that satisfied both the princess feeling and her own edginess. The golden, shimmery gown she chose was simple, with thin straps extending down to a V neckline. It was slim all the way down to her hips where it began to flare, pooling at her feet. She would have passed the dress over if it hadn't been for the back-her skin was completely bared, with only a thin strap that held the top of the dress against her skin. The girls had fluttered around her in excitement, and Esmerelda had proclaimed that Ginny's shoes were the prettiest things she had ever seen.
"You two are the prettiest things I've ever seen. I could just eat you up. You look like such sweet confections." Ginny held out her hand for them to grasp. "Now, you're going to stay by my side or with Romilda, okay? No sneaking off."
"We promise," Esmerelda said excitedly. "Can we go now?"
Ginny shook her head, and they joined Romilda, Healer Smethwyck and Mrs. Smethwyck in the hallway. The gala was being held in the Tea Room at St. Mungos, which Ginny had found to be almost comical. The room didn't seem like the place to host any type of formal function. But when they stepped off the lifts, she saw she was quite wrong. Sheer white material hung from the ceiling, connecting above a gaudy chandelier, the light reflecting golden against the strips of material. The room had been completely cleared out and filled with tables that were decorated in white and silver. Soft tinkling music filled the room, the sound emanating from the front where an orchestra had been set up on the stage. A woman stood on stage, in front of the orchestra, her voice carrying throughout the room as she sang a jazzy number. The overall effect was magnificent.
Ginny joined her group at one of the tables, watching as the girls stared around the room in awe. Their gloved hands pointed every which way as they took in the splendor of the Tea Room, which had essentially been turned into a ballroom. There was even a dance floor set up in front of the orchestra stage. Ginny knew that several spells must have been cast on the room to expand it and silently commended the event planner for a fantastic job.
The evening started with a speech from the head of St. Mungo's, a robust old man, and another from his wife, who handled the donations. After the speeches were made and applause quieted down, dinner was served. The girls chatted idly by her side, commenting on all the ladies dressed to the nines. Esmerelda paused briefly to assure Ginny that she was the prettiest in the room, much to the table's amusement, before carrying on her conversation with Evelyn. When dinner ended, Healer Smethwyck and his wife departed to the dance floor, and Romilda left as well, dancing with one of the Healers that Ginny recognized from the first floor.
"Would you girls like to dance?" Ginny stood and held out her hand to help the girls up from their seats. Esmerelda immediately stood, but Evelyn shyly stared down at her white satin gloves. "Come on Evelyn. You don't have to be shy. I'll be right there with you."
"Evie, stop being so boring," Esmerelda chided.
Evelyn glanced up at Ginny before taking her hand, and the three departed to the dance floor. An hour passed by with the girls twirling hand in hand before Esmerelda began to yawn. Healer Smethwyck advised that they be put to bed, and Ginny, though she didn't want to, handed them over to Romilda. She couldn't defy the Healer's orders and knew that the girls shouldn't get too over exhausted. They complained about leaving but parted ways when Ginny promised to visit during the week.
She went over to the bar, deciding to have a final drink before ending the night. "I'll have a glass of champagne, please."
"Leave it to a Weasley to wear Gryffindor colors."
Ginny turned her head to the side, her face betraying no shock at the sight of seeing Draco Malfoy, though she was quite surprised. "They look good on me."
"Red hair and a gold dress," Draco said thoughtfully. "Color coordinating to match your house colors-cute."
"You're no better than I in that department." Ginny's eyes raked over his black tuxedo, which he had accented with a black shirt and a green and silver tie. She did her best to ignore the sudden warmth that spread throughout her at the sight-she had a weakness for a man in a tuxedo.
Draco chuckled, and the sound was odd to her ears. "Do you expect anything less from a Malfoy?"
"Do you expect anything less from a Weasley?" Ginny retorted, her hand closing around the champagne glass.
"Touche," Draco said, raising his glass, and Ginny noted it was filled with water. "So Weasley-"
"Ginny," she said, surprising both herself and Draco. "My name is Ginny, well, Ginevra, but Ginny for short. Weasley makes me think of my brothers."
"Ginny," he began, the name foreign on his tongue, "what brings you to a boring St. Mungo's gala?"
"I could ask the same of you," Ginny replied.
"Do you always avoid answering questions?" asked Draco, leaning his elbow against the bar and cocking an eyebrow. "Or is that just for me?"
"I volunteer here," Ginny said after a moment of silence. "The twins wanted me to come with them. Your turn."
He seemed hesitant, and his gray eyes flashed. His hand grasped his glass, and he took a sip before saying, "I'm one of the patrons here. I come to the hospital often, to help the days pass."
"Oh," Ginny said, not knowing what else to say. The idea of Draco Malfoy donating to a hospital and spending time there was a strange one. "That's interesting."
Draco smirked. "Shocked, Weasley?"
"It's Ginny, Malfoy," she said idly.
Draco's lips quirked into a smile. "I don't recall getting married, and my father prefers blondes."
Ginny shot him a wry smile. "A sense of humor. One more surprise out of you and I might need a bed here at the hospital tonight."
"I like to take the girls I sleep with to dinner first, Ginny. Of course, I could make an exception," Draco said lewdly.
"Have sex on the brain, Draco?" she asked, his name slipping from her lips softly. She leaned in closer to him, and a clean, crisp smell invaded her senses. "Be careful, you might ruin the Malfoy reputation if you keep flirting."
He moved closer to her, bringing his hand around to her back and touching bare skin. Leaning down, he whispered, "Considering the dress you're wearing, I doubt anyone would fault me."
Ginny repressed a shudder at the skin-to-skin contact. His thumb moved back and forth on her lower back, and words failed to come to her. No witty retort flew from her mouth, no crude remark. She simply stood there and stared into the inky depths of his eyes, wondering what he was thinking. Weasleys and Malfoys didn't flirt with one another. They hated each other, but his hand was distracting her from mustering up any sort of hatred she could possibly feel. His voice pulled her from her thoughts, and she listened as he asked her to dance the final dance of the night with him.
"Malfoys and Weasleys are rolling over in their graves," Ginny muttered as she allowed herself to be led onto the dance floor. They took a standard waltz stance, a little too close to be proper, and began to move around the floor. "So when did Draco Malfoy become so charming?"
His chest rumbled as he laughed. "I was always charming."
"Never to Weasleys though," Ginny pointed out, moving closer toward him. "I believe that's a new development."
"And when did Weasleys become so amicable towards Malfoys?" Draco raised a manicured eyebrow at her. "I believe that's a new development as well."
"You make a fair point," Ginny replied, the feeling of his hard body pressed against hers clouding her mind. "But you've changed."
"Haven't we all?" His eyes bore into her as the song ended. He stepped back and bowed. "It's been a pleasure."
"Likewise," Ginny said with a little nod, hands idly smoothing down her dress.
He smirked at her. "I'll see you around, Ginevra."
The shudder that ran through her body was barely imperceptible, but the glint in Draco's eyes told Ginny that he had seen, and that he had liked it. She watched as he turned away and exited the room, trying to figure out what had just happened between her and Draco Malfoy.