All Work and No Play by idreamofdraco
Summary: Ginny Weasley jumps from job to job, never able to hold one down. When she comes into a bit of a windfall, her friends and family try to convince her to be practical, but Ginny needs to get away. A chance encounter with Draco Malfoy in Italy teaches her that the only person she needs to rely on is herself. EWE.

Written for Interhouse Fest 2013.

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Categories: Long and Completed Characters: Blaise Zabini (boy), Draco Malfoy, Ginny Weasley, Other Characters
Compliant with: All but epilogue
Era: Post-Hogwarts
Genres: Romance
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 4 Completed: Yes Word count: 20557 Read: 9222 Published: Dec 16, 2013 Updated: Mar 20, 2015

Story Notes:

Blanket Disclaimer: All characters and terminology belong to JK Rowling.

A/N: Let me start off by saying that the majority of this story takes place on a tiny Italian island off the coast of Sardinia called La Maddalena. I lived in Italy for quite a few years while growing up and in La Maddalena for some of those years. There is no way my writing about this place could possibly do it any justice, and I apologize for that in advance. I do hope that this story feels realistic and maybe captures your imagination. If you'd like to see what La Maddalena is really like (and judge for yourself whether I've done it justice), check out this video I found on YouTube (not mine!).

Also, I don't speak a lick of Italian, so if anyone out there has a better grasp of the language, feel free to correct any mistakes I've made. Lastly, thanks so much to my beta, D, for all her help with this story. This has been a labor of love, and boy did I labor.

1. Chapter One by idreamofdraco

2. Chapter Two by idreamofdraco

3. Chapter Three by idreamofdraco

4. Chapter Four by idreamofdraco

Chapter One by idreamofdraco
Author's Notes:
Reviews appreciated!
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Chapter One


"Minister of Magic's office, this is Ginevra Weasley speaking. How may I help you?"

A woman's impatient voice answered. "I want to speak to the Minister of Magic."

The hand holding the phone spasmed, but Ginny took the question in stride. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"No, I don't want to talk to you. I want to talk to someone in charge. I've been calling over and over again for the past hour trying to talk to someone, and the line is always buzzy. So let me speak to the Minister, since no one else is there to help me!"

Now Ginny rolled her eyes at the turn the call had taken.

"The Minister is in a meeting right now, but I'm sure I can help you."

Ginny listened as the woman explained the predicament that needed the Minister's immediate attention.

"...but nothing happened, and I realized I'd been disconnected from the Floo Network! Someone made a mistake and I want it fixed right now!"

"You will have to speak with the Department of Magical Transportation. I can transfer you—"

"No!" the woman said, unyielding. "I don't want you to transfer me. I want you to fix my Floo. If you can't do that, then I want you to get someone who can!"

"The Department of Magical—"

But the woman interrupted her. "I. Don't. Want. To. Speak. To. Them. Do I have to repeat myself? Fix my Floo, now!"

"Okay," Ginny said, gritting her teeth to keep from snapping into the telephone, "let me let you speak with the Minister of Magic." Then she pressed the necessary buttons on the phone's console to transfer the belligerent woman to Magical Transportation and hung up as soon as she heard a dial tone.

"Who thought telephones were a good idea?" she complained out loud. The office was empty save for her sitting behind a wide wooden counter separating the Minister of Magic's office from the corridor.

Kingsley Shacklebolt had been Minister for four years, not including his unofficial stint as Minister directly after the war. Public opinion of him had been extremely favorable during Reconstruction; the new Minister of Magic couldn't leave office soon enough once Kingsley officially began to campaign years later. He was also a close family friend of the Weasleys' thanks to their mutual involvement in the Order of the Phoenix, which was how Ginny had become the Minister's personal assistant. After years of jumping from one temporary job to the next, finding neither fulfillment nor happiness, Arthur had finally asked Kingsley for help on Ginny's behalf.

So here she was, and this job was worse than any job she'd had before. However, she knew that she was in a position of trust, and that her father had done what most Weasleys had too much pride to do—ask for help—so turning her nose up at such a respectable job would make her ungrateful.

She was grateful for the job. Mostly. She wasn't grateful for the boredom or the loss of brain cells that each call inspired though.

Kingsley opened his office door, and Draco Malfoy walked out. He and the Minister shook hands, a great smile on Kingsley's face, a neutral expression on Malfoy's, before Malfoy took his leave.

"How are the telephones?" Kingsley asked.

Ginny stifled an exasperated sigh. "The same as usual. I don't know why people think we can solve all their problems. If they tried contacting the right departments, they wouldn't keep getting the turnaround."

Kingsley patted her shoulder with one large hand. "Now, now. The phones are as new to them as they are to us. Do you know why I decided to implement them?" Ginny knew—she'd heard it hundreds of times from her father, who had never been prouder than when the Minister had adopted one of his ideas—but she shook her head. "Transparency. I want the populace to know that there are no secrets between my office and their ears. That's why my telephone number is on every flier."

His telephone number! More like Ginny's telephone number!

He patted her shoulder again, and Ginny kept herself from shrugging out from under his touch. It wasn't personal, but now Kingsley was her boss, and since she hated her job, her resentment had a tendency to leak.

"Keep up the good work. Do you have that file for my meeting tomorrow morning?"

She was already handing him the scroll before he'd finished asking the question, and then the phone rang.

Kingsley chuckled as he went back into his office. "I'll leave you to it."

Great, Ginny thought.

"Minister of Magic's office, this is Ginevra Weasley speaking. How may I help you?"

"You said you were going to transfer me to the Minister, but you didn't, and the lines were buzzy! I want to speak to your supervisor! I have never been treated with such a blatant lack of respect! If my Floo does not get fixed A-S-A-P, I will—!"

Ginny held the phone away from her ear, nodding along every now and then as she let the angry caller blow off some steam.

She really hated her job.

~*~*~*~


"It just makes me lose faith in humanity!" Ginny cried, hours later at the Leaky Cauldron with her mates.

Hermione gave her a skeptical look. "Don't you think that's a bit dramatic?"

"No!" Ginny said, now riled up at Hermione's lack of understanding. "Whoever said there's no such thing as a stupid question lied, because I hear hundreds of stupid questions everyday." She laid her head down on the sticky table, not only physically exhausted from her day at work, but emotionally strung out as well.

"Now you're exaggerating," Hermione said.

"Okay, yes, that was a bit of hyperbole, but that doesn't change how awful those telephones are," she replied in a muffled, whining voice.

"Ginny, your father is really proud of those phones. I hope you don't say those kinds of things in front of him!"

"Of course not," she conceded. She sighed, resting her chin on the tabletop to look into Hermione's eyes. "I'm really proud of him too. The phones do exactly what both my dad and the Minister wanted. I just don't want to have anything to do with them."

"But wizard-Muggle relations have never been better since we implemented the phones! And the public really appreciates them. The Ministry has never been so easy to contact—"

"Or harass," Ginny added. "I know. I know the whole spiel. Can't I just hate my job without the lecture?"

Hermione sniffed but was prevented from saying anything more by the reemergence of Dennis Creevey and Seamus Finnegan, pints of mead in hand.

"Hey!" Seamus cried, looking from Ginny to Hermione and back again. "Why the long faces? It's a Friday night and we're out on the town. No frowning!"

Just to spite him, Ginny frowned harder as she accepted her mead and took a drink. One more of these and she would forget all about how her job stifled her.

"What's got your knickers in a twist?" Dennis asked. He only shrugged when his inquiry was met with twin glares.

"I hate my job," Ginny muttered into her drink.

"Who doesn't?" Seamus asked.

Dennis and Hermione both said, "Not me!"

"If I had a job I loved taking photographs for a living," Ginny said with a nod in Dennis's direction, "you wouldn't hear me complain. And not everyone can be content with a boring Ministry office job like you, Hermione."

"Well, thanks!"

Seamus leaned over the table and gestured towards Ginny with his mug. "You know, what you need is a bloke."

Now Ginny glared at Seamus, and Hermione sputtered angry protests that were ignored.

Ginny interrupted her to say, "Seamus, if you don't stop that thought right there, you're going to be sorry."

He held one hand up in a defensive gesture.

"I'm just sayin'! I hear Harry's still available."

"Oh, you! You're teasing me now! Stop being a prat and leave off about the blokes!"

Seamus laughed, and it took all that Ginny had not to toss her drink in the man's face. But that was just Seamus. If he wasn't teasing or laughing about something, he wouldn't be the man they knew, loved, and sometimes wanted to pummel with a Bludger bat.

"What's wrong with working for the Minister?" Dennis asked.

Ginny slumped in her seat and nursed her drink with both hands. "I don't know. It's boring. It's tedious. I do more work than I'm paid for, and I get no recognition or appreciation. I know I should be grateful—"

"You should!" Hermione interjected.

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Yes, well, I know that, but why should I be grateful for a job I didn't want and don't like?"

"Hear hear!" Seamus said, and then he chugged half his mead.

"Hey, if you could have any job in the world, what would you do?" Dennis asked with a wistful smile. He was quite charming, with a boyish face, dark hair, and light eyes. Unfortunately, good-looking as he was, women tended to mistake him for someone younger—such as a Hogwarts student.

As Hermione, Seamus, and Dennis took up the discussion, Ginny stepped back from it, bitter feelings overwhelming her. The alcohol exacerbated her mood, but she continued to drink, wishing for numbness.

She'd had her dream job for a few short months. Almost as soon as she'd left Hogwarts, she'd been picked up by the Falmouth Falcons, and she'd loved the freedom of flying, the rush of competition, the thrill of the chase for the Quaffle. That dream had ended with a particularly bad injury from a Bludger. Four of the fingers on her right hand had been broken, along with more bones in her wrist. The Healers at St. Mungo's had done the best they could, but the nerve damage had ruined her hand. She'd lost most of the feeling in her fingers, and sometimes she couldn't move them at all, which made handling a Quaffle, a Snitch, or a bat difficult, if not impossible. A repeat injury to her hand could worsen the damage, which made her a liability as a Keeper. So her Quidditch career had ended just as it was beginning.

Since then, she'd had job after job, but nothing had compared to the one she'd lost, and she'd never quite gotten over her bitterness.

Her family and friends thought her discontent was her own fault, as if she refused to like any job she took because it wasn't Quidditch. She liked to think she was above that. The jobs truly had not appealed to her, not because they hadn’t involved a broom, but because Quidditch had been the one job that had been perfect for her, and she hadn't yet found one that could compare.

"Budge up," she said to Dennis, nudging him with her shoulder. "I need some fresh air."

As Dennis scooted out of the booth, Hermione shot Ginny her trademark expression of concern. Even though she could be annoyingly overbearing at times, at least she had what the boys lacked: tact and skills of observation. "Do you want me to go with you?" she asked.

Seamus was laughing his head off and banging on the table, his face already as red as a Quaffle, and Dennis took pictures of him for proof of his idiocy after they sobered up. If someone wasn't there to stop them from getting out of hand, they would both drink too much, and Ginny didn't want to be banned from another pub for Seamus and Dennis's drunken antics. The last time they'd been thrown out of a bar, Seamus had left with less clothes than he'd entered in and Dennis had had to crawl out the door, his legs too unsteady to carry him. Hermione was the best at ruining people's fun, and thus saving them from another Wall of Shame.

"No," Ginny said to Hermione's inquiry. "I want to be alone for a minute."

Standing up had clearly caused the alcohol to go straight to Dennis’s head, because as soon as she vacated the booth, he collapsed back into it, flopping down onto the bench bonelessly. Raucous laughter followed her as she exited the pub.

Outside, the night air was thick and hot, not at all a relief from the atmosphere inside the pub. Ginny pulled her top away from her chest, fanning herself with the flimsy material. Her right hand spasmed, and she gasped in pain, her other hand automatically grasping the wrist to massage her palm with a thumb. The pain wasn’t real. There was no feeling in that hand, but whenever her fingers suddenly tensed like that, she could almost swear that she’d felt something.

She reached into her pocket, pulling out a package of cigarettes and a lighter. With her first puff, her bitterness drained right out of her, leaving in the form of smoke with each exhale. A few more puffs and the tension disappeared completely.

"Weasley?" a voice in the passing crowd enquired.

Ginny turned her head to see Draco Malfoy with a willowy blonde woman, and she automatically lowered her hand, hiding the cigarette slightly behind her back. Even outside of work, she still represented the Minister's office, and while Kingsley would congratulate her for embracing Muggle culture, he probably would not approve of this particular habit.

"Mr. Malfoy," she said as he and the woman approached.

"Draco is fine," he replied. "You don't have to be so formal outside of the office."

Ginny nodded in acquiescence. Malfoy wasn't a coworker of hers, but he had funded the telephone project at the Ministry. He frequently met with the Minister and the project committee to discuss its progress and success. As a result, Ginny saw him often when he arrived at the office for meetings.

"Weasley," Draco said as he placed his hand on the other woman's back, "this is my friend Astoria. Astoria, this is—"

"Ginny Weasley," Astoria said, holding out a hand for Ginny to shake. Ginny had no choice but to offer her injured one and hope that it would cooperate long enough for a handshake. Thankfully, it did. "I remember you from Hogwarts," she continued. "And I was a fan while you were with the Falcons."

Ginny's smile became a grimace.

"Why don't we meet up later?" Draco said to Astoria. "I'll owl you."

The woman smiled prettily and batted her eyelashes before kissing him on the cheek and taking her leave. Ginny gave her a half-hearted wave.

"You didn't have to run her off."

He shrugged and made a face. "It's no big deal. You didn't look like you wanted company anyway."

She eyed him pointedly. "Yet you're still here."

He startled her by laughing. "Fair enough. I just wanted to bum a cigarette off you, if you don't mind. Then I'll leave you alone."

Now Ginny paused, but he seemed serious, so she raised her cigarette back to her mouth, ashes falling onto her robes. She pulled the pack and lighter back out of her pocket and handed them to him.

"The great Draco Malfoy smokes? That's shocking."

His chuckle was muffled by the cigarette in his mouth and his attempts to light it. When he returned the pack and lighter, he said, "That's why I sent Astoria away. I'm trying to quit, and she'd only disapprove."

"How long since your last cigarette?"

He looked at his wristwatch. "About eight hours."

She shot him an appreciative glance. "I never pegged you as a smoker."

"I never pegged you as a secretary."

Irritated, Ginny blew a cloud of smoke in his direction. "I'm an administrative assistant, and I'm not going to be one long." She hoped.

"Why not? It's a respectable job. Or so I've heard." Draco replied.

"It's not for me," she answered. She shifted her stance and squeezed her right hand into a fist, her fingernails digging into her palm. She couldn't feel it. "I'm looking for something else."

"You know what I think?"

Ginny shrugged. Her eyes were intent on the bustling crowd.

"You need to get away. Get out of the country and travel around."

She looked at him now. Really looked at him. He was dressed to the nines in slate-colored robes and polished shoes. His longish blond hair swept his shoulders, but it looked neat and cared for, and his pointy features had filled out. He looked wealthy, healthy, and... good.

"Like a vacation?" she asked. "Are you going to pay for my trip?"

One corner of his mouth lifted into not quite a smirk. "Sometimes I forget that not everyone is as wealthy as I am."

"How can you forget? You're one of the richest people in Britain." She threw her cigarette onto the ground and stepped on it, grinding it with her high heel.

He shrugged again but didn't answer. "Leaving? Thanks for the cigarette."

"No problem," she replied.

"Weasley," he called before she reentered the pub. She paused and looked back at him. "If you quit your job, I'll pay for your trip personally."

She laughed. "Sure, okay. I'll believe that when I see it."

As she rejoined her friends in The Three Broomsticks, she put Malfoy's words behind her. As if she'd quit this job after all her father had done for her to get it!

~*~*~*~


A week later, Ginny sat at her desk eating an apple. The phone had been ringing non-stop all day long, and she'd just turned it off to catch her breath. All the other work she had to do was almost impossible to complete when her concentration was disturbed every thirty seconds, and now she craved a cigarette so badly, her hands were shaking. She worked her injured hand into a fist, clenching it and unclenching it until it spasmed. She sucked in a breath and put her apple down on the desk, suddenly sick to her stomach.

The door behind her opened, and the head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation looked out.

"Excuse me, miss. Could you fetch us some more coffee? Oh, and some of those little rectangular biscuits as well. Did you make them? They were excellent."

The man was kindly and stocky, with an easy smile set amongst the wrinkles in his old face, but he didn't even bother to wait to hear Ginny's reply before he returned to his meeting with the Minister. He shut the door in her face, and Ginny was left to stew at the man's gall. She was an administrative assistant! Her job description said she would take care of invoices and filing and take notes in meetings when necessary. She wasn't a maid to be bossed around or to serve biscuits and coffee!

Draco Malfoy's suggestion that she get out of the country kept sounding better and better. However, the sparseness of her bank vault made the dream impossible. As she went to the small kitchen and made up the tea and put some more biscuits on a plate, she envisioned what it would be like to walk down a street where no one knew her face or her name. As she returned to the Minister's office and knocked on the door, she imagined the freedom of serving no one, of catering to her own desires. She tried to think about a sound that was worse than the ringing of a telephone and couldn't come up with one.

Her unnecessary duty complete, she sat back down at her desk and retrieved a blank sheet of parchment. Dipping her quill into an inkwell, she began to pen her resignation letter, and as soon as the head of International Magical Cooperation vacated the office, she handed the letter to the Minister.

"I don't understand," Kingsley said.

Frankly, Ginny didn't either. The letter in Kingsley's hand begged her to take it back before she made a mistake she couldn't fix, but she ignored its pitiful, imaginary cries and stiffened her spine. It was time for her to stop doing what everyone else expected of her. The only person she needed to satisfy was herself.

"Please don't tell my parents," she replied.

~*~*~*~


In the end, she should have known asking to keep something from her parents would inspire the opposite result. When Ginny arrived home from work that evening, she found Hermione and her mother sitting at the kitchen table having a cuppa, and it was clear by the shocked looks on their faces when Ginny walked in the door that they were talking about her.

Mrs. Weasley jumped out of her chair to attend to supper while Hermione stared down into her tea, her brows bunched in a guilty expression.

"How was work, dear?" her mother asked.

"Just wonderful," Ginny replied sardonically as she threw her handbag onto a chair. She plopped into another chair with equal force and poured herself some tea, all while Hermione smiled stiffly and fiddled with her stirring spoon.

Ginny sighed in resignation. "How did you hear?" she asked.

"Hear what?" Hermione answered, feigning surprise—badly, Ginny would say. Hermione's skills at subterfuge were appalling. It was in her nature to tell the truth, so when she did try to lie, she became twitchy with guilt.

"Mum, sit down," Ginny said, waving Mrs. Weasley to the table. Then she turned back to Hermione. "I should have known you'd consult my mum about my decisions behind my back."

Once her lie was discovered, Hermione always became indignant, taking the moral high ground as justification for her actions. Even now, her nose rose a little higher in the air, and Ginny prepared for a long lecture from both women.

"It's a terrible decision. You don't know what you're doing, and you need someone to make you realize that."

Though they were friends, this was the side of Hermione with which Ginny had always been at odds, even back at school. Her fingers tightened on the handle of her teacup as she said, "Last I checked, we were nearly the same age. I don't think a year of seniority makes you my keeper. My life is no one's business, least of all yours, Hermione!"

"Ginny!" Mrs. Weasley scolded from the other side of the table. "Hermione is concerned about you. Is that any way to talk to your friends?"

Ginny averted her eyes from Hermione's slightly trembling lip, irritation winning out over guilt or pity.

"It is when they meddle in other people's lives! I know you're worried about me, but, please, don't. I'm an adult. I didn't want that job, and you and Dad can't jump in and pull strings for me anymore. I have to figure out my own life."

Ginny gently pushed her teacup away, and, without another glance at Hermione's reluctantly contrite face, she went upstairs to her room, massaging the tense muscles in her damaged hand as she left.

~*~*~*~


Ginny scoured back-issues of The Daily Prophet, pouring through the classifieds section in a futile attempt at job searching. Bags had developed under her eyes in less than three days, and a noticeable funk now enveloped her. Perhaps that was natural when she wore the same pajamas for three days, didn't brush her hair, and sometimes forgot to freshen up her deodorant.

"Are you trying to make a point?" Hermione asked, scrunching her nose in distaste. "Because I think you've made it."

"Wha?" Ginny said through a mouthful of muffin. Mrs. Weasley had baked a dozen for Ginny's friends, but no one had been unable to get close to them since they'd been delivered to Ginny's bedroom.

"She means you stink," Seamus added helpfully.

An hour ago they'd all been helping Ginny in her job search by circling promising ads, but Seamus had grown bored of that quickly. His stack of Daily Prophets had been decorated with mustaches charmed to move with the photographs. Ginny had got a pretty good laugh out of the Fu Manchu drawn onto a photo of Harry. The charm was wearing off now, though, and the mustache was lagging a moment behind Harry's movements.

Ginny turned her head to smell her shirt and shrugged.

"Hey, what about this one?" Dennis asked as he held up a paper for Ginny's perusal.

"'Nanny wanted. Sunday through Saturday, 8 AM to 8 PM. Four children, ages two to nine,'" Ginny read. "What makes you think I'd ever want to nanny?"

"I dunno," Dennis said. "You grew up in a house full of kids."

"How much does it pay?" Seamus asked with a grin.

Ginny scanned the ad again. "Uh... Ten Galleons a week? For four children, twelve hours a day, seven days a week?" She threw the paper back at Dennis in disgust, and he went straight back to searching.

Hermione stood up. "You can't turn your nose up at every suggestion."

Without looking up from her newspaper, she replied, "Why not? You're always turning your nose up at me. Just following your example."

The other girl's lips tightened while Dennis and Seamus looked at each other uneasily. Ever since Ginny had quit her job, she and Hermione hadn't been on the best of terms. Both of them had stubbornly refused to apologize, and to say that their fighting had begun to strain the relationship of the whole group was an understatement.

Silence reigned for a few precious moments while Ginny continued to stuff muffins in her mouth as she half-heartedly perused the papers. Hermione and Dennis were more purposeful in their search, and Seamus had moved on from drawing mustaches to playing tic-tac-toe against himself.

The monotony was broken up by the tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap of an owl sitting on the windowsill, pecking at the glass rather impatiently.

When Ginny opened the window, the owl hopped inside and held out its leg. She detached the letter and shooed the bird out without a tip or even a treat.

"Who's it from?" Seamus asked in a sing-song voice.

"Your mum," Ginny answered, sitting back down on her bed.

The letter was simply addressed to G. Weasley, and it was sealed with silver wax stamped with a bold letter M.

Weasley,

Imagine my surprise today when I arrived for a meeting with the Minister only to find an unfamiliar face greeting me at the door. Well, I must admit I saw this coming. Someone like you shouldn't sit behind a desk answering inane telephone calls and serving coffee to the wealthy and powerful. I am making good on my grandiose promise the last time we met. I have already had 1,000 Galleons deposited into your Gringotts vault.

I hope you enjoy your trip. Italy is rather nice this time of year.

D. Malfoy


Ginny turned the parchment over, looking for a Just kidding! or a late April Fools! Then she read the letter again—twice.

"Looks like good news, eh?" Seamus said with a nudge at Dennis.

"What is it?" Hermione asked, putting aside her stubbornness for concern.

Ginny lifted her head, looking at each of her friends in turn. Curiosity stared back at her from three sets of eyes.

"I'm going on holiday."

~*~*~*~


Ginny didn't waste any time after receiving Draco's letter. Standing at the departure gate with her family and friends around her, she was glad she hadn't waited any longer to leave. Four days of her mother's worry and discouragement was enough to drive her up a wall, not to mention Hermione's—thankfully—silent disapproval.

Mrs. Weasley was tight-lipped. She'd already said everything she'd needed to say in the last four days, and none of her words had convinced Ginny to stay home and look for work.

"Ginny, can I talk to you?" Hermione asked. She pulled Ginny away from the group and said in a low voice, "Please be practical. All you are doing is putting off the inevitable!"

Ginny frowned. "To you I'm running away from my problems and throwing my life away. But I don't have a life. Ever since my Quidditch career ended—"

"So this is about Quidditch!" Hermione exclaimed.

"Yes, it's about Quidditch!" Tears stung Ginny's eyes, and she turned her head away from her friend to hide the presence of them. At her side, she clenched her hand into a fist. "When I lost my career, I lost something of myself. I can't just pick up another job and be happy. I need to get away, go somewhere where people don't know my face or my name. I just need time to think, until I can find something else."

Finally, for the first time in days, Hermione looked at her with something other than disapproval on her face. Her concern wasn't for Ginny's life spiraling out of control; it was for Ginny herself, the person underneath the ruined Quidditch career and all of the mistakes.

"Everyone was right. I wasn't ready to move on. I'm still not. I just need to get away so I can forget."

"Okay," Hermione said. "All right. I'll support you."

Ginny smiled and delicately wiped under her eyes to get rid of the tears. "That's not necessary. I made this decision without anyone's support, and I still don't need it now."

Only one person had supported her in this mess, and that was Draco Malfoy. Literally supported her. The day after she'd received his letter, Ginny had gone to Gringotts to check her vault, and every Galleon Draco had mentioned was there. She didn't know why he wanted to help her, didn't care to question it at all. If he was foolish enough to pay for her holiday, then she was going to accept it.

But she hadn't told anyone else about the money. That was a whole other lecture she never wanted to hear.

Rejoining the group, Ginny hugged both of her parents, Ron, and George. Seamus wrapped her in such a tight hug, Ginny struggled to breathe, and then he planted a sloppy wet kiss on her cheek.

"What are you, a dog?" she asked in disgust as she wiped her face with her sleeve.

"Woof woof!" he barked back at her. "And don't come back without a bloke! Remember what I said!"

She rolled her eyes and turned to Dennis.

"Here," he said, offering her a box. "To document your trip."

Ginny took the box under one arm and pulled the lid off with her free hand, revealing a camera settled amongst wads of newspaper.

"Oh, Dennis! You didn't!"

"It's Colin's. I've been saving it for something special, and I figure this might be it. Take lots of pictures. For us. For him." He smiled sheepishly, but his eyes had the glassy look that meant he was close to tears—though he'd never shed a single one in her presence before. Not since the funerals and vigils for the fallen from the war years ago.

"I will!" Ginny said, touched by his gesture. She put the lid back on the box, and then threw her arms around Dennis's neck. "Thank you so much. I'll take so many pictures, and then I'll make all of you look at them when I get back!"

"You're gonna regret that gift later, ain'tcha, mate?" Seamus said with a joking poke to Dennis's ribs.

He dodged the attack and smiled. "Nah. I never regret. Life's too short for that."

The mood of the group sobered as a woman's magnified voice announced the ten minute warning for the Portkey headed to Rome. Ginny went through another round of hugs again, finishing with her mum, who had finally shed her disapproving expression.

"Be careful, Ginny! Please write as soon as you can and let us know you're safe! Be careful of strangers, and don't stay out too late after dark!"

Ginny laughed. "I'll be fine, Mum! You're acting like I can't take care of myself!"

She could. She had. To get through the war, it had been necessary for Ginny to survive any way she could. A holiday would be no problem after what she'd experienced at Hogwarts at the hands of the Carrows.

With a final wave, she left her family at the gate and was ushered to her Portkey.

She had plenty of doubts, but no regrets.
End Notes:
Chapter one of four, though I may combine or add to chapters, so that's not an exact, definite number.
Chapter Two by idreamofdraco
Author's Notes:
Once again, if any of the Italian is wrong, feel free to correct me! Reviews appreciated!
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Chapter Two


Ginny sat on the beach, the crystal clear water tickling her feet as it lapped up against the shore. As she sulked, children chased each other into and out of the water while men and women—both topless—lounged in chairs and on towels. Every bronze body glowed with health and sun. Ginny tugged her towel closer around her shoulders, protecting her blinding skin from exposure. She stood out like a sore thumb, and children occasionally ran past her, laughing, pointing, and waving. She smiled and waved back.

She had wanted anonymity, but even though she'd received just that, she still drew eyes. No one recognized her, of course, but her red hair was about as unnatural to the people with whom she shared the beach as a Squib was among wizarding society. Not being able to speak a word of the language didn’t help, either.

A beach ball flew past her ear and landed in the water in front of her, bobbing as the gentle waves rocked it farther out into the sea.

“Signorina! Signorina, per favore! Mia palla!”

Behind her, a gaggle of children laughed as a little curly-haired girl—who had to be no older than four—called to Ginny with tears in her eyes. Ginny had watched for the past hour as the older children teased the girl by chasing her into the water, of which she seemed to be afraid, and Ginny understood how she felt. Her brothers had teased her relentlessly as a child; she’d learned to stiffen her spine and hide her fears and tears from Fred and George, but it was nice to have a defender every once in a while.

Ginny smiled and the girl sniffed loudly, holding her tears at bay even as her lips trembled. The ball had drifted farther out into the water, and as Ginny walked out into the sea, the wind and the waves turned the simple retrieval into a game of chase. The children on the shore laughed as Ginny ran after the ball, but the little girl’s cheers spurred her on. Finally, she pounced on top of the ball, wrapping her arms around it as she fell face first into the water. Ginny’s throat burned as she choked on seawater, but when she reached the shore again, the girl’s smiling face was worth it.

“Grazie, signorina!” she called as she ran off with the ball, her siblings and friends racing after her to continue whatever game they were playing.

“Er, prego!” Ginny called back, recalling one word she’d heard uttered by waitstaff at the restaurants and cafes she’d frequented since her arrival in Italy a week ago.

"If that's the way you handle a ball, it's no wonder your Quidditch career ended."

With the sun to his back, Blaise Zabini emerged from the sunlight, and Ginny struggled to make out his face. Blinking, her mouth fell open, not because of what he'd said—though those words would register later—but because he was here just as Ginny was despairing in her isolation.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, gaping. It didn't matter that she hadn't seen him since he'd left Hogwarts, that she and he were merely acquaintances, not friends. He was a familiar face, a piece of home. And here he was on a tiny rock of an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, insulting her Quidditch skills as if they were good friends.

He smiled, but one corner of his lips lifted a little higher than the other. She might have called it a smirk, but his eyes were open and friendly, so instead she accepted it as a grin. He stopped in front of her, put his hands on his hips, and looked Ginny up and down. She'd dropped her towel in the sand when she'd gone after the beach ball, but now she picked it up and covered her swimsuit-clad body from his gaze. Her cheeks were already burning red from the sun, but she could feel herself heating up out of embarrassment from the inside.

"No snappy comeback? You Weasleys were always too easy to bait, if I recall correctly."

"What?"

He waved the question away, and answered her previous question. "My father's family is from here. What are you doing here?"

But all Ginny could do was stare wordlessly. How did she explain to this man she knew only by reputation what she was doing in Italy and how this holiday had come to be? Better yet, should she explain?

Blaise laughed and reached for her bad hand, tucking it in the crook of his arm in a gentlemanly fashion—a polite but familiar gesture to which she didn't know how to react. He seemed to read her hesitancy perfectly, though, because as he led her away, he said, "Come on. I think we need a drink."

~*~*~*~


Water. Ginny thought he'd meant water when he'd said they'd needed a drink, but Blaise led her to the outside bar near the parking lot, and then spoke some words in Italian to the bartender before two beers were placed in front of them.

"It's three in the afternoon."

"Never too early for a friendly drink."

As they claimed two stools at the end of the bar, the reality of the situation hit her, and she asked again with bafflement, "What are you doing here?"

"I already answered that question," Blaise said. "I think it's your turn."

"I'm on holiday," she replied.

"I see," he said, clearly humoring her as he smiled into his drink. "And what brings you to this godforsaken island?"

"Blasphemy! It's absolutely lovely here!" Ginny exclaimed in outrage.

"Of course it is. This archipelago is also one of the top summer tourist destinations in Italy. May through August, this island becomes congested with not only Muggles, but traveling Muggles, and they're about as annoying as that Creevey kid was with his camera."

Now Ginny bristled, the spell of Blaise’s familiarity fading swiftly. "Colin died, Zabini. Don't talk about him that way!"

She recalled Colin's camera sitting on her bed in her hotel room as well as the look on Dennis's face when he'd given it to her. At the same time, her face burned in shame for being one of the tourists that this man despised.

As she stood to leave, he cried, "Wait!" She only stopped because of his stricken expression. "I'm sorry," he said. "That was completely rude and disrespectful. I forgot that you were friends. Please, don't go."

Ginny didn't know why she wavered; she should have kept walking, but she sat down because he seemed sincere. In her lap, she flexed her hand, squeezing it into a fist and releasing as if letting go of her tension.

"Let's try this again, shall we?" he asked. At her curt nod, he held out his hand and continued. "Ginny Weasley from the Falcons, right?" She nodded again, and accepted his hand for a brief shake. "I'm Blaise Zabini. What brings you to La Maddalena?"

She took a long sip of her beer and wished for her pack of cigarettes—which she'd carelessly left back at the hotel as well. "Oh, you know," she said, "I just love to take pictures of the sea. Got any fags?"

~*~*~*~


Ginny's legs disappeared at the ankles, swallowed by the inky black water. Even though La Maddalena in May was balmy, the sea hadn't quite caught up with the warming weather. As Ginny dipped her feet in and out of the icy water, she couldn't imagine being anywhere else, even if her companion was Blaise Zabini—an unexpected but surprisingly pleasant turn of events.

An afternoon and evening of alcohol and nicotine had brought Ginny out of her cloud of loneliness—and loosened her tongue.

"I mean, why does she have to act like my mother?" she asked, her swinging arm just missing Blaise’s head.

"Whoa there," he said, steadying her before she fell off the pier into the water.

"She's supposed to be one of my closest friends, but she gets along better with my mum than she does with me."

"Well, Granger always did seem to have a stick up her arse."

"She can't help it. She is dating my brother."

He choked on his beer, his splutters mixed with laughter. “What was her excuse before that, then?”

“She was friends with him!”

When Blaise’s second wave of laughter ended, he patted Ginny on the back, nearly sending her face first from the pier into the water. “You know, you’re not so bad.” At Ginny’s affronted look, he added, “I mean, you were pretty popular back at school, but I always assumed it was because you were pretty. I never knew you had this bite.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, then,” she replied. She set her empty bottle down between them, and then clasped her hands in her lap, the good one massaging the bad one out of habit.

Blaise seemed to change his mind about what he was going to say next, distracted instead by her hands. Gesturing with his own nearly empty bottle, he asked, “Does it hurt?”

She shook her head, but it was dark and perhaps he couldn’t see the motion clearly. “No. I don’t feel anything.” She raised her hand in the air, her fingers splayed as much as possible, but the fingers still curled in a claw-like gesture. Averting her eyes, she dropped her hand again, her throat tight and her eyes stinging.

Blaise reached for her hand, pulling it towards him, and then he flattened her fingers between his hands, gently rubbing her skin. “Do you feel that?” he asked.

“No,” Ginny said softly, holding her breath as if breathing for all these years had been the reason she hadn't felt the pain.

“Not even my heat?” Blaise asked, his lips turning up into that crooked almost-smirk again. Somehow his face had inched closer to hers, or maybe hers to his? And it wasn’t the humidity that made her skin prickle with gooseflesh, that was for sure.

“Nothing at all,” she breathed.

Then he swiftly pulled away and climbed back onto his feet with all the steadiness of a newborn unicorn. “Come on,” he said, offering Ginny both of his hands and pulling her until she was standing. “You’ve kept to yourself long enough. Time for a little sight-seeing.”

Ginny giggled, partly because his good mood was infectious, but mostly out of embarrassment. “It’s nearly ten at night!”

He tucked her hand in his arm and patted it as they descended back down the pier to the beach. “Tomorrow can’t come soon enough, then.”

~*~*~*~


The next day, Blaise met Ginny at her hotel, and, arm in arm, they set out for a day of adventure. The hilly streets were so narrow, they were more like alleys. When cars raced down them as if they were major thoroughfares, Ginny and Blaise had to flatten their bodies against the walls of the buildings on either side of the roads to prevent their death by squishing. By the time they reached their destination, the piazza, Ginny’s heart was racing. Blaise bought her gelato—one scoop of strawberry and one of pistachio in a waffle cone—to soothe her nerves, which worked instantly.

Across from the piazza, an open area around which shops and restaurants were located, the sea sparkled as ferries made their way from the La Maddalena port to Palau on the island of Sardinia and back again. They ran with approximate regularity, about every twenty minutes or so, and Ginny, mesmerized by the boats, the gentle rocking of the waves, and the warm breeze, wondered what it would be like to ride one.

Blaise discerned her interest and led her to the dock where they bought tickets and waited for the ferry to unload before they boarded. He took her all the way to the top deck, and even though there were plenty of benches available for people to sit, Ginny stood at the railing, as close to the front as she could get. As the ferry cut through the water, the wind picked up, and it was a little cold despite the warmth. Ginny’s hair was a Jobberknoll’s nest by the time they arrived, but a grin was stuck to her face like a Permanent Sticking Charm, and Blaise’s laughter at her expense only made her giddier.

Blaise was a charming and knowledgeable escort. He pointed out shops he thought she might have been interested in, and when she was interested, he took her inside. So used to living from paycheck to paycheck, she didn’t buy anything, even though she had more than enough to live on and splurge for this trip, but she kept certain items and shops in mind for when she was ready to buy souvenirs.

They stopped at a pizzeria, where Blaise bought “American pizza.” Then they ate it on a park bench near a playground. Ginny laughed out loud when they opened the pizza box to find that the topping that made the pizza “American” was french fries.

“You look a lot better than you did yesterday,” Blaise remarked as Ginny picked a thickly cut fry off her slice and popped it in her mouth.

“What was wrong with the way I looked yesterday?” she asked.

“You just didn’t seem very happy. You looked like you were at a funeral.” He pondered for a moment, a sly grin shifting his expression from somber to mischievous. “In your swimsuit. Now that’s an inappropriate scenario if I ever heard of one.”

For some reason, the fact that Blaise had noticed her emotional state made something pang inside her, as if she were empty and someone had struck her just to hear the thud. A sense of urgency washed over her, making her body seize the same way her hand did on occasion. If her unhappiness was so noticeable, why hadn’t anyone said anything to her? Did she hide it so well that her family and friends had never seen her suffering? Or did they notice and just didn’t care?

“I haven’t been happy for a long time,” she admitted.

“Since you injured your hand?” he asked.

Suddenly the pizza became unappetizing, and it took more effort than it should have to swallow down the lump in her throat. “Maybe. I think so.”

Blaise stood up, and she watched as he walked toward the playground where a flock of children played and laughed.

“What are you doing?” Ginny asked.

“When we were children, we were never unhappy, and do you know why?”

She shook her head.

Blaise reached up and grabbed two rungs on the monkey bars. He was tall enough that his feet never left the ground, but he pulled them out of the way and hung there in front of her. “Because children play. They’re not afraid to laugh in public, or scream. They say exactly what’s on their minds, and disagreements are quickly resolved and forgotten. You were the happiest when you were playing Quidditch because your job was to play, and now you feel like all the fun’s been sucked out of your life.”

How did he know all this about life and about her? Was she that transparent?

Climbing up onto the play structure from the monkey bars, he entreated her, “Come on. You can have fun even if it’s not Quidditch!”

It only took Ginny a moment to put the pizza box aside and join him on the slides.

~*~*~*~


As the day passed, Ginny smiled and laughed more than she had in ages. She didn’t think about her hand or let its spasms affect the fun she was having. Blaise had an infectious personality that made her feel like she was playing Quidditch again. Being in Italy no longer felt like a prison away from home, but like the thrilling adventure she’d hoped for all along.

By the time they returned to La Maddalena, the sun had set, and one of the best parts of the day had been watching the sun glow bright orange on the water from the top of the ferry again. After setting sail, they drank cappuccinos from the small cafe located on the second floor of the boat and watched as the Palau port was swallowed by darkness as they left it behind.

“I had a great day,” Ginny said as they walked through the piazza, dodging children, soccer balls, and vendors.

“Good,” Blaise replied. “I’m glad.”

There was a balmy breeze, but despite the warmth, Ginny had a chill. Next time they spent a day together, she’d have to remind herself to wear something a little warmer for both day and night temperatures.

Which reminded her… “I can’t believe I didn’t notice before that you’re wearing Muggle clothes.”

He wore his T-shirt and dark denim jeans confidently, as if accustomed to wearing such clothing. “Not all places are as segregated as England is. Wizarding populations are either smaller or more spread out in other countries, so it’s harder to hide whole villages and buildings like we do in London.”

“That’s both frightening and amazing,” Ginny said. She tried to imagine what it would be like to walk down a street and not know who was a wizard and who wasn’t. “No wonder you look so comfortable in those clothes,” she added. “It’s… surprising.”

“Were you expecting me to spit on Muggles who had the audacity to look me in the eye?” he asked in good humor.

“Maybe not to that extreme, but yes,” Ginny admitted.

Blaise laughed. “Maybe you shouldn’t judge a man by the House he was Sorted into… eleven years ago.”

“If it wasn’t statistically supported that Slytherins grow up to become evil, I wouldn’t be so shocked that you can be decent towards such a plebeian group of people as Muggles,” she teased him back.

“Please, tell us what you really think,” a voice behind her said.

Blaise's face erupted into a shocked smile. “Draco! You’re early!” he cried out, and as Ginny turned around, the two men met, grasped each other’s hands, and patted each other on the back.

On the tiniest island Ginny could exile herself to, looking at her with a shuttered expression, stood Draco bleeding Malfoy, her benefactor and the last person she wanted to see.

"What are you doing here?" Ginny asked, rooted to the spot and unable to look away from Draco's face. Of all the places he could have chosen for a holiday, he had to pick the one tiny rock on which Ginny was hiding!

"I come visit Blaise here every summer," he replied. His impassive expression faded, turning into bewilderment. "What are you doing here?"

"You said Italy was nice this time of year! Where else was I going to go?”

“I never expected you to end up here, though. How did you even find this place?”

Ginny blinked, and her cheeks reddened. “Well, I spent a couple days in Rome, but there were so many people there. So I bought a map of the country, closed my eyes, and pointed to my next destination. It just happened to be here.”

“I can’t believe this,” Blaise said. “Are you two friends?”

“No!” both Draco and Ginny answered.

Blaise held his hands up. “Okay, okay. I think we need drinks. I can already tell this night is going to turn into a headache.”

He led them to a cafe that bordered the piazza and chose a table outside. As soon as the three of them sat down, a waiter arrived to take their orders.

“Una birra,” Blaise said.

“Vino rosso, per favore,” Draco said next.

When it was Ginny’s turn, she glanced at the three men before her, a bit baffled and definitely embarrassed. “Er, water?”

When the waiter looked as embarrassed as Ginny felt, Draco jumped in and translated for her. “E una bottiglia d’acqua. Grazie.”

“You speak Italian, too?” Ginny asked.

“Not very well. Just enough to order food!” Blaise said, with a nudge on Draco’s arm. “Now, can someone please tell me what’s going on here? If you aren’t friends, how do you two know each other?”

Ginny explained her career woes, but she let Draco explain the part about the money, as she felt uncomfortable even admitting that she’d taken it in the first place. She shouldn’t have let him give it to her; she didn’t need his charity.

“But why make such a big gesture for someone you barely know?” Blaise asked, voicing the question Ginny had been wondering since she’d received the letter informing her that Draco had deposited 1,000 Galleons into her Gringotts account.

“Because I can, Blaise,” he answered tetchily. “Now drop it.”

When their drinks arrived, Ginny wished she’d ordered alcohol instead of water, and Draco surprised her by pushing his glass of wine in her direction. “Here. I’m not in the mood for this.”

“I’m fine with water,” she replied stubbornly. How many times could she accept gifts from him before he started demanding payment in return? Actually, she wasn’t sure that he didn’t expect his 1,000 Galleons to be repaid, which was one reason she had dreaded meeting him face to face again. With him sitting in front of her, a real, physical presence in her life once again, she had to accept the fact that she took his money and ran with it. Even if he’d meant it as a gift, it wasn’t appropriate.

“It will just go to waste if you don’t drink it,” he insisted as he poured himself some water from the tall glass bottle the waiter had deposited in the middle of their table.

Ginny was conscious of Blaise watching them, his eyes narrowed slightly. Now that Draco had arrived, was her nice holiday coming to an end? Would Blaise behave differently around her? Would he be more cautious and aloof? Or would he stop spending time with her, period?

Before she knew it, she was withdrawing a cigarette from her purse and lighting it, and at Draco’s longing look—an expression that made her lips twitch up into a smile for how pitiful it was—she offered him one as well.

“How long’s it been since your last cigarette?” she asked, feeling a little more at ease, less tense.

“How long’s it been since the last time I saw you?”

Instead of feeling insulted because of the implication in his answer, Ginny laughed.

An hour or so later, both men escorted Ginny back to her hotel and didn’t leave until she waved at them from a window, safe inside. It had been a long day, but Ginny hadn’t felt this optimistic in ages.
Chapter Three by idreamofdraco
Author's Notes:
There is one more chapter after this one. Reviews appreciated!
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Chapter Three


Not a day passed that Ginny didn’t spend time with Blaise—and now Draco, too. Despite her fears, Blaise was just as amiable and outgoing as he’d been before Draco’s arrival. In fact, Draco was the aloof one of the group; he only made himself known when Blaise addressed him or when they were sharing cigarettes and lighters.

A few days after Draco’s arrival, they made a trip to a beach on the north side of the island, a different beach than the one at which Ginny had met Blaise. The sand at this beach was coarse, mixed with tiny rocks and broken seashells. A large, sandy hill bordered the right side of the beach, and Ginny claimed a spot there, spreading out her towel on the incline for maximum tanning effect.

Draco put a towel down a few feet away while Blaise, his bag sitting unpacked next to Ginny, went down to the water, a pair of goggles and a snorkel in hand.

Aware of Draco’s presence, Ginny looked for something to say to him, but all she could think about was the dragon on the beach—or in the bank vault, as it were.

“Where’s Astoria?” she finally asked, remembering the blonde woman he’d been with the last time they’d met back home.

He glanced at her, but she couldn’t see his eyes behind his dark sunglasses. She wished she had a pair of sunglasses herself so he wouldn’t be able to see her ogling him shirtless. His skin was so pale it glowed, but rather than looking sickly, he looked… pristine. That was probably the best word for it. How dare he look good in robes and out of them?

“Astoria?”

“Yes,” she said. “The woman who was hanging all over you last time we met?”

“Oh. I’m sure she’s at home. We’re just friends, Weasley.”

Flushing, she feared he’d think she was interested in him. “Oh,” was all she said. She laid down on her back, placing her hands flat on her stomach, though out of habit, her good hand massaged the injured one.

“Look,” Draco said. “About the money—”

“Hey, guys, look what I found!”

Ginny sat up as Blaise ran up the hill to them, a crab grasped firmly in his hands.

“Is it alive?” she asked. The crab snapped at Blaise’s fingers, answering her question for him

“Cute, isn’t he? I’m going to name him Clive,” he said with a grin.

“What kind of a name is Clive?” Draco asked.

“That happens to be my mother’s first husband’s name, I’ll have you know!”

“Well, I think you need to throw Clive back into the water,” Ginny said, keeping an eye on the snapping crab for the oblivious man.

“Hey, that’s what my mum said about her first husband!” Blaise turned around and ran back down the hill to the water, while Ginny turned to Draco, speechless.

“Was he serious?” She’d heard the rumors of the Zabini matriarch and her seven husbands’ mysterious deaths, but Blaise seemed so carefree that she’d forgotten the stories she’d heard until just then.

Draco shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t ask about the Black Widow’s ex-husbands. It’s probably best not to know anyway.”

Shivering, Ginny said, “I’m going to go make sure Clive is okay.” Then she followed after Blaise, unaware of Draco’s eyes on her as she left.

~*~*~*~


When their sandy hill beach grew crowded, they picked up shop and climbed into Blaise’s Fiat to search out a new location. Draco had to squish into the cramped backseat with the towels and bags, but he didn’t complain, which surprised Ginny. He must have been used to traveling this way—not only by car, but by tiny car.

The fact that he wasn’t fazed by the Muggleness of this holiday only made Ginny more curious about him. Blaise had told her that the Zabinis originated from La Maddalena, and since there was no magical community on the island comparable to Britain’s, his Muggle tolerance was understandable. Draco, however, had grown up in England, where magical and Muggle populations were mostly separate, and he’d freely advertised his disgust for non-magical people and their sympathizers. So how was he so accepting now? Wasn’t his skin crawling from just thinking about riding in a car?

She kept eying his reflection in the rear-view mirror, but he seemed absolutely indifferent to his surroundings, including the steeply swerving curves, the bumps in the road, the humid heat that the car’s broken air conditioner couldn’t fight. He looked out the window, and she could only assume he was staring at the sea as they drove around the perimeter of the island looking for a less-populated beach.

“I think this is the place. What do you think?” Blaise asked, as his speed slowed to a crawl.

Ginny’s eyes darted from the rear-view mirror to her window, where a relatively empty beach spread out in both directions, interspersed with rocks and coarse brush.

“Looks good to me.”

“Just get me out of this car,” said Draco.

Ginny turned in her seat, but rather than finally displaying his disgust for Muggle technology, Draco was sweating profusely and pulling his shirt away from his chest. Ginny and Blaise had their windows rolled down, but the windows in the back couldn’t be adjusted, and clearly the breeze didn’t reach Draco.

They parked and unloaded their bags, claiming a piece of sandy territory with the insertion of an umbrella in the ground. Once again, Blaise gravitated towards the water with his snorkel gear, and Ginny was just about to make herself comfortable on her towel, but Draco wandering off towards the rocks caught her eye. She watched him carefully step from one rock to the next, until he reached a point where he had to use his hands to help him climb.

Once he reached a suitable spot hanging out over the water, he stopped, and the wind rustled his clothes, tousled his hair. The sight of him standing on the rocks like that, facing the sea, his very image being unmade by nature's howling breath, captivated Ginny, who had only ever seen him poised and in business attire. Unlike Blaise, Draco did not look comfortable in Muggle clothes, but he wore them, and that was impressive enough.

She stood up and followed him up the rocks, taking one step at a time, until the way was burdened with a lack of the short, flat rocks that littered the edges of the beach. They grew taller, and she had to use her hands to pull herself up, but she hesitated because of her injured hand. If it spasmed and she let go, she would fall, potentially hurting herself more, damaging her damned hand worse.

She was just about to turn around and go back to sunbathing when Draco's hand reached down for her. She looked up, blinded by the sun and how his hair reflected it, his face in shadow.

"Come on. I'll help you."

"I can't," she said, slightly panicky. "My hand. I'll fall."

"No, you won't," he said, moving slightly so that he blocked the sun from her vision, and suddenly his face came into focus. He was expressionless, and for that she was thankful. She didn't know what she would do if he'd pitied her. She pitied herself enough as it was.

She gave him her hand, and as he pulled her up, she used the rocks as leverage to climb, her free hand keeping her steady. She felt the muscles tense in her bad hand, her fingers curling and stiffening, but Draco only clutched her harder; he never let go. When she made it up, he pulled her to her feet, and breathing heavily—not necessarily from exertion—she thanked him.

They weren't too far off the ground, but the added height of the rocks made her feel stronger, made the world more stunning. From here, she could see through the crystal clear water to the seabed, where fish swam and corals sat. She could see where the water darkened, became a little murkier at the line between shallow water and deep. Out in the distance, the tip of the French island Corsica was visible, and to Ginny it looked like a lost world, an island that traveled to different locations depending on the weather.

Over it all, the sun shone, making the water sparkle like diamonds floating on the waves. "Beautiful," she said breathlessly, awestruck by this place that she was only too fortunate to visit. Thanks to Draco.

When she glanced at him, he was staring down at her, a small smile tugging at his lips. Not a smirk, an actual smile. Without her realizing it, his hand was still holding hers, and now he pulled her to the edge of the rock, the part hanging over the water. They took a seat, their legs dangling, and Ginny couldn't look away from the spectacle spread out before them.

"Is it always this beautiful here?" she asked.

"Even when it rains," he replied. When she give him a skeptical look, he added, "I just mean to say that even when the weather is murky and the water looks more gray than blue, there's still something about this place that I've never seen anywhere else."

"The only other place I've been is Egypt," said Ginny. "And Egypt definitely doesn't compare to this."

He nodded in agreement. "Even the wild parts of it make the beautiful parts that much more lovely." As Ginny looked around at the granite rocks jutting out of the sand, the rough shrubbery that grew between the rocks, she understood what he meant.

His cheeks were reddening, and Ginny couldn't blame them. With such clear skies, the sun seemed to penetrate through their clothes to their very cores. She couldn't believe how hot it was, but the cool sea breeze soothed her skin. Some of her hair had escaped the confines of her braid, and she pushed strands of it back behind her ear, but the wind kept mussing it up.

"How long have you been coming here?" she asked.

It took him a moment to answer, which gave Ginny the opportunity to look at him from the corner of her eyes—something that was swiftly turning into a bad habit.

"I guess since the war ended. After the trials, my mother sent me here to stay with Blaise and get out of the public eye. No one was happy with our sentences, or lack of, and she feared retaliation. I stayed for a month or longer that autumn, and then I turned them into annual summer trips."

Hesitantly, she asked, leaving the question open ended, "You never went back to Hogwarts?"

He simply answered, "No." He looked away, his hair falling in his eyes conveniently.

"I wish I hadn't gone back," Ginny admitted. “I tried out for the Falcons the summer before my seventh year, you know."

Instead of rising in shock, his eyebrows scrunched into a V over the bridge of his nose. "No, I didn't know."

"Yeah," she said, leaning back to rest on her arms, her face turned up to the sun and her eyes closing. "I couldn't bear the idea of going back into the castle. I was determined to play Quidditch, and I made the team even though I wasn't of age yet. My mum convinced me to go back to school, but I wish I'd had that extra year of Quidditch."

She hadn't meant for the yearning to come out in her voice, but she couldn't help it. Sometimes when she remembered how it had felt to clutch a broom or the camaraderie she'd had with her teammates, a physical, aching pang wracked her ribcage. Sometimes she became breathless, like she forgot to breathe as long as she remembered how she used to feel, experiences and emotions she would never have again.

"Have you been on a broom... since the accident?" he asked with unexpected sensitivity towards her feelings on the subject.

She shook her head. "No. If I hurt myself again, I could permanently damage my hand."

"But you're a flawless flier. Your injury had nothing to do with your flying."

"Doesn't matter. I won't take that risk." She sat back up, closing herself off from his scrutiny, looking away from him so that she wouldn't notice if his eyes were on her.

Moments passed, and then: "Listen, Ginny. About your injury—"

"Hey, guys?" Blaise called. "I think I've been stung by something." He stood at the foot of the rocks, looking up at them with a worried expression, his hand held above his head as if to prevent it from coming in contact with the rest of his body.

"Seriously," Ginny muttered. "He's like a child sometimes."

"Yeah," Draco said darkly as he helped her to her feet. "Just like a child."

~*~*~*~


A few days later, Ginny found herself on the upper deck of a what Blaise called a "spaghetti boat," the wind swirling her hair around her face as they cut through the water at top speed for Cala Soraya, a beach on the island of Spargi. Ginny held onto the railing behind her, fearing for her life as the boat rocked and hit the water heavily with each wave. Everyone else on the deck laughed and talked as if taking a leisurely, and decidedly less dangerous, carriage ride. Even Draco and Blaise, sitting on Ginny's left, had little smiles on their faces, and every time a wave launched the boat into the air, they laughed, as if the very force of the jump had pushed their laughter out of them.

Ginny gritted her teeth and prayed to Merlin that her hands wouldn't let go of the rail. When the boat finally docked, Blaise had to pry her fingers off and pull her off the bench. She didnt feel like herself until she was sitting on the beach, flicking ashes off the end of a cigarette.

"Here's to new adventures," Blaise said, raising his own cigarette in the air as if in a toast.

"Here's to surviving," Ginny muttered.

"Didn't you enjoy the ride?" Draco asked with a smirk.

Ginny blew out a puff of smoke and frowned. "No."

"I always think it's like riding a broom, just without all the work."

"You mean without the control," she said.

"Do you like to be in control, Miss Weasley?" Blaise asked, lowering his sunglasses to get a better look at Ginny.

"Yes, tell us more about that," Draco added, his smirk turning into a leer.

Ginny frowned and put out her cigarette in the sand, ignoring both of them, but her cheeks burned red and she hoped they couldn't tell. Then, a moment later, she was thankful for her new sunglasses because when Draco pulled his shirt up over his head, no one could see her staring at the way the muscles in his back pulled and flexed. Suddenly, the burn in her face traveled downward, filling her whole body with heat. She rolled over onto her stomach, but after their teasing, she was too aware of her body, so she rolled over again.

"Uncomfortable?" Blaise asked.

Irritated, she sat up. "I'm going to go sit in the water. It's way too hot."

Walking out into the sea, Ginny kept on eye on the seabed. After Blaise's sting ("I think it was a jellyfish. Or maybe a sea urchin!”), she wanted to be careful, and the blue-green water was so clear, nothing was hidden below the surface. She waded out to her knees, a good twenty to twenty-five feet away from shore, and then sat down, spreading her legs out before her. She splashed some water onto herself and sighed. The sun glared down from above, and it would have burned her to a crisp, but the water was still cold, a refreshing contrast.

When a shadow fell over her, she sighed again, this time partly in exasperation. "Here to tease me some more?"

"Not at all." Draco sat down next to her, but didn't make an effort to converse, for which Ginny was both relieved and disappointed.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him dig up a handful of sand and then drop it back in the water. He did this over and over again, and Ginny's attention became particularly glued to the way his long, refined fingers wriggled, allowing the sand to fall between them. In a few short days, he’d also grown surprisingly tan, and the healthy glow suited him—as did the messy beach hair. She gulped, and when she glanced up at his face, he was smirking. Her eyes darted back to the horizon as she pushed her sunglasses up her nose for good measure.

"I think Blaise fancies you," Draco said after several moments of silence. Even in the silence, the chatter of people on the beach reminded them that they weren't alone.

"What?" she said with an incredulous laugh. "Me? Why do you say that?"

“I know what he's like when he's interested in a girl. He gets intensely jealous. Haven't you noticed how we can never be alone for long before he interrupts us?”

“N-no, I hadn't noticed,” she stammered. The way he said the word alone—probably perfectly normally, but she had an active imagination—made her mind swim with all kinds of scenarios in which she and Draco were, of course, alone.

“He's too much like his mother,” he said.

“I don't have any money,” she blurted out. When he looked at her, eyebrow raised, she clarified. “That's why his mother kept remarrying, right? They say she wanted her husbands' money. Well, I don't have any money, so what would Blaise want with me?”

“That's a good question,” he answered sarcastically. “I'm sure his interest has nothing to do with the fact that you're beautiful and smart and surprisingly witty.”

“I—what?” she asked, her tongue heavy and thick in her mouth.

Draco seemed to realize that he'd said too much because his body tensed up, and his head turned away from her. “I’m just cautioning you to be careful.”

“Aren’t you two supposed to be friends?” she asked, mystified by the conversation. Who cared if Blaise fancied her? And why did Draco feel the need to enlighten her to the fact? Did he really think she was beautiful?

“We are friends,” he affirmed,” but like I said, I know what he’s like. Even though he has a neutral personality, there’s a reason he was Sorted into Slytherin. He does whatever he can to get what he wants.”

Ginny was still confused as to why this needed to be said. “He’s been really nice to me since I arrived. What are you—”

“No,” Draco said, holding his hands up defensively, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to undermine whatever you have with him. I just—”

“But there’s nothing there,” Ginny interrupted quickly. “He’s been very supportive of me, and it’s been a welcome change, but I’m not… I don’t fancy him like that or anything.”

“Oh.” There was a V-like crease in his brow and his lips were turned down in a frown. He continued to play with the sand, manipulating it between his fingers, and Ginny smiled, finding his expression kind of cute, but part of her wanted to ask him, Who are you and what have you done with the real Draco Malfoy?

“Sounds like you need more people in your life pushing you forward instead of holding you back,” he said a few moments later.

“That would be nice.”

Draco leaned forward, the look in his eyes serious and intense. “I mean you, too.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you. The Ginny Weasley I know rebelled against Death Eaters at Hogwarts when Potter wasn’t around to do it. I’m sure your mum didn’t support you then, but you fought until you weren't around to fight anymore. And then you fought at the battle even though you weren’t of age, and none of your family could have been happy about that. But you didn’t let anyone hold you back. And just because you injured your hand, that doesn't mean you can't do the things you used to do."

"What do you mean?" she asked, her eyes narrowing. They were hidden behind her sunglasses, so maybe he didn’t realize the dangerous waters he was treading into.

"You say you haven't flown on a broom since the injury, but you still can. What's stopping you? You're afraid to get hurt again."

"I think that's a little out of line!" she protested.

"No, it's not. ‘I won’t take that risk.’ Isn’t that what you said to me? Not only are you afraid to get hurt again, you're afraid for anyone to see your weakness, so you hold yourself back.”

“I do not! It’s everyone else who is holding me back!”

“If that were true,” he said in an annoyingly calm voice, “then you wouldn’t have isolated yourself to an island of pity when you left for your holiday. You would have done more.”

“Well, I planned to!” she said, irritated both at him for being right and at herself for being wrong. “I wanted to travel all around Europe and do things and see things I’d never done or seen before.”

With a roll of his eyes he said, “Planning and wanting to do something are not the same as doing it.”

Before Ginny could answer, their tour guide called for the group to board their boat again. Even though she couldn’t understand a word he was saying, his waving gestures were clear enough. When she turned around, Blaise sat on the sand close to the water, the bucket in his hand and pile of sand next to him signifying he’d attempted to build a sandcastle.

The look on his face made it obvious that he’d been trying to listen in to Ginny and Draco’s conversation, and as Draco stood up to return to the beach, he said, “Told you so.”

~*~*~*~


Ginny spent the next few days thinking about everything that Draco had said to her and how right he was. She’d wanted independence from all her naysayers, and yet she’d allowed them to control her decisions even after she was a thousand miles away from home. This wasn’t what she’d wanted for herself, and, like Draco had said, this was nothing like the girl she used to be. Perhaps circumstances during and since the war had caused her to become more resistant to change, turning her into the cautious person that her friends and family wanted her to be. But she didn’t have to be that safe person any longer.

The night market in Palau was like nothing she’d ever seen, and Ginny knew she was going to miss La Maddalena, even though it had taken her awhile to warm up to it. The piazza through which she and Blaise had walked soon after they’d met was now crowded with vendors, their tables set up in long rows with portable lights shining down on their wares. Not only was the market crowded with sellers, potential customers flooded the piazza, making it difficult to navigate down the aisles. The smells of street foods pervaded the stuffy atmosphere, cementing the experience in all of Ginny’s senses.

As she squeezed through the crowd, she caught glimpses of leather purses, mobile phone accessories, homemade sweets, and all sorts of jewelry and trinkets. The glittering of something reflecting light caught her eye, and she turned in a new direction to get a better look. The old man behind the table smiled toothlessly at her as she took in the tiny glass figurines littered across the table. Each figure represented some kind of animal, no bigger than an inch tall or across. The glass itself was perfectly clear except for a bit of translucent color on the tips of tails, some ears, feet.

A cardboard sign sitting on the corner of the table read:

1/€.50
3/€1


“See something you like?”

Ginny jumped and spun around, which was quite a feat in the packed crowd. Children jostled her to get as close to the table as possible, little hands reaching for the figurines and cooing over their cuteness. Draco stood directly behind her, and when she was facing him, there was a hair’s width of space between them.

“Oh, no, they’re just silly pieces of glass,” she answered. They were so close, the smell of his soap overpowered the smells of the food wafting through the air. They’d spent another long day on a beach, and he must have just taken a shower before leaving for the market.

“Which ones do you like?” he asked.

Swallowing thickly, she turned back to the table, all too aware of the front of his body pressing against her back and his head towering over hers. She tried to pay attention as she looked through the figures for the animals and colors that she liked best, but his hot breath tickling the back of her neck was all she could think about.

Finally, she picked up a stretching cat with orange feet and tail; a simple, graceful yellow swan; and a dragon that was barely the size of her thumb but still intricately detailed with a green tail and horns. She held them up in her hands, and Draco nodded in approval, laying a €1 coin on the table.

“Grazie, signore!” the old man said.

Then Draco took Ginny’s elbow and pulled her away from the crowd with ease. She could only assume that his wealth and power exuded from him, keeping people at bay, making them want to stop and let him through.

“I need to tell you something,” he said.

“I need to tell you something, too,” she said. They were now at the playground where she and Blaise had eaten American pizza nearly two weeks ago. Children ran all over the equipment like ants on an anthill, but the area was much less crowded and devoid of adults. “Wait, where’s Blaise?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “We stopped back at his place for a shower, but he passed out.”

“We shouldn’t have let him drink that much,” Ginny said, worried.

“No one can make Blaise do something he doesn’t want to do, and if he wanted to drink, we couldn’t have stopped him.”

“Well, I suppose you can tell Blaise for me tomorrow,” Ginny said.

“Tell him what?”

She took a deep breath and sat down on the bench next to them, prompting him to sit too.

“You were completely right about me. I have been holding myself back. I am afraid of getting hurt again. I do try to hide what’s wrong with my hand so no one will pity me. I’ve had a lot of fun with you and Blaise these past couple of weeks, but I think I need to start the holiday I intended to have.”

“You’re leaving?” Draco asked, and in the darkness, Ginny couldn’t see his face well enough to read his expression.

“Yes. Tomorrow, I think. I’m going to go back to Rome and try that again, and then work my way to other places. I can’t let this opportunity go to waste. Who knows if I’ll ever have this chance again?”

His back straightened, and his head turned to observe the children on the playground. “I must admit,” he said reluctantly, “your presence here has made this holiday… more enjoyable than expected.”

Ginny nudged him with her elbow and laughed. “Come on. Just say you’ll miss me.”

His eyes captured hers. “I will. I will miss you.”

Her laughter died on her lips and her mouth fell open in confusion. “I didn’t—I never—You—”

“Don’t you believe me?” he asked. His face loomed closer, but even though they were looking into each other’s eyes, Ginny didn’t realize how close he was until his lips were hesitantly brushing against hers.

Sucking in a deep breath, she wrapped her arms around his neck and sealed her body to his. The balmy breeze didn’t compare to the heat between them and inside of her, starting from her lips and traveling through the avenues of her veins until every inch of her was on fire. A rushing noise filled her ears, and it reminded her of the buzzing sound the telephones at the Ministry made when angry callers hung up on her. In other words, the kiss, the taste, the heat, the sounds: everything was bliss.

When they pulled apart, she kept her eyes closed and focused on breathing, but she felt his hands drift up to gently grasp the sides of her face. Then his lips lightly pressed against hers again, and then her nose, her chin, and her lips one more time.

“Wow,” she said breathlessly. “Wow.”

He released her, and they sat facing forward on the bench in silence. The word 'wow' kept repeating in her mind over and over again along with the kiss.

“Listen,” he finally said. “I just have one question before you go.”

“Yes?” Ginny's heart pounded. The kiss had been amazing, but this... whatever this was, it was too soon. Wasn't it?

"Why did you take the money?"

She shook her head. Had she heard right? “What?”

“Why did you take the money?” he repeated.

"You gave it to me!" she answered quickly, this time prepared for the question and flustered because of it. Had she been right from the beginning? Had the money and this holiday all been a trick? A way to make her indebted to him?

"You didn't have to take it," he said. His face was hard to read. She couldn't figure out if he was angry or merely curious. "Why didn't you return it? Did you think it was owed to you?"

Now Ginny was flabbergasted. "What? No! I... I needed to get away, and I'm sorry for taking the money. I knew I should have given it back. I'll return it! Somehow, I'll give it all back to you."

He placed a hand on her arm. "No, that's not what I meant. I want you to keep the money. It was my intention for you to have it and use it however you saw fit."

"Then why...?"

He reached down for her injured hand, grasping it in both of his gently. Then, as if coming to his senses, he let it go and looked away from her, a grim look apparent on his face by the crease in his brow and the tightness of his lips, but the light from a lamp cast half his face in shadow, making him look sinister.

"Did you know that I own the Harpies?"

"No. What does that have to do with—"

"I felt like—I mean, I feel like I owe you something for what happened to your hand. You lost your career so soon after it began, and you were a fantastic Chaser. You would have gone far."

Ginny's own lips tightened, but she was trying to keep them from trembling as her eyes stung and she blinked away tears.

"I thought about it a lot after you were injured and let go. I expected you to sue my team; I waited for you to badmouth my players to the press. But years passed, and you just accepted it, and I thought you deserved something for your trouble."

"Wait," Ginny said, looking into his face for the hidden message in his words. "Are you saying that... that you own the Holyhead Harpies, and when you gave me that money, you were buying me off?"

To his credit, his eyes widened as if he knew he'd misspoken immediately. "No! No, not at all. I felt bad. I wanted—"

"You felt bad for me? You gave me money out of pity?" Her anger was growing, and she hadn't felt this angry in years. Not since the accident. Maybe not even then; she'd felt so desolate after being let go from the team that she might not have had it in her to feel anger. But all those years of helplessness, of acceptance and confusion concerning her life, were turning into a boiling rage, reaching maximum heat too fast for her to bear or control. At her sides, her fists shook. Well, only one of them. Her injured hand, as it usually did in times of stress, became unresponsive, the nerves ignoring her brain's involuntary and angry command to fold her fingers into a fist. She stood up to have some height over him in her powerlessness.

"No! It wasn't like that, either. Listen, Ginny—"

"No, you listen! When I signed my contract, I knew what I was getting into. I knew that no person, team, or league would be responsible for any injuries I could have received while playing, and the fact that you thought I would turn around and make a fuss because of something I agreed could be a possibility..." She took a deep breath through her nose and exhaled through her mouth. The short burst of air came out as smoke with a hint of sparks. "I can't believe you thought I would do something like that!"

Stunned and speechless, all Draco could do was stare at her, wide-eyed and bewildered. "I never intended..."

"It's not about your intentions! Did you ever think how such a gesture would look to me?"

Now his bewilderment turned into his own anger. "You took the money! You could have given it back, but instead you accepted it and used it. I thought that made us even!"

"Well, I didn't know what I was accepting. If I'd known you were paying me off and pitying me, I would have returned the money or given it away to charity or... or thrown it into the Thames!"

She stalked away from the bench, leaving him stunned, but then she turned around and stomped back, unable to leave the argument where it was. Tears stung her eyes, and they made her angrier because she didn't want to be weak in front of him, not while she was in a righteous rage.

“If I hadn't already decided to leave and go out on my own, you would have just made that decision easier for me. So thank you for that. Tell Blaise goodbye for me, and, don't worry, I will return the rest of your money when I'm through with it.”

“Ginny—”

But she didn't wait to hear what he had to say. She fled into the crowd to catch the first ferry back to La Maddalena.
Chapter Four by idreamofdraco
Author's Notes:
So. I did NOT intend to take this long to update what I considered to be a completed story!! And I am so, so, so sorry for the wait. Editing the ending turned into rewriting the ending, which turned into writer's block, and then obstacles in the form of multiple writing commitments, BUT FINALLY. It is here. The last chapter! I hope some of you have stuck around to see the end of this story, and I hope you like it! Reviews appreciated!
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Chapter Four


Ginny stared at her entrance ticket without reading a word on it. Not that she could, anyway. Two weeks traveling around Italy had not improved her skill with the language.

She stared at her ticket because she was nervous. She'd already emptied multiple rolls of film in Pompeii and Naples, Florence, Venice, and Pisa. Rome she'd saved for last, and her four days there had been magical so far. The Coliseum, the Spanish Steps, the Roman Forum, and St. Peter's Cathedral were enchanting in the misty glow of dawn, the illuminating light of dusk, and the haunting shadows of night. Rolls and rolls of film had been spent capturing these monuments from every angle in every light.

The art she’d seen had awed her in ways art never had before. When she’d walked through the Sistine Chapel and finally stood in front of the altar, Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment had transfixed her. Her Muggle Studies knowledge of religion had failed her, but she didn’t have to know about Jesus Christ to see the tragic beauty of the figures ascending to Heaven and falling to Hell. The people packed into the chapel were quickly ushered out of the room in order to keep the crowd moving, but Ginny had to stop in front of the altar and pick out as many details in the fresco as she could. She saw herself in the withered skin in the middle of the painting, in the people rising up to their salvation. The experience of viewing such ancient and beautiful architecture, paintings, and sculptures had left her inarticulate and dissatisfied with herself. She thought she’d lost everything when she’d been forced to quit Quidditch, but what had she really accomplished in her life?

She supposed after all she’d seen and all the photographs she’d taken it was time to move on to another country, see what else Europe had to offer her.

But before she left, there was one more thing she needed to do.

The line she was standing in moved forward another few feet. Ginny tried to ignore her heart thumping in her chest like an animal attempting to escape a trap, tried to swallow the cold taste of fear in her mouth. Ancient magic wasn’t to be trifled with. As she stared at her ticket (pretending to read it in an attempt to hide her nerves), she itched to go back to her hotel. She wouldn’t even miss the three euro she’d left as a donation upon entering the piazza.

The Bocca della Verità, the Mouth of Truth, loomed closer as the line steadily advanced forward. Ginny had seen pictures of it in her travel map and on postcards at the souvenir booths that lined the streets of Rome. After she’d read about the legend behind the marble face, she knew she had to visit it, even though the legend that the Muggles half-heartedly believed had a ring of truth they didn’t understand. The story stank of ancient magic, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in England since the druids. Throughout Italy, the magic still lingered among the ancient monuments and sites, and in the stories passed down through the generations.

As the legend went, liars with the audacity to insert their hands inside the Mouth of Truth risked having their appendages bitten off by the ocean god whose face was depicted in the marble slab. Ginny had spent years lying to herself about her injury, her happiness, and her abilities. In a city where ancient magic still existed, Merlin only knew what would really happen to her if she followed the tradition of inserting her hand in the carving’s mouth.

She looked down at her hands and frowned. No matter how much she wished for them to move, the fingers of her right hand remained curled inwards and mostly unresponsive. Sometimes there were moments when she realized she had a grip, but almost as soon as she thought about it, her hand would betray her and become immovable once again. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the Mouth of Truth disposed of the useless thing for her.

But that wasn’t why Ginny had come. Before she left Italy behind, she needed to figure out what was truth and what was a lie. The worst part was that she already knew, she just didn’t want to face it.

When it was her turn to approach the carved marble, her feet wouldn’t budge. The ocean god Oceanus stared back at her with lifeless voids where his pupils should have been, his mouth an emotionless, gaping cavity. Perhaps it was just her imagination, but he seemed so disappointed by the endless lines of perjurers that visited him daily. An impatient tourist nudged her forward with an annoyed “Hmph,” and Ginny stepped closer, her mind rushing in search of a truth to test.

Draco came to mind, and her heart beat erratically at the thought of him, of his kiss and the kindness he had shown her—the kindness she had mistaken for pity and selfishness. She knew now that she had overreacted about the money he had gifted her. As she’d traveled these past few weeks, she’d thought hard about everything he had said to her, even before they’d met in La Maddalena. Not once had he ever mentioned her injury. Not until La Maddalena, well after he’d given her the money.

Was it really so hard to believe that Draco could feel guilt for an injury he hadn’t caused? It had been, at first, but then she remembered the Draco she’d come to know on the beach, in the piazza, at the night market. He’d been a boy when his mother had sent him away to escape the censure of the unforgiving public, and even though the war had ended years ago, he still escaped to Italy every summer. There was something about his retreat that saddened Ginny and piqued her interest. The Draco she had met in La Maddalena was reserved and observant. He’d been a far cry from the spoiled, obnoxious, attention-seeking ferret of his school days.

Now standing in front of the Mouth of Truth, the ocean god’s eyes staring into hers, Ginny flexed her hands, and she pretended the injured one moved when she commanded it to. Draco had insisted that she was whole and capable. No one had said that to her before. Her parents, who had worried for her safety, had been relieved when her Quidditch career had ended. Her friends had sympathized but had quickly grown weary of her unhappiness and her inability to cope with her new circumstances. Everyone had wanted her to forget and move on.

Not Draco. He’d encouraged her to forge ahead, not only with her disability, but despite it. Despite herself and her fears and her insecurities.

And she had. When she’d left La Maddalena, she hadn't given her hand a second thought, and when she didn’t think about it, it didn’t bother her. In fact, it was amazing how inconsequential the injury was when she didn’t waste any brain power worrying about spasms and unresponsive fingers.

The only difficulty posed so far was how to use her camera, but she had solved that problem by holding it upside down to press the shutter release button with her left hand instead.

The people behind Ginny were starting to complain in loud voices in a variety of languages, so she took a deep breath and placed her left hand on Oceanus's nose, feeling the cool stone under her fingers, the rough pits and bumps where the marble had weathered with the ages. Then, letting her hand drop, she switched. She raised her right hand to the mouth and placed it just inside. The air in the interior of the cavity was strangely dense and warm. Ginny could feel the heat radiating up her arm.

I am capable of anything I put my mind to, she thought. No power in the world can stop me. Not my family. Not my friends. Not my hand—or myself.

She recalled the worst periods of her life: her possession by Voldemort’s memory in her first year at Hogwarts and the months she’d suffered and rebelled under the Death Eaters’ tyranny at school. Everything had culminated in the battle where she’d lost her brother and so many friends. Ginny hadn’t just endured her experiences—she’d transcended them, refusing to let them control or shape her negatively. When she looked back on the years she’d wasted being miserable because of her lost Quidditch career, she felt the worst kind of shame. The loss of the use of her hand could never compare to the loss of her brother, but she’d acted as though her whole life had ended when that Bludger had shattered her.

The heat inside the mouth increased until it felt like the marble god was breathing fire. Pinpricks of light appeared in the center of the gaping holes of Oceanus’s eyes, and with every second, the light grew brighter, more piercing. Ginny could neither look away nor remove her hand, even if the thought had occurred to her to do so. But then the statue sighed, and the exhalation sounded like “Vero” with the last syllable elongated in a deep, ancient hum. Veroooooooooooo.

Ginny jerked her hand to her chest, holding it gently, but the skin was smooth and warm, no sign that it had roasted in blistering heat. She looked around; none of the tourists in line behind her, nor the attendant standing off to the side, seemed to have noticed the light in the stone carving’s eyes. But she was being ushered along now, so she pulled the camera strap over her head and held it up to the attendant.

“Scusi? Er, per favore?

The attendant, who clearly wanted to keep the line moving, snapped her picture with a huff, which was fine with Ginny since she wanted to move along herself. Her heart was still racing and her hands were shaking as she took her camera back and left the church.

It wasn’t until she stopped across the street from the church that she realized that she was carrying the camera in one trembling hand. Her right hand. She quickly threw the camera strap around her neck before her hand failed her and she dropped it. Then, unsure of what to make of her final experience in Rome, she looked for the nearest bus stop to return to her hotel.

~*~*~*~


Ginny had booked passage on a train to take her to Switzerland, and from there into Germany for the next stop on her European tour, but after her visit to the Mouth of Truth, she changed her plans. She picked up a postcard at the bus station, and as soon as she entered her hotel room, threw her souvenirs down and grabbed a pen.

The ominous, ancient voice of the Mouth of Truth echoed in her heart, making her blood pound like elephantine feet stomping gladiators and tigers on the Coliseum floor. Adrenaline pumped through her veins, exciting her to action. She was whole. She was capable. Her hand could not—would not!—hold her back.

Dear Blaise, she wrote slowly and carefully with her left hand.

I’m returning to La Maddalena. Don’t tell Draco.

Ginny


~*~*~*~


She knew before the ferry finished docking that Blaise wouldn’t have done what she’d requested. He liked the sound of his voice a little too much, so of course Draco was waiting for her, sunglasses obscuring his eyes, his hair wind-tousled and sun-bleached. How his nearly white hair could possibly have been bleached even lighter, Ginny had no idea, but there was a specific glint in his hair, white-silver instead of white-blonde, that suggested it was possible.

He wasn’t smiling as she strolled up to him, and her heart beat hard against her ribcage, wondering how he would greet her.

“Alcohol or gelato?” he asked.

She looked at her watch. “It’s already one, so the bars are closed,” she replied. “I’d like to keep a clear head when I get these words out anyway.”

Draco shrugged. “Gelato it is, then.”

They walked in silence to the nearest gelateria, the words Ginny had previously mentioned stuck in her throat. The things she’d said to Draco before she’d left La Maddalena hung between them, tainting the memory of the kiss they’d shared, the best memory and the worst of their precarious relationship intertwined.

They took their gelato and strolled down Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, a lane full of stores that branched off the northwestern corner of the piazza. Most of the shops were closed for riposo—a traditional, Italian lunch break during which businesses closed for an hour or two—so they didn’t have to fight any of the crowds that normally congested the narrow street.

Ginny thoughtfully licked her pistacchio scoop of gelato, leaving the little plastic spoon that had come with her cone partly submerged in the fragola scoop. She only had one good hand with which to hold the cone, so the spoon, really, was useless to her, but she made do.

They walked along in silence as Ginny licked and Draco scooped (his gelato of choice: cioccolato all'arancia). The tension between them was palpable and as thick as the gelato they were enjoying, but not nearly as pleasant as their treat. She felt like such an idiot. How did she even begin?

As it turned out, she didn’t have to. “How was Rome?” Draco asked as he brought his finger to his mouth to lick off some melted gelato.

Ginny’s eyes were glued to the gesture, her mouth hanging open for a moment before she remembered herself and looked away, her cheeks hot in embarrassment.

“Gorgeous. Amazing. I don’t have any words to describe it. When I arrived, I was so overwhelmed, I decided to save it for last, so I went everywhere else I could think of first. I’m glad I waited for Rome,” she replied, her voice wistful. She’d only just left but already she couldn’t wait to return to the Eternal City.

“I could see you living there,” Draco said, his eyes serious.

“That would be wonderful if I could,” she said, and she was very aware of the pining keen in her words. “But I have to go home and face the life I left behind.”

One of Draco’s eyebrows lifted and his spoon froze on the way to his mouth. “Really? No more running from your problems?” They walked out of the alley of shops into a small piazza in front of a church, and he directed them towards a curved stone bench.

The bench had grown cold in the shadow of the church, which made gooseflesh pop up on Ginny’s legs when she sat down. “Before I get into that, where’s Blaise?”

Draco pushed his sunglasses up to perch on top of his head and nibbled on the edge of his waffle cone. He was stalling for time, Ginny could tell.

“When he got your postcard, he sulked around for a bit and then showed it to me. I guess he thought he couldn’t compete, so he told me to meet you instead.”

“Compete with what?” she asked, confused.

“With me,” he said with confidence but no conceit. “For you. I told you Blaise fancied you. He read between the lines and realized you didn’t want him. You wanted me.”

Ginny stood up, her face flaming now and her gelato still clutched in her good hand but forgotten. He was right and she was embarrassed for so many reasons: that Draco and Blaise both knew how she felt, that she might have inadvertently led Blaise on, that she could have hurt Blaise’s feelings, that she was so transparent and Draco was so direct about it all….

“No,” she protested, the word a denial of his truth and her feelings. “No, that’s not why I came back.” But it was a very big reason for her return. The skeptical angle of his eyebrows spurred her on. “I came back because of business. I have a proposal—I mean, a business proposal. Strictly business. I don’t want… I don’t fancy….”

Her melted gelato dripped down her cone and all over her hand, but she hardly noticed because Draco’s expression had just become shuttered. Where before he had seemed at ease with her, even if she’d been awkward and nervous, now he was cold and indifferent.

This wasn’t what she wanted, and this wasn’t why she’d returned. If she’d learned anything from the Mouth of Truth, it was the king of all cliches: that the truth will set you free. She’d come back to La Maddalena for a reason, and lying to Draco was not one of them. She had to set the truth free, and, in the process, she would be freed as well.

She walked over to a garbage can and disposed of what was left of her gelato (a soggy cone). By the time she returned to the bench, Draco had a handkerchief held out for her to clean up the melted mess on her hand.

“That’s not what I meant to say,” she corrected herself, more calmly than before. “I do fancy you, and, dammit, I came back because I wanted to see you.” His eyebrows lifted in surprise, cracking his facade of indifference. “But I also came back because you were right. I spent so many years pitying myself. It made me angry when you wouldn’t pity me, too. All your talk about how I could still play Quidditch if I wanted to, you daring me to climb mountains so I could reach your level, it made me angry because I didn’t want you to lift me up. I wanted you to meet me where I was and feel bad for me the way my family and friends refuse to. And then when you told me about the money, I jumped on an excuse to express that anger. I’m sorry for the things I said the last time we saw each other. I meant them then, but I don’t anymore, because you were right about everything.”

“But you were right, too,” Draco said as he stood up. He took her bad hand in his and with an impatient flurry of his other hand, Vanished his gelato. “It was selfish of me to give you that money to assuage my own guilt. I shouldn’t have insulted your honor.”

“No,” she disagreed. “It was honorable of you to even think of it.”

“I’m sorry,” they both said at the same time. They cracked smiles at that and intertwined their fingers. Bad hands, good hands, clean hands, and sticky hands all tangled together.

“So what’s this about a business proposal?” Draco asked, his smile charming even as he tried to turn the conversation back to less pleasurable topics.

Ginny jerked him closer and stood up on her toes. He met her halfway, his lips crushing hers and then gently receding like a wave lapping against a beachy shore, again and again. They released each other’s hands to put them to better use, and around them, Italians whistled in appreciation while playing children giggled and groaned.

“I think business can wait,” Ginny replied against his lips. And for the first time in many years, Ginny felt serene, like an ocean after a storm. She stepped away from Draco, but not far enough to completely break their embrace.

“Let’s go get Blaise,” she said. “The beach is calling my name!”

~*~*~*~


Three Months Later

Ginny reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind Draco's ear, a smile on her face and a grimace on his.

“I miss your beach hair,” she said.

Diagon Alley was exceptionally busy, and the crowds threatened to separate them, but her arm looped snuggly through his secured them together as they sailed the stormy sea of shoppers.

“In the real world, I have to pretend to have a modicum of propriety. We can't all run around with mussed up hair like you,” he replied, the corner of his lips revealing his amusement.

“You're just jealous I get to muss up my hair for a living.” She turned her nose up in a prim mockery of vanity—in a way mocking him.

“If you think I enjoy looking like an orphan who’s just come off the street, you don’t know me at all. I have a reputation to uphold, you know.”

“Reputation, smeputation. I had a reputation as someone who couldn't hold down a job, and look where I am now!”

Draco tugged her out of the way of a recalcitrant child not minding where she was going and glared at the unconcerned mother. “Thanks to who, again?”

She laughed and elbowed him in the ribs, a little “oof” sound coming out of his mouth. “You may have pulled a couple strings, but it was my effort that got me where I am, you git. Now, shush. We don't want to traumatize my friends.”

“Your friends,” he muttered under his breath with a sneer of distaste.

“Be nice,” she warned, as they entered the Leaky Cauldron.

“We could back out now,” Draco said, to which Ginny rolled her eyes.

“No chance. We got through the meeting with my parents just fine, and I did it without a single cigarette. This will be a breeze in comparison.”

“You’re just jealous I didn’t have to give up smoking for a living,” he quipped.

She gave his ribs and her elbow a rest and let him have that one. Her desire for a cigarette was often overpowering, but she hadn’t smoked a single one since her return to La Maddalena with a business proposal and an apology. Her dreams and her career were more important to her than the nicotine.

Dennis saw her first and called her name, his hand waving in the air, but as soon as Draco came into view, he lowered his arm, clearly confused and wary.

Undaunted, Hermione bounded out of the booth and into Ginny’s arms, the tension in their relationship prior to Ginny leaving for Italy forgotten.

“Look at you! You’re so tan! What have you been doing with yourself?” Hermione asked as she ushered Ginny into the booth next to her, a drink waiting on the table for her arrival.

Draco was left standing at the end of the booth until Ginny said, “Grab one of those chairs over there. There’s room for all of us.”

Dennis and Seamus were straight-faced and grim, but Hermione’s brow wrinkled in confusion. The lines in her forehead deepened when Draco pulled a chair from a nearby table and placed it at the end of their booth. She scowled when he sat down.

While he was making the transition from random straggler to member of the group, Ginny was saying, “Oh, you know, laying on the beach, sightseeing, playing Quidditch. Normal holiday activities. I’m not that tan, am I?”

She looked to Draco for an answer when her friends remained silent.

“The accumulation of new freckles just makes your skin look darker than it is. You’re still lily white underneath them.”

Ginny slapped him with the back of her injured hand and rolled her eyes. “Just because I have freckles doesn’t mean I only freckle.”

His smirk made the corners of her lips rise up in a reluctant smile, and she knew she was giving him the satisfaction of being amused at his jab despite her effort to scold him.

“Um, I don’t mean to interrupt,” Seamus said. “But what do you mean ‘playing Quidditch.’”

“Straight to the chase! I like it,” Ginny replied, her grin widening. Draco’s presence was so befuddling, Seamus had to latch onto the only other alarming aspect of the conversation, and there was absolutely nothing about this situation and her friends’ bewilderment that didn’t delight Ginny.

“You see,” she continued, “I have gathered you all here today not only to celebrate my return home,”—she lifted her mug of mead in a one-man toast—“but also to share some wonderful news.”

Now she paused, her fingers absently running around the rim of her mug as she waited.

“Are these theatrics necessary?” Draco whispered in her ear, one eyebrow arched as she eyed the increasing confusion in her friends’ faces. Ginny’s skin erupted in goosebumps, but she held up her hand, her palm in his face.

Dennis fidgeted, and then finally gave in. “What’s the news?”

“I’m glad you asked!” Ginny said. “You’re looking at the Holyhead Harpies’ newest Chaser!”

“Malfoy?” Hermione, Seamus, and Dennis exclaimed without missing a beat.

“No!” she replied, her lips dropping into a frown. “Me! I’m their new Chaser!”

Seamus put his face in his hands and laughed while Hermione said, “You? Is this a joke?”

“Still think this will be a breeze compared to your parents?” Draco muttered, to which she elbowed him and he got the hint to keep his mouth shut.

Only Dennis seemed to consider her seriously, his brow furrowed in concentration as he observed everyone’s reactions. “This isn’t a joke, is it,” he finally said, turning the question into a statement.

“No,” Ginny answered with a sniff. “And frankly, it’s appalling that this is the reaction I get when telling my best friends that I’m returning to my dream career.”

“It’s just that—I mean, you always complained about not being able to play Quidditch, but you never did anything about it!” Hermione explained.

“Yeah, why now?” added Seamus.

“Well…” Ginny started, but words failed her. Underneath the table, Draco placed his warm hand on her thigh, but when she glanced at him, he didn’t meet her eye. Instead, he studied his fingernails as if they were way more interesting than anything she had to say. Despite his apparent disinterest, she knew he knew her struggle, she knew he was interested and cared about her happiness and wellbeing. He was aloof, but he wasn’t indifferent. He’d tried so hard to make her see her own potential. Without him, she still would have been sitting in her bedroom back at the Burrow, wallowing in her own filth and self-pity.

She tried again. “Why now? Because I’m ready. Because I can. Because I’m good at what I do, and nothing can keep me from playing Quidditch. No one can stop me—not even myself.”

She placed her injured hand on the tabletop, and her curled fingers twitched for a mere moment before freezing once more.

“I was given two gifts,” Ginny continued, her eyes lowered. In her peripheral vision, she could see Draco’s hand on her leg, warm and solid. A silent comfort. “A gift of the truth and a gift of an opportunity. It would be disgusting of me to ignore them because I’m too busy pitying myself. I’m not afraid anymore, and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to live the life I want to live.”

In the wake of her declaration, all her friends could do was stare. Across from her, Dennis reached out to take her hand, pulling it to the center of the table. He lifted it gently and inspected each digit with sight and touch, his fingertips running across the lines of her palm, his fingers entwining with hers. When he squeezed her hand in a gentle grip, she squeezed back harder, and his eyes shot up in surprise.

“How…?” he asked, his expression awed.

“One of the perks of being a Harpy is being able to use their new personal trainer,” Ginny replied with a glance towards Draco. “She studied physical therapy in the Muggle world, and she mixes her knowledge of Muggle healing and physiology with magic to learn as much as she can about the human body… and how to fix its injuries. I’m not saying my hand is healed. It’s not, and it probably never will be fully functional like it was before I was hurt, but she’s been studying the injury and teaching me how to play with it safely. I’ve noticed since I’ve been working with her that my hand has become more responsive, but it comes and goes, like always.”

Silence descended on the booth as Dennis, Seamus, and Hermione absorbed Ginny’s news. She worried her lip with her teeth, wondering what they were going to say, but Seamus and Dennis only looked at each other and Hermione stared at Draco.

“I suppose you had something to do with this?” she asked him, disapproval dripping from her voice.

Draco shrugged. “Ginny begged for a tryout and I ran it past Gwenog. She was eager to see what Ginny had to offer, and, obviously, she saw talent and potential, injury or no.”

“But,” Seamus interrupted, his cheeks tinged red and his voice lowered in uncharacteristic embarrassment, “how do you hold onto a broom and a Quaffle with only one hand?”

Ginny’s lips widened into a wicked smile, and she didn’t have to look at Draco to know his own cheeks had grown pinker at the question. “I’ve been developing the muscles in my legs. I use my good hand to carry the Quaffle and my legs to hang onto and steer my broom! I’ve got thighs of steel.” Her smile twitched as Draco’s grip on her thigh tightened and inched a little further upwards than was probably appropriate in their current setting. Lately, he’d been enjoying her steel thighs in the privacy of a bedroom. Or an empty locker room. And sometimes on a floor when they couldn’t make it to a bedroom.

Hermione’s chest puffed up, a lecture building up inside her, desperate to burst free. “Well! I guess you’ve thought of everything, then!”

Ginny didn’t want to fight, not about this, so she controlled the tone of her voice to sound less sarcastic than she meant it. “I did. We did. As a team. My teammates have my back, and they don’t care about my disability. They only care that I can play and that I’m as safe as can be. We’ve tweaked old plays to accommodate me and we’ve come up with some new plays that take advantage of my injury. Everything we do is under the supervision of a personal trainer and within guidelines of the league. We’re doing nothing wrong, and I’m happy for the first time in years.”

Hermione visibly deflated and swallowed her lecture. “That’s all I wanted to hear. I just want you to be safe, and… and I’m glad… I’m so glad to hear that you’re happy.” She gave Ginny a watery smile, which Ginny returned with a tight hug. After that, the air cleared of all tension.

“I hope this means we get free season tickets!” Seamus said. He never forgot what was most important, and all Ginny could do was roll her eyes.

“Box seats!” Dennis chimed in.

“Don’t push your luck,” Draco replied. “But as the owner of the team, I do have some privileges. I brought tickets for everyone to see Ginny’s first match next month.”

Seamus and Dennis high-fived each other, and Hermione graciously thanked Draco for his generosity. Then Seamus turned back to Ginny and Draco, a speculative arch in his brow. He raised his nearly half-empty mug and gestured between them, mead sloshing out over the rim.

“So what’s the deal with you two, then?”

Ginny smiled, her nerve-damaged fingers intertwining with Draco’s. He looked at her and she saw all her potential in the slight lift of his lips, felt her confidence in his grasp.

“Well... while I was on holiday, I met a bloke.”

Fine
End Notes:

1) Translations:
Pistacchio: Duh, pistacchio. But in Italian, you would pronounce the middle part with a “k” sound, not a “sh” sound. Like in Pinocchio!
Fragola: Strawberry
Cioccolato all'arancia: Chocolate orange
Fine: The end

2) That's a picture of the Mouth of Truth in the story banner. The beach in the banner is an actual picture of Spalmatore, the beach where Ginny meets Blaise in chapter two.

3) Fun fact! The lira was the official currency of Italy until January 1999, when it was replaced with the euro. However, euro banknotes and coins were not used in Italy until February 2002, when the lira was discontinued. This story takes place in 2004 (if my math is right :P), and I imagine Blaise still accidentally finds lire in his wallet and often has to ask Draco to spot him some money until he can go to the bank and convert his lire to euros. This is usually accompanied by lots of grumbling about how wizarding Britain has always used the same currency and how tedious it is that Muggles change their money around all willy-nilly. (This fact is only fun because right before I posted this I had a panicky moment in which I thought I’d used the wrong currency in this story—luckily, I hadn’t!)

4) And finally, the original prompt:

Pairing(s): Draco/Ginny
Prompt: The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before. --Albert Einstein

Ginny makes a big life change to chase her dream. It can be in career, love, beliefs, whatever--author's choice. She's surrounded by naysayers who tell her to just be practical and live in the real world. She ignores them to find love, life, and happiness amidst her struggles, temptations, and hopelessness.
Preferred rating: Any
Squicks: Hard kinks

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