You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com
Word Count: 68,399
Warnings: Strong Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme
Genres: Drama, General, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Ginny
Pairings: Draco/Ginny, Ron/Hermione
First Published: 07/17/2011
Last Chapter: 09/01/2012
Last Updated: 09/01/2012
Lovely banner by bellatrix@the-dark-arts!
"Perhaps it really didn't matter what he was, perhaps it just mattered that he was." Unexpected events lead to unexpected relationships. Can one person be so important to the destruction of Voldemort? No one thought they would ever see the day this happened. No one, least of all him, thought he could change.
[a/n]: Hello! It's been a long, long time. In the time I've been gone, Redeeming the Dragon has undergone massive editing and rewrites - the entire thing has been polished and rewritten. I wanted to share the new version, and it seemed the easiest way to do that was to completely delete the old one. Unfortunately, that means I lost all the wonderful and encouraging reviews that went with the old one - as well as that if you had this favorited, it is no longer in your favorites list. So, if you're an old fan - thank you for sticking around, I hope you find this version at least equally enjoyable, if not better. If you're a new fan, please review! I love getting feedback and input, and on the days where Draco and Ginny just won't cooperate, those reviews give me encouragement to keep going. Thank you again, I hope you enjoy!
Hermione Weasley always had been intrigued by the elemental properties of personalities. She had read once, in some historical tome or another, that every person and his or her magic was comprised of the four elements. However, while every person contained some of every element, there was typically one dominating element. The book had gone on to provide a case study detailing the elements of each of the Founders of Hogwarts. Not surprisingly, each Founder had a different dominating element.
Fires were easiest to figure out. It could have been because they consisted of the traits she herself and most of those close to her, exhibited most readily, but Hermione liked to think that they stood out most because of their passionate natures. They were consumers, fast and impulsive. Fire fueled change and rebirth. The Phoenix was fire condensed, personified, as a horse was the wind.
Hermione smiled to herself. And Allah said unto the Wind, condense thyself. And the Wind condensed. It was a favorite quote from a book she had loved in her childhood.
“What was that, love?”
Oh, she hadn’t meant to voice that. Her husband didn’t need to know that she was attempting – yet again – to make her beliefs about elemental configurations of personalities make sense. “Nothing Ron, just a quote from a Muggle Children’s book. The King of the Wind, but I think the original line is from the Qur’an. I’m really not sure, but that is where it’s attributed to in the book – the children’s book, I mean.”
“Oh, all right then. I’m going to go see if Mum needs help with supper,” Ron replied hastily, cutting her response off and effectively escaping the lecture he anticipated the moment she’d uttered the word "book.”
Hermione smiled at his predictability and congratulated herself on regaining her peace. Now then, where was she? Oh, yes. Wind. She supposed he could be wind, the way he just blew into their lives. It would make sense. Wind fed fire, kept it alive. It could whip fire into a rage and spread its destruction far and wide. But the essence that he was, what she was looking for, had the opposite effect sometimes. Yes, wind could, in theory, snuff a fire out, but traditionally water was considered the only element that could damper a fire, especially one in full force. So perhaps she was wrong to consider him as only one essence. Was it possible to have more than one dominating element? Could he be both wind and water?
Harry hadn’t trusted him. Not in the slightest. In fact, Harry would have hauled him straight to Azkaban by the ears if Professor – no, not Professor Lupin anymore – if Remus hadn’t prevented it. Oh, the fight that ensued was something ferocious. In the end, Remus roared for Harry to sit his ass down and shut up. She’d had no idea that the usually soft-spoken professor could be so fierce, excepting, of course, on nights of the full moon when he’d not taken his Wolfsbane.
In the end, Draco Malfoy was placed under a full body bind and stripped of his wand. Fred and George were charged with guarding him while the Order convened and debated what to do. By the end of the third hour of discussions, Hermione had given up on listening to the circular arguments and started wondering if the twins were tormenting Malfoy.
She wisely concluded that tormenting was what the twins did best, so he was more than likely suffering their wrath. She almost gleefully considered it his penance for years of inflicting his own brand of torment upon her and her friends.
Oddly enough, it was the youngest of the Weasleys that saved Malfoy from being unceremoniously dumped at the Ministry.
“Why don’t we just ask him why he’s here?” Ginny had asked.
Hermione wondered why no one else had thought of that. Perhaps they were all too consumed by hate. If she wanted to be honest with herself, she had been all for helping Harry haul him to the Ministry – case unheard. The thought struck her then that if they hauled him away simply because he was a Death Eater – despite the fact that he’d sought them out to supposedly surrender and share information – then they would be as guilty as Death Eaters for persecuting people so blindly. She reminded herself that anyone with the Dark Mark was being subjected to the Dementor’s Kiss, without trial, and in her mind, that made them worse than Death Eaters. She would rather be killed a thousand times over than be subject to that fate – a soulless existence. Hermione shuddered.
Harry, on the other hand, nearly flew off the handle when Ginny suggested they actually talk to Malfoy. “He’d lie!”
Hermione shook her head. Harry walked right into that.
“Give him Veritaserum.”
“Why? He wouldn’t do the same for you. He doesn’t deserve the chance.”
Ginny glowered. “That’s exactly why we should give him a chance. If nothing else, he may have information.”
“What could he know that we don’t?”
“So information on Voldemort is completely null and void unless you’ve run off and collected it yourself then?”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Yes, it is.” With those three words, Ginny Weasley’s voice had taken on a completely new quality of scariness, surpassing even the screaming Molly Weasley – who could strike terror into almost all of the remaining members of the inner circle of the Order. Ginny was a rational upset woman, the most dangerous kind.
Hermione noted that Moody had slyly drawn his wand, a precautionary measure she was sure – constant vigilance and all that – and the thought that Moody had had this sort of trouble with women before left Hermione trying to bite back a giggle.
“People change,” Ginny said softly, looking meaningfully at Harry.
Harry, in true Harry fashion, missed the intent of the look she had directed at him. “It’s bloody Malfoy! I don’t know why no one else sees this. Malfoy hasn’t changed! It’s a trick. He’s a Death Eater! He does bad things. He thrives on it! He always has and always will. And you can’t change people like that. They’ll never be good.” Harry looked significantly at Ginny. “People who do such dreadful things – and no, it doesn’t matter how or why – can never be good.”
Hermione was appalled. Up until that point, she had been sympathetic to Harry’s side of the argument, and she had almost interjected to save him from the impending argument with Ginny. Then, of course, he’d gone and said that, and after seeing the stricken look on Ginny’s face Hermione thought he rather had it coming.
“Good people do bad things too, you prick!”
Ginny threw a halfhearted apology for her language at her mother before fleeing the room.
“I agree with Ginny. Veritaserum won’t give him the opportunity to lie, and if he’s not here to help, then we can take him to the Ministry.”
Ron was too busy glaring at Harry to pay any mind to Hermione’s decision swaying input. Hermione was glad to be saved the argument over her siding with the ferret.
“Fine.” Harry screeched his chair away from the table and stalked out of the room.
“I’ll talk to him,” Remus said, trailing after the boy.
Hermione smiled wistfully at the memory. It had been about a year after Bill and Fleur’s wedding. They’d found and destroyed all of the Horcruxes except for the real Slytherin’s locket and, of course, Nagini. They had been so restless, Harry especially. But then, maybe Harry had a right to be. He did have Fate on his shoulders. A tear slid down Hermione’s cheek.
Fate. What rubbish.
It was unfairness, plain and simple, that he’d not been given the chance to have a real life, not even as reward for saving their world.
To her surprise, Hermione found Ginny with the twins and their captive later that night, after the meeting had adjourned. She had been about to enter the room when Ginny’s voice caught her ears.
“And then…” Sniffle. “He said…” Sniffle. “That people who have done bad things are always bad, regardless of how or why things happened. And they can’t change, or do good things!” she cried out.
Hermione lost the nerve to enter the room. She simply couldn’t go in now. It would be too awkward.
Until that night, Hermione had believed that Bill was Ginny’s confidante, but after eavesdropping on Ginny confiding in the twins, she realized that he simply had not been around enough throughout her childhood to develop that sort of relationship with her. Nor had Charlie, for that matter, even though he and Ginny seemed to share a more innate type of connection than Ginny and Bill. Percy would have been too strict, and while Ginny and Ron were close, they were perhaps too close in age to develop the big brother-protector-teacher relationship that most girls, Hermione included, wished for. Ginny seemed to have found that relationship in Fred and George though. From what she could see through the slice of open door, the twins seemed to divide that role between themselves. George’s role seemed to be comforting Ginny, while Fred’s was extracting the cost of her discomfort from the hide of whomever caused it.
Hermione could practically hear the sneer on Malfoy’s face as he piped up from his seat across the room, out of the line of sight afforded to her by the not quite closed door. “Well, it’s true, isn’t it? I’m not here because I want to change, after all. I’m here because it’s this or die.”
Hermione scowled at his comment. He had missed the point entirely. Ginny was upset because Harry implied she was on the same level as him, the nasty ferret, for that mess with the diary. How could he not have caught that? Unless, of course, he didn’t know.
That thought brought Hermione up short. But how could he not? His father was the one that gave her the diary.
Fred – or maybe George, but if forced to guess, Hermione would have said Fred – snapped at him at the same time Ginny screeched, and Hermione couldn’t make any of it out. The shouts were followed shortly by a loud crash, as if something had been thrown, and a ‘Holy Circe!’ from Malfoy. Hermione laughed quietly. Malfoy must have forgotten she played Chaser. Ginny had remarkable aim.
“Gingerbee, it’s okay.”
“Gingerbee? Really, the twins called her Gingerbee? Hermione couldn’t decide which was funnier – that the twins had a nickname for Ginny at all or that the nickname was so appropriate. After all, Gingerbees were very rare, as rare as girls to Weasley families were, and very dangerous – deadly even – when they’d been agitated. She knew Fred and George always had been smarter than they let on.
There was more muffled conversation, and a few combination sob-laughs that sounded as awkward as Hermione knew they felt.
“It’s just not fair! It was all there, and it was so perfect. And now I don’t even know what to do. One minute he loves me, and we’re in a closet snogging like mad-“
Either a twin, or perhaps even Malfoy, took the opportunity to gag at that statement.
“And the next, he says it’s too dangerous and I’ll get hurt. Or heaven forbid, maybe even break a nail!”
Hermione smiled. Ginny always had wielded the sharp sword of sarcasm with great effect. In fact, Hermione realized with a start, she could only think of one other person who was at biting with it as Ginny was. Ironically enough, he was in the same room.
“And of course it’s entirely impossible that I could be in this mess for a reason other than him. It’s not like I’m not conspicuous. I’m a Weasley. A – What was it Malfoy? – Oh, right, a walking target with this red hair and hand-me-down robes. Pretty unmistakable to any Death Eater worth his salt. If they were smart, they’d curse anything with red hair and ask questions later because more than likely it would be one of us – given the rate we reproduce and all.”
Malfoy snorted. Or at least, Hermione assumed it was Malfoy, given that she’d never heard a snootier snort in her life.
“I guess it’s simply not possible that I would be in the Order anyway, or a target because nearly the entire inner circle is made up of my family! Everyone bloody well knows it anyhow, so I don’t know whom he thinks he’s hiding me from. The miserable prat! And he thinks he can just love me when it’s conveniently safe? I won’t do it. I’m not some breakable porcelain doll.” Ginny stamped her foot. “He can either love me all the time or not at all, because I’m tired of playing this game. I don’t like not knowing what’s going on or where we stand, and he of all people should know that I don’t like being used. I’m done!”
Hermione felt a wash of sympathy for Malfoy. He came to confess information, and he’d been bound, held captive by Fred and George for nearly four hours, and subjected to a Ginny Weasley breakdown on the subject of her relationship – or non-relationship – with Harry. He would be begging for a ticket to the Ministry in no time.
“And it never occurred to you, Weaslette, that any of it was entirely too easy to be real? Shame, I thought you were the intelligent one, not that that would say a terrible lot.” He stopped suddenly, probably realizing that he’d just painted himself into a mighty dangerous corner, only to continue hurriedly, “But, if it makes you feel any better, I personally enjoy referring to Potter as the Boy Who Lived to Bug the Ever-Living Shite out of Everyone Else.”
Hermione couldn’t help the laughter bubbling up in her throat at Draco’s frankness – regardless of the fact that his statement probably should have offended her – and she had to make a run for it before she was caught by either of the twins, or worse, by Ginny.
And that had been the start of the whole thing. The beginning of the end. Perhaps it really didn’t matter what he was. Perhaps, it just mattered that he was. That they were.
That thought in mind, Hermione rejoined the world of the living and set off to save Ron from being caught pilfering sweets before dinner.
Ginny shivered as she entered the room. It was going to be a miserable morning, judging by the atmosphere. Everyone was antsy about the day’s upcoming event; no one really knew what the Order would do if Draco Malfoy did turn out to be a spy. It was obvious to Ginny, at least, that they couldn’t very well take him to the Ministry after he’d been in Headquarters – not with Scrimegeour still anxious for a piece of Harry. The old fool would probably accuse them of harboring Death Eaters or some similar load of tosh. Dear Merlin, Harry would completely lose it then.
Ginny snorted at the thought, and then picked out a good seat near the front, thinking it was more than a shade on the morbid side to ‘pick a good seat’ for this sort of thing. She shrugged her shoulders when she couldn’t rationalize the feeling away – it wasn’t like it could really be helped – and made herself comfortable.
The room was arranged much like a lecture hall. Eighteen chairs made up a three-ringed semi-circle, for those who would be allowed to attend the questioning, with a gap in the center to enter and exit. All of this was arranged around two chairs and a small table at the front. Ginny was almost surprised that there was no blackboard behind the front setting.
She sighed at the thought; she missed Hogwarts terribly. It had reopened, but under the control of the increasingly infiltrated Ministry of Magic, and every last one of the professors had resigned in protest. Even batty Professor Trelawney got into the spirit of things, which was why she currently resided on the top floor of Grimmauld Place. As far as they knew, Voldemort still did not know the entire prophecy, and so Trelawney was tolerated – predictions of gruesome death and all – in the interest of keeping it that way.
Ginny had the sense to be grateful the majority of Dumbledore’s secrecy spells on the house had held after his death. Bill was able to recast the ones that had fallen, and took the liberty of adding a few of the more complex and rarely heard spells and curses he’d unearthed somewhere in the catacombs of Egypt. With the house charmed every which way, Ginny was able to continue her lessons, almost as if she’d never stopped attending Hogwarts at all. The former professors and a few other members of the Order had agreed to work with her on a weekly basis. She found it to be both beneficial to her studies and a great relief from boredom. After all, there wasn’t much cleaning her mother could force on her with Dobby here. The house elf took it as a personal insult. In fact, the only reason Molly Weasley was able to get into the kitchen at all was because Harry finally told Dobby that he was only to assist when Mrs. Weasley requested it.
She didn’t request it often. For some reason Ginny had yet to discover, her mother still preferred to torture her than use the much more willing house elf. But, at least there was no more cleaning.
“Hey Gingerbee,” Fred said as he plopped down on her left, followed in short order by George on her right. “Why so glum?”
He poked her in the side, and Ginny squealed as she squirmed away from him. “Don’t do that. I hate it when you do that.”
“We know,” they replied in unison.
“Of course you know,” Ginny huffed. “That’s why you keep doing it.”
“Ah, this is about the Boy Wonder, isn’t it?” George asked. Ginny shot him a withering glare, but he unheedingly continued. “What happened then? Do we need to hex anyone?”
“Slip some testers into anyone’s food, perhaps?” Fred picked up George’s line of questioning almost hopefully.
Ginny’s lips twitched into half smile, it was impossible to be properly sulky around the twins. “No, you don’t. I was just being stupid, really, that’s all.”
“Gingerbee, don’t lie to us. We taught you how; don’t you know we’d be able to spot it?” George scolded.
The sulkiness quickly resurfaced. “Fine. If you really want to know that badly, I’ll tell you. I ran into Harry in the hall. I told him we needed to talk, in private, and as soon as we got into the library, he tried to kiss me. After I dodged it and told him that was what I wanted to talk about – that we wouldn’t be kissing or anything else without a commitment of some type – he blew up. Then I was angry because he was angry before even hearing me out. And then Hermione walked in, and Harry acted as if nothing was going on at all and invited her to stay. He wouldn’t even let me say what I needed to say. He’s a git, and I hate him. But I really couldn’t hate him if I tried, and Malfoy’s words keep bouncing ‘round in my head. And I can’t help but think he’s right after all – about the first part, that I should have thought it might not have ever been real, even if I don’t think Harry would intentionally hurt me like that – the second part I know is true. And I’m just so tired, George. I don’t know what to do anymore.”
By the end of her rant, Ginny was buried somewhere between the twins, who exchanged sad looks over her shoulder. Their poor, poor Ginny. They lived in this miserable house too – granted, they could still escape to their shop. Ginny, however, was stuck here all day, every day.
They heard her crying out in her sleep at night from their room across the hall. Dreams were always nightmares here, and they couldn’t even fathom the horrors she was subjected to in her sleep. She was too prideful to ask for Dreamless Sleep, and so she cast silencing charms around her room instead. They only heard her when the charms came undone in the middle of the night, after her nightmares had swallowed even her magic with their terror. After making the mistake of waking her once, they dutifully recast the charms every night – even though a small part of them died each time they did.
The trio arrived shortly after the twins had gotten Ginny sorted, and they were met with menacing identical glares. Hermione thought she had a good idea of why they were being glared at after what she’d unwittingly stumbled into in the library, and gave Ginny a sympathetic look before looking at Harry and rolling her eyes. Ron also noticed the intent of said glares and growled something at Harry. Harry looked startled by whatever Ron said, but seemed to take it in stride – not even bothering to look over at Ginny. He did, however, look a little put out when Ron strode off to join Ginny and the twins and Hermione sniffed at him and scooted her chair away, as if he had cooties.
Shortly thereafter, the rest of the inner circle of the Order arrived, and Alastor Moody hauled Malfoy up to the front. Malfoy certainly didn’t look happy, but he also didn’t put up a fuss. He had a hankering feeling that no one in the room would hesitate to hex him if he even so much as batted an eye the wrong way. Moody measured out the Veritaserum before handling the dropper to Malfoy and watched as Malfoy squirted it into the back of his mouth. Moody studied him closely, and Draco had the fleeting sensation that the man’s magical eye could see the very potion going right down to his stomach.
“All right then. Let’s get started. What’s your name, boy?” Moody’s gruff voice sounded impersonal, even borderline detached, as he addressed Malfoy.
Draco’s lip curled up. “Draco Malfoy. I’d think you’d remember me; you turned me into a ferret when you taught at Hogwarts.”
Ron burst out with a laugh, and Ginny could see Hermione’s lips curl into a smile. Harry smirked – though his paled in comparison to Malfoy’s, Fred and George snorted, but Ginny just goggled at the boy on trial.
Alastor Moody never taught at Hogwarts. Surely, surely, he knew that.
“Wrong. I spent the year at Hogwarts locked in my own trunk. One of your own turned you into a ferret. Does the name Barty Crouch ring a bell, boy?”
“Barty Crouch. As in Junior?”
Moody nodded his confirmation.
“Father said he was the Dark Lord’s most devout follower and was killed in service.” His voice was flat. He had accepted that many of the things his father told him were not true, or at least not entirely true, but finding out there were still more lies tore at him.
The expression on his face made Ginny’s heart ache. She recognized that expression; she knew what it was like to learn someone you trusted implicitly only lied to you.
“Let’s get on with this then. Why did you come to us? Didn’t you think we’d turn you over to the Ministry? Why should we trust you?”
“Well –“The sneer was back in place, despite the belittling effect of being interrogated in such a manner. “I’ve said it before, it was either this or die, and I don’t fancy going the way my father did.”
He paused, and Ginny frowned. His voice had been nonchalant, but she could have sworn something sad flickered in his eyes.
“Now don’t go thinking that just because I’m here I believe your cause, because I don’t. My only duty is to the Malfoy name, and currently, this is the best thing I can do for it.” He looked around the room, daring anyone to so much as wiggle. No one moved – apparently, he was a captivating speaker.
“As for turning me over to the Ministry, I knew there was a possibility, but with the information I’ve got, you’d be fools to let me go.”
“And why should we believe your information is not a trap of some sort?”
“Because if I lied to you, you would turn me over to the Ministry. I have this damnable mark on my arm and no real means of persuading them to release me. If they arrest me and find me guilty, which they would, the Malfoy estate would pass to them as I’m the last of the line and there is no suitable heir. They would get more for convicting me than letting me pay my way out. Rufus Scrimegeour is not the idiot Fudge was.”
Ginny blinked, quickly sorting the information in her head, and she promptly concluded he was right. For however little Malfoy seemed to know about Voldemort and the Death Eaters, he was very shrewd when it came to seeing the business end of things.
Moody continued, relentless with his questions. “If your duty is to the Malfoy name, why are you a member of the Death Eaters?”
Malfoy laughed hollowly, and Ginny cringed at the sound. The thought of such emptiness took her back to the Chamber, and she wanted to cry out in sympathy.
“It was made sure that I was in too deep to ever hope to get out. By my fifth year, I’d accidentally walked in on several meetings coincidentally held in my wing of the Manor. My aunt gave me documents to read and memorize. There was no way I could conceivably be let out of it. When Father was arrested at the end of my fifth year, I was to become his replacement. As punishment for my father’s failures, I was hand picked by the Dark Lord to prove the Malfoy loyalty by killing Dumbledore – the only wizard he has ever been afraid of. It was a suicide mission, and I was damned either way.”
Draco paused and looked around the room. Potter was coiled and tense, ready to spring out of his chair, and Draco held no doubt that he would be the one Potter would come at – hexing along the way. The Mudblood was taking notes as if it was a lecture, and he sneered at her. It almost was. Raising a Proper Pureblood 101. The Weasleys looked stunned and stupid, the whole lot of them.
Except the girl, he amended as his eyes landed on Ginny. The spitfire he loved to hate. He had been surprised to learn she felt the same way about him. Draco almost smiled as he recalled the look in her eyes last night, as she’d chunked a mummified human foot at him. Whoever had owned this house was seriously twisted, to have such a thing at all, much less on display. Human body parts generally failed to make good conversational art pieces, but that was beside the point. She chunked the foot. Then it had been over, as it always was, and they returned to verbal sparring, as they always did, until the next person hit upon a below the belt comment and had to be warned that they’d nearly crossed a line. Today though, that energy and spark and anger wasn’t present in her eyes. They were big and sad, as if she knew where he was coming from.
Her life was perfect. She didn’t have the slightest idea. That look was bullshit, and he felt irrationally angered and somehow betrayed by it.
Draco Malfoy was mad. Mad that she would feel compassion for him; mad that she would show it. Mad that she presumed to know what being forced into something against your will felt like. Mad that he was grateful that someone – even if it was just her, or maybe especially because it was her – cared or hurt for him, on his behalf. But most of all, he was mad that this would change things.
He didn’t want to change, and he didn’t want to give up his arguments with her. She was the only one who had ever dared to keep up with his sadistic wit and biting tongue, and he liked it when someone gave him what he deserved every once in awhile. Moreover, if he chose to attack this expression in their next session, he was sure that she would hex him within an inch of his life, and then hex him again for making her hex him in the first place.
“Boy! Are you listening to me?”
“No.” The answer slid across his lips before he had time to think about it. Veritaserum was horrible stuff. It tasted vile and was more likely to get you killed than one of that oaf Hagrid’s horrible beasts.
“I asked you what information you had for us.”
Draco smirked. “Regulus Black was my godfather.”
Hermione, the only one to connect the pieces, actually squealed and jumped to her feet.
The questioning had lasted for another hour before it was agreed that Malfoy was not a spy and would be allowed to stay at Grimmauld Place. He was grateful – or perhaps just well mannered – enough to offer a clipped thank you to the Order before making a hurried departure from the room. Ginny didn’t blame him – there was only so much humiliation one could be expected to take in a day. She was sure he’d eaten enough humble pie to last him a lifetime.
Of course, as soon as the questioning ended, the trio secluded themselves in the library, researching and whispering with fevered abandon for days on end. Ginny received such scathing looks from Harry anytime she ventured near that she found herself periodically checking for burns. Hermione did discuss their research with Ginny to an extent, but it was always Ginny-proofed – all trivial details and no meat whatsoever. Ron did nothing to help the situation either, but he at least had the decency to look shameful about his lack of action.
So she occupied herself by practicing her spell work on the roof or in the big room on the second floor, and when things really got desperate she’d even gone as far as seeking out Professor Trelawney’s company. At least the old bat was entertaining, though the gruesome predictions of Harry’s death may have significantly helped her case.
It was on her return from such a visit that she ran into Malfoy for the first time since the interrogation – quite literally, unfortunately. They tumbled down the stairs arse over head, together, and landed in a heap at the bottom. They were a mass of tangled limbs, and Ginny was surprised to find herself on top of him, his arms locked around her waist. If she didn’t know better, she would have thought he’d purposely shielded her from their slide down the flight of stairs.
She was more surprised, however, when he only groaned a little from underneath her. She expected some biting remark or another, more than likely about her arse being the size of an elephant or having two left feet and no sense.
“Draco, did you hit your head?” So great was her concern that he’d been injured, rendered unable to insult her, that she forgot to preface her question with his surname.
“No, Weaslette, did you? You’ve called me Draco,” he informed her imperiously.
“It’s Ginny, not Weaslette. And no, I didn’t either.” She shrugged his arms from around her waist and attempted to stand up. Unfortunately, she forgot about their still tangled legs and wound up back on the floor, a blush staining her cheeks.
“I am not going to call you Ginny.”
Ginny almost laughed at the way his nose crinkled in distaste.
“And are you always this clumsy? Were you even looking where you were going when you came charging down the stairs?”
“Nearly and no. I was laughing entirely too hard to be looking. Trelawney is a hoot. You should visit her sometime – when we were in Hogwarts I thought it was all a ruse. But you know what? I think she thinks all her predictions are true.”
She did laugh when Draco chortled beside her, and then hurried to cover it with a cough. She could not for the life of her imagine a laughing Draco Malfoy, and here he was right next to her – kind of.
“And what’s so wrong with Ginny? It is my name.”
“Surely your mother had more sense than to name you Ginny.”
She could hear the sneer in his voice. Really. They had almost been getting on. “You, Draco, are not one to talk about a mother’s name selection. I happen to prefer Ginny to Ginevra, for you information. I also prefer it to Weaslette.”
“Why?” Draco asked, untangling his long legs from hers and standing.
Ginny snorted. “Why do I prefer Ginny to Weaslette? Please tell me you’re kidding.”
“No, why do you prefer Ginny to Ginevra?” Draco clarified, extending a hand to help her to her feet.
“With Fred and George around? Are you sure you didn’t hit your head? Besides, do I look like a Ginevra to you?” she said, taking his hand and allowing him to pull her to her feet.
Draco shook his head. “Not really. A Ginevra would have manners, I think. She would be much more delicate, definitely. Not throwing herself and innocents down stairs – or chucking mummified body parts at said innocents either.”
“You deserved that,” she interrupted him.
“For what? Saying that Potter was right? I expected you to ship me off to the Long Term Care Ward at St Mungo’s, not throw something.”
“Harry isn’t right. Not about this.”
“Yes, he is,” Draco insisted. “I told you already, at the meeting under Veritaserum and in that room. I don’t want to change. I’m not here to be on the side of light. Potter, however much I dislike him, is right. I don’t regret a damn thing I’ve done – only that I didn’t have a choice in doing it. I still think Salazar Slytherin had the right idea about mudbl- Muggleborns. I just don’t approve of the way the Dark Lord is going about implementing it.”
“Don’t talk about the things you don’t understand, Draco.”
Her voice was dangerous, but he disregarded it in his fury. “What, did you think you were going to save me? Is that what’s got your knickers all in a knot, Ginevra?”
Ginny shoved against his shoulder in attempt to get past him in the narrow landing. He pinned her against the wall by her wrists.
“Well, what if I don’t want to be saved.”
Ginny defiantly met his glare – despite the realization that if Draco wanted to hurt her, he very well could – and Draco found the fire raging in her glower disturbing.
“Not everything is about you. Harry wasn’t talking about you when he said that. He was talking about me. ‘And no, it doesn’t matter how or why’ he said – he didn’t know you had no way out of the Death Eaters then. He thought you were a willing party – he still thinks you’re a willing party! He was talking about me.”
She struggled against him, and he let her arms drop – partially because he was shocked at what appeared to be tears welling in her eyes, and partially because some vague part of his Slytherin mind realized that if anyone happened upon them in that position, he would be dead before he hit the floor. She raised one hand and scrubbed furiously at her face with the back of it, then met his stare again.
“So don’t talk about what you don’t understand.”
And before he could say anything – ask what the Hell she was on about – she’d shouldered by him, checking him into the wall, and had taken off down the stairs to the first floor. Draco stared after her for a moment. Talking about her? She had cracked her head on something on the way down, though he had tried – despite himself – to prevent her doing injury to herself. What in Merlin’s name could she have ever done for Potter to say something like that? He shook his head and hurried after her. He honestly hadn’t meant to upset her, she was the only person in the entire house that would even meet his eye, much less speak to him. As much as he put on an icy façade, he did get lonely.
She fled down the stairs between the first and second floor as fast as she could, oblivious to Draco thundering after her. If she knew he was behind her, she probably would have headed in a different direction than her sanctuary. She turned right down the first hallway off the stairs and counted doorways aloud as she passed them. “One. Two. Three. Turn right, don’t hesitate.”
Draco bit his lip when she turned, sure the crazy bint was going to smack into the wall, but the wall faded in her wake and formed and archway. He bit back a gasp and watched from the corner. She flung an arm out towards the fireplace, and it jumped to life. He was impressed. Nonverbal, wandless magic and this would have just been her seventh year. Once the room was lit, she didn’t fling herself into the sofa for a good cry as he’d expected her too, but crossed slowly to the far wall.
Ginny stared at the names carved into the wood plank wall. The Memory Wall, she had named it. Four were carved by Harry – Sirius Black, James and Lily Potter, and Albus Dumbledore – she sought them and ran her fingers over the names. Two by Ron – Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas. Four more by Hermione – Susan Bones, Hannah Abbot, and Parvati and Padma Patil. Three by the twins – Lee Jordan, Alicia Spinnet, and Katie Bell. She swallowed hard. That was nearly everyone she knew from Gryffindor. The names Remus carved, and Alastor Mad-Eye Moody solemnly listing in a neat row the names of lost Aurors. The names of people from the Ministry that her father carved – and her mother’s friends, he carved those too. The one name that Charlie had carved – his fiancée – had reduced the toughest of the Weasley brothers to tears.
Draco watched her process in awe. Each of the names glowed faintly as she ran her fingers over them. Each shined for a moment under the hands of Ginny Weasley as she paid her respects, careful to give them each a unique moment of her time.
But Ginny didn't notice the shine. No, she no longer paid attention to the names on the wall – her fingers found them of their own accord now. She was lost in remembering, memorizing, reliving the others before they'd been lost, how they'd been lost, and the moment of the carving of their names. Afraid that if she didn't, no one would, and the stories of the people on the wall would be lost forever. Afraid that this would be the only thing she'd have left to hold if she was stuck in this wretched house forever.
Finally, she took a deep breath and steeled her nerves. The only names that had yet to have their moment were the ones that she, herself, had carved. There were five. Of the five, three had been petrified by the Basilisk in her first year; that was the reason they were now dead. She knew it. Tom had known somehow, and he was teaching her a lesson – completing the work she'd denied him by fighting his hold on her once she'd realized what was happening. Penelope Clearwater was first, then Justin Finch-Fletchly, and finally Colin.
She choked back a sob, but forced herself to keep going. The next, Dennis, hadn't been a victim of the Basilisk, but was killed alongside his brother in what she was sure the Death Eaters gleefully thought of as a two for one kind of deal. That was how Tom would have seen it. There was no honor in that. Ginny rather thought that if she could bring herself to kill two young Death Eaters in their sleep, she would lie to the high heavens and insist that they had been dueling her, or at least awake.
That left just one.
This one was completely her fault. She should have been able to fight them off, but she wasn't. She should have seen it coming, but she hadn't. And as a direct result of her carelessness, one of her closest friends was dead. The only person, aside from Harry, Hermione, and her family that knew she had opened the Chamber. The only person aside from Harry and Dumbledore that knew she had actually been possessed by Riddle – the young, dashing, Dark Lord to-be. The only person whom she'd told the whole story to willingly and completely.
Her hands scrabbled over the surface of the wall frantically. She couldn't see it at all now; the tears blurred her vision so badly. She couldn't find it, and her hands slid over the wall faster still until they stung from the friction.
"Don't," Draco blurted, shocking both Ginny and himself, when he realized what she was doing. What the names on the wall represented. Internalizing everything, piling on blame until she wouldn't be able to move from beneath it, believing there was nothing left to cling to other than guilt and memories. He knew the process well.
Ginny ignored him after the initial freezing reaction she'd had to his outburst, and if anything, her defiant hands found Luna Lovegood's name more quickly, with a sort of determined ease they previously lacked. She traced over it, and it glowed brighter than the others combined. Only when she finished tracing the loop of the ’d’ did she allow herself to stop, to crumble. She turned towards him and slid down the wall until she was crumpled on the floor, sobbing. She felt him move towards her, and she panicked – extending her arm and willing him away before she could make herself think rationally.
It was a first for Draco. He certainly couldn't recall ever being banished before. Being spanked with his father's cane? Once or twice. The Cruciatus? Certainly, after his father had gone 'round the twist, as well as from some of the other Death Eaters – dear Aunt Bella, who insisted it built character, for instance. He'd even experienced being strung up by his ankles by a house elf for an hour over some trivial offense when he was nine. But in all of his varied experiences, he'd never been banished.
It was truly an odd sensation, not unlike Apparation, but not at all like it either.
McGonagall's voice from a lesson long past came into his head, reminding him that banished humans rarely reappeared wholly and unharmed even over the shortest distances by the most powerful wizards in her clipped Scottish brogue. Draco mentally counted his limbs and appendages, eyes still squeezed shut – afraid to look.
"Damn," he thought, rather eloquently, when he found they were all there.
When he garnered enough courage to crack open his eyes and further check himself over, he only barely managed to suppress a shriek. Both Weasley twins stood over him, wands at the ready as they stared down at him.
"What did you do to her?” Fred – or rather, the one he assumed was Fred because of the scar across his eyebrow – growled.
"Nothing, I swear. I just startled her, I think."
The twins exchanged skeptical looks.
"Really," Draco insisted fervently. "She was in a room on the first floor, a hidden one, the one with the names all carved into the wall."
"Damn. This is the fifth time since he got back," George – the non-scarred twin – said. "Harry ought to pray that You-Know-Who finds him before I do." The twins exchanged a look, and George turned his wand and Apparated away.
Fred looked down at Draco, then stepped on the blond boy's chest, effectively pinning him to the ground. "Don't tell anyone about this unless you want to dedicate your life to being an involuntary test subject. Got it?"
Draco swallowed as he nodded his head. When Fred removed his foot, Draco sat up and examined his surroundings. He was in a workshop of sorts. Odd, he didn't remember this room at Grimmauld Place at all.
"Fred," Draco started, forcing the name out of his mouth in attempt to be somewhat personable – or at least amiable enough to avoid being tested upon in his immediate future.
Fred dropped a beaker filled with a purple substance into a simmering cauldron, presumably in shock at Malfoy's attempt toward civilized conversation. "Bugger! Get down!"
The cauldron exploded, sending bits and pieces everywhere, and the liquid inside of it – purple, chunky, and bubbly – oozed its way across the floor.
"Cauldron bottom thickness standards my arse," Fred growled at the mess. "Don't touch it! It has way too much powdered Doxy in it, no thanks to you. You'd be out for a month." Fred hauled Draco to his feet and out of rang of the potion gone awry. "Did you want something, Malfoy?"
"I was going to ask where we were, but I think I've figured it out now, thanks. By the way, you should find someone more competent to brew your potions. That is a lawsuit waiting to happen." The sneer was back.
Fred looked menacingly at Draco. "I wasn't kidding when I said we'd make you a test subject. No one but Ginny knows you're gone, and she'll be too upset to worry about you for a bit."
It would have been an extremely effective threat if Draco had been paying attention. He was more involved trying to wrap his head around the fact that little Ginny Weasley not only banished him without word, wand, or second thought, she'd sent him clean across London – but still into a safe, well, relatively safe, location – in one piece.
No one was that lucky. So what else could she be hiding, aside from that kind of raw power?
Unfortunately for Ginny, George was not the first to find her. The person who found her was the one person – well, the one person aside from the one she'd just accidentally banished – that she didn't want to see. She glared balefully at him.
"Go away, Harry."
"What's wrong?" he asked, still approaching her. He dropped to a crouch in front of her.
"Harry, please, just leave me alone." Harry scooted closer still, and she shrank away. "Don't touch me."
"Ginny, tell me what's wrong, yeah? Then we can fix it."
His tone of voice alone should have had her bristling at him, but right now, she couldn't muster the energy to be irritated. Ginny only shook her head. "We can't fix it. You won't let me."
"If this is about the Horcruxes, I can't. You know I can't. It's not fair that you're punishing me for something I can't help."
This time his words did ruffle her, and Ginny's eyes snapped furiously to his. "I'm punishing you for something you can't help?" She laughed mirthlessly, then cringed at the sound – it reminded her of the laugh Riddle let out when he'd come out of the diary. "What about what you said? 'It doesn't matter how or why they did it.' So were you talking about the diary or Luna? Because if you're going to blame me for something, please let it be Luna. You fell for the diary too."
Harry glowered at her. "I haven't blamed you for anything. You know that."
"No, Harry! I don't know that. It doesn't matter that you just say that now – because that's not what you meant at the meeting last week and you know it. You knew exactly what you were saying. And I understand, I do, about getting caught up in the heat of the moment, but gods, are you trying to kill me? I can't have you, but I can't not have you. You won't let me help. I'm locked up like a prisoner in this good for nothing, evil house, and I don't know how much longer it's going to be before I lose it completely."
"Gin, I need you safe. Because if you go, I'm not going to have anything left. Please believe me," Harry attempted to placate her.
"But that's not fair, Harry! I don't want to be safe. Look at the wall! Look at how many we've already lost. I know we're going to lose more. I don't want to be the only one left. Please, don't make me be here by myself."
"I don't want to, but it's the only –"
"It is not! I know more about Tom Riddle than anyone else on Earth. He was inside me, Harry. Or did you forget again?"
When Harry didn't reply, she barged on. "Why won't you at least let me help give you information? I know how he thinks!"
Harry opened his mouth, but Ginny wasn't finished yet. "I have tried to be patient, I have. But I will not sit around and wait on you forever. I gave you your year. You have to make up your mind on what you want to do, but don't think I'll be sitting by on the sidelines. Whatever you think, this is just as much my fight as it is yours. I'm of age, and I've already spoken to Remus and Tonks about joining the Order."
Harry's face flushed an angry red, but Ginny cut off any reply he may have made – again. "Don't you dare say I'm not good enough to fight – I could take you any day of the week. I know so much more than I should that it's frightening." Ginny met his eyes as a possible truth dawned on her. "That's the problem, isn't it? I know too much. I might still be connected to him. You think I'm a liability!"
"That's not it," Harry insisted, though not terribly convincingly.
"Then what is it?"
"I don't know, exactly. It's just that… Look, I know you know these terrible things. But I've done them – I've killed people. Did you know that? There is a difference between knowing and doing. I don't want you to realize it."
"I don't care what you want! Haven't you ever stopped to think that I might need to find out the difference? Or that I already have? That I might still be drowning in guilt and the only way out is to get some kind of vengeance on the people that did this to me? What about me? I don't want to lose myself in that, that hatred. Because that's really the only difference between him and us, isn't it? That we refuse to lose ourselves to the evil things inside?"
The rest of the week turned out to be rather lonely for Draco. Every time he so much as entered a room Ginny was occupying, she'd go scurrying out of it. He couldn't even make eye contact with her before she'd disappear; she seemed to sense his presence. It happened so fast that if he hadn't known better, he would have sworn a Wizard's Oath that she Disapparted.
He was lonely. Lonely and bored. There was nothing to do; there was no one who would talk to him, even if he had wanted to talk. He didn't even have anyone to spar with, verbally or magically. It was downright depressing, and the dankness of the house certainly didn't help any. As if that weren't enough, his nightmares had returned with a vengeance.
It could have been worse, Draco told himself. He could still be a Death Eater. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of glancing down at his left forearm, as was now custom any time the phrase 'Death Eater' was mentioned, and by this point, thought. He frowned at the ugly black tattoo fringed in angry red marring his otherwise milky skin. Right. Well, he could still be a Death Eater that answered his summons like a good boy.
Really. What had his father been thinking? Being a servant to the Dark Lord, no matter how much he agreed with the cause, was never a wise investment of the Malfoy name. Malfoys served no one. As much as his father droned on about it, one would think he'd take a moment and at least pretend to ponder what being mixed up in the mess would mean. Then again, Lucius Malfoy hadn't ever been quite right after Azkaban. Draco sneered at the thought. Disgraceful.
Draco sighed, turned as if he were going to jaunt up to Trelawney's tower – remembering Ginny's comment about the witch – and then turned back. Somehow, it seemed wrong to go without her.
He shook his head forcefully. Where had that come from? What he meant to think was that it would be wrong to go without her, as Trelawney would pitch a fit if he showed up alone, convinced he'd come to kill her.
Yes. That was definitely what he meant.
He strode down the hallway toward his bedroom in a fouler mood than before, if that was possible. A nap would fill the afternoon quite nicely, or so he thought.
Ginny was angry. How stupid she'd been, thinking her conversation with Harry would change things. How stupidly naïve she was for letting herself believe it was possible. Of course, Harry wasn't entirely to blame, he had attempted to include her in some of the less secretive meetings of the trio, but this afternoon had been particularly unproductive – as were most of the gatherings Ginny attended. Not once had her input been accepted, or even acknowledged – other than a scathing look from Harry, presumably for daring to have a differing opinion. Even when Hermione or Ron agreed, Harry – unofficial leader – acted as if one of them had come up with the suggestion, rather than her. It was enough to make her scream.
Ginny sent a particularly nasty severing spell at a conjured loaf of bread. It fell neatly to the floor, each slice clean all the way through. She was proud of her efforts and did not allow herself to dwell on the thought that it was created to be used on humans, much less the thought that she shouldn't know that spell at all. She waved her wand again, transfiguring the slices into snitches. They fluttered around the room, and Ginny shot hexes and other spells after them, one by one, until they'd all been felled. Thank goodness for Remus and Tonks. They at least taught her things that were useful. A smile flickered across Ginny's face as she thought of the news Remus would be receiving from Tonks in short order.
She could hardly believe two weeks had passed since she and Tonks had gone Boggart hunting in the musty old house, and the now almost permanently walnut haired witch had let her secret slip. Of course, Tonks had hastily said that she wouldn't know for sure for sure until her Healer appointment the next week, but the sly smile she was wearing left Ginny feeling that there was no way Tonks was not pregnant.
"Ginny, come and help with dinner!" her mother's voice echoed up the stairs.
Ginny sighed as she started towards the kitchen. Of course, it was meeting night. Why wouldn't her mother let Dobby help in the kitchen? The house elf actually enjoyed it. Where were Fred and George when she really needed them?
"Ginny, dear, go and fetch Draco for dinner. Nearly everyone is here," her mother said once the buffet type meal had been set up in the dining room.
Ginny gave a great mental groan. "Mum, I'm sure he'd be down here if he wanted to be. He probably doesn't want to eat with us."
"The boy is skin and bones as it is! Worse than Harry. I won't have him skipping out on dinner. And no matter what you think, young lady, he will be welcome at my table. Go and get him – now."
Ginny blinked owlishly at her mother. How, exactly, had Draco skipping dinner become her fault? She didn't mind him at dinner.
"Move it, Ginny. We're waiting on you."
Ginny stomped off towards the stairs, muttering under her breath all the while. "I don't care if he comes to dinner. I was simply saying he might not want to eat under the scrutiny of the entire Order. I don't like to eat under the scrutiny of the Order." She rounded the first landing and continued up the steps. "And it's not her table. It's Harry's table. And Harry's house. Why am I cooking? I say let Dobby cook!"
By that point, she had rounded the landing on the second floor, and as she set up the stairs for the third floor, still stomping, she continued heatedly, "Whose bloody brilliant idea was it to put Malfoy on the third floor? There are plenty of open rooms on the second. From now on, they can go and fetch him when he's in a snit."
She was mid-stomp, halfway up the first flight of stairs between the second and third floors when she heard a noise that stopped her increasingly creative rant and made her blood run cold. After berating herself for the moment of childish fright, she dismissed the noise as a sound from the wonky Muggle neighbors, or maybe an animal, and continued her angry trek. Then, she heard it again.
There was no way that was coming from outside. She wasn't on the third floor often, just to see Trelawney every now and again. Ginny almost hoped there was another horrible portrait of Mrs. Black up there somewhere. She climbed a little faster; she was almost to the landing between the two flights of stairs when she heard a cry of "Please! Please, no!"
She whirled around the landing and bolted up the last of the stairs in a dead sprint.
"I'm coming! Hold on, I'm coming!” Ginny called back as she reached the top of the stairs. She looked down the hallway. Who could have gotten into Grimmauld Place? It was locked down tighter than the Crown Jewels if she knew Bill's thoroughness at all. If it was the twins playing a prank, she was going to make them beg for mercy. Then she was going to kill them anyway. Magic, under-aged – though that was no longer a problem – or Unforgivable, could not be detected by the Ministry at Grimmauld Place. She pulled her wand from the belt loop of her jeans and held it at the ready as she advanced carefully down the hallway.
"No. Think, Father, think about what you're doing. Look at her!"
Lucius looked, but returned his gaze to Draco only to frown disapprovingly at his son. "Don't tell me you're going soft, Draco. She disobeyed the Dark Lord. She mistrusted him. She must be punished. It's really quite simple." He lazily waved his wand, and Narcissa stopped writhing on the floor.
Draco allowed a breath of relief to flow out of him.
"Of course, you couldn't complete your mission either."
Well shite. That certainly wasn't good.
"You are a disgrace to the Malfoy name. Someone shall have to be punished." Lucius smirked as he taunted his son.
Draco involuntarily winced, but after the automatic reaction, he drew himself up and met his father's glare. "Actually, I would have liked to see you complete that mission better. Especially at the age of sixteen." He noted his father's interest in the conversation, and silently begged his mother to flee while she had the opportunity. "Besides, the end justifies the means. Dumbledore is dead, is he not?" he continued flippantly, mustering the audacity to smirk.
Lucius snarled. "You cost us our best spy." He turned back to his wife, who had managed to clamber to her knees. "Crucio."
The wail boomed through the door of the last room in the hall, and Ginny jerked her hand off the doorknob in surprise. At least there was no doubt where all the fuss was coming from now. She took a breath and flung open the door. The room was dark and, more importantly, appeared to be empty.
He was losing control of the situation. He had to find a way to hold his father's attention. Draco grinned. An odd choice of expression, but nothing else seemed to fit the bizarre decision he had made. At the least, he would go out with a bang.
"Actually, Lucius," he started disdainfully, drawing almost perverse pleasure in using his father's given name – an insult in and of itself.
The show of insubordination had the effect Draco desired. Lucius Malfoy whipped to face his son, rage etched into his once handsome features, and the curse he'd been holding over Narcissa broke.
"You are the disgrace to the Malfoy name. After all, I wasn't the one who spent a year in Azkaban before breaking out. You weren't even convincing enough to get Fudge to clear you of the charges, and then you went and escaped, proving your guilt. Way to be, old man, way to be."
His father advanced on him quickly, and more forcefully than he'd expected. Draco felt himself losing the slight edge he'd had and looked to his mother. He hoped she would understand.
Lucius took advantage of the silent conference between his conspiring wife and son. "Avada Kedavra!"
The bolt of green raced out of the elder Malfoy's wand and straight for the younger. It was only stopped from completing its journey by the mistress of Malfoy manor.
Ginny looked around Draco's room and decided she had finally lost it. The room was still, and worse, eerily silent.
"No! Merlin, no! What have you done?"
Ginny leapt at the outcry. She laid a hand across her wildly thumping heart and took a moment to be oddly thankful that the pleas had returned. But she was still no closer to discovering where they were coming from. From what she could see in the inky black of the room, there was no one here.
She took a breath and chanced a glance over her shoulder before acting. It was something she had just discovered, and she was almost positive that it wasn't a natural ability for most wizards and witches. At the very least, she wasn't ready to share it with the world yet, especially seeing as how she couldn't always control it. She turned her left hand palm up, never daring to lower the wand clenched in her right hand, and raised it as if she were cuing an orchestra to a crescendo.
The candles flickered to life gently, increasing the light they emitted in soft increments as she raised her hand.
Then she saw him. His hair was wild and sweaty, and he thrashed violently on the bed.
Ginny didn't know what to do. Of course, if she woke him, he would be furious. Not that he wasn't already furious with her about the banishing incident, but he would be embarrassed too. That certainly wouldn't help. Ginny vividly recalled the night the twins had woken her from one of her nightmares. She'd sent Fred flying into the wall in panic as she came to – that was how he'd gotten the scar across his eyebrow. Once she'd realized what had happened, she was embarrassed and angry with herself for not taking better precautions to keep her dreams a secret.
They were terrible, warped, and cruel images from the mind of the young Dark Lord. She suspected they would haunt her forever, but she suffered them in silence. Her mother and everyone else had nearly smothered her to death that summer when she really just needed to be let alone as it was. She would never be allowed out of eyesight if any of them aside from the twins, and maybe Charlie, suspected the dreams still plagued her.
On the other hand, if she didn't wake him, he could hurt himself or use magic accidentally and potentially hurt everyone.
Father forgotten, Draco caught his mother as she fell and gently lowered her the rest of the way to the floor. He couldn't even muster the strength to care that he was leaving himself vulnerable, flaunting his weakness.
"What have you done?" he repeated, more softly this time.
"My duty." Lucius shrugged halfheartedly. He neither realized, nor cared, that the question was not for him.
Draco's eyes snapped back to his father. "She was your wife! What happened to Malfoys before the rest? And you killed her for what? For some insane Dark Lord?"
"Watch your tongue, boy! She was not a worthy servant. She disgraced the Malfoy name, and so have you! Bloodtraitors!"
"I want nothing more to do with it!" he cried.
Ginny felt the magic in the air reacting to him, swelling and condensing. He would just have to be mad, because she had no other option. She had to wake him before he –
Ginny yelped as she dove to the floor. "Curses something," she muttered, finishing the thought from her position on the floor as she looked over her shoulder at the quartered dresser that had previously sat against the wall just behind where she'd been standing. Lovely.
Draco watched his father fall, trying to apply pressure to the gaping slice down his body. Draco almost laughed at the thought of what Potter would say if he knew the first spell that popped into Draco's head was the one Potter had used on him in the girl's loo. He turned his back on his father and knelt to press a kiss to his mother's cheek. Then he faced his father for the last time.
"I'm finished with this. I don't want any more to do with it. When this is all over, I'm going to tear down and get rid of everything." Draco looked to his mother's still form on the floor. "Everything except the name. The name I can fix."
He turned his back on them then, strode across the room, and just as his hand landed on the doorknob a hollow laugh forced him to turn back around.
"Fix the Malfoy name, will you son? You've committed patricide, and you may as well have killed your mother. So tell me, how do you plan to accomplish this goal?"
Draco set his jaw, biting back a flurry of curses – both linguistic and magical – and then exited the room. He forced himself to walk down the hall, down the stairs, and out the door of what he'd once called home. He maintained the clipped walk until he reached the edge of the Malfoy estate, and then he ran. He ran and ran and ran until he collapsed in a heap in the middle of the woods, halfheartedly hoping a hungry werewolf would stumble upon him. He would even have settled for a non-transformed Greyback at that point.
And then he broke down.
A sigh of relief whooshed from Ginny's lungs. The dream appeared to have ended, and he need never know that Ginny had been in his room, let alone witnessed his nightmare. She had just climbed to her feet to leave Draco in peace when he started thrashing again.
She swore under her breath, but it was the humane thing to do – despite the torture he would put her through afterwards. She crept toward the bed and reached out for his wildly flailing body. Unsure of how to wake him without becoming a target, Ginny pulled back and tugged at her ponytail. What was the best way to go about this?
At last, she decided to lean over him and grasp his shoulders. That way he hopefully wouldn't be able to punch her or kick her in the panic that came from being shaken from the hold of a wild dream. At least she had experience with some aspect of matters like this.
She leaned over him, careful to keep her face a bit back from his head – she didn't want a broken nose, after all. When she was sure she had a good position, she moved her hands from the mattress on either side of his body and reached out to shake his shoulders. Her hands were only inches from their destination when his eyes shot open and his arms shot up.
Ginny shrieked in surprise as he gripped her wrists and flipped her over, pinning her underneath him.
The first thought that ran through Draco's head was that he liked the feel of her underneath him. It was followed shortly by, "What the Hell is wrong with me?" He kept her pinned there though, while he tried to steady his breathing and calm his nerves.
Surprisingly, she didn't struggle, just stared up at him with those big doe eyes, no doubt wondering how she'd found herself underneath him so fast.
It was the thought that he could get used to this with her that took him by surprise and sent his brain flying for a quip of some kind to raise her ire. He liked it better when she was angry. Then he could be angry, and that was much less unsettling than wondering why he wanted to be civil to her.
"I know you're a miser, Weaslette, but throwing yourself at me isn't going to get you any favors. Malfoys don't pay for their women," he said casually, quirking his eyebrow and putting on a smirk for good measure.
She growled and thrashed underneath him. "Let me up," she demanded when her thrashing had no effect.
Suddenly, Draco was inexplicably afraid he'd gone too far. She looked angry enough to curse him to Hell and back again easily, and aside from that, what if she stopped talking to him altogether?
"I said, let me up!"
Still Draco did not move.
"Are you dense or something? Move your arse, ferret!" She was so surprised when he actually rolled to the side and released her wrists in one smooth movement that it took her a moment to realize she was free and hop off the bed. Once on her feet, she turned back to him and rubbed her wrists, though he hadn't really hurt them.
"How in Merlin's name did you go from asleep to awake so fast?"
He was taken aback by her rapid change in demeanor, and answered her question truthfully because he was really too surprised to do much else. A wry grin crossed his face. "Death Eater's son," he said with a shrug.
Ginny, for her part, neither flinched nor went all sympathetic. He almost wished she had. He thought he might know how to deal with that.
Instead, she gave him a nod and a half-smile of her own. "Yeah, that would do it."
Before he knew it, or could stop it, he was laughing aloud – and it felt good. It had been ages and ages since he'd last laughed. She joined in gladly, and Draco thought that the sound of her laugh was really quite pretty. Then, of course, he had to laugh some more because he was obviously going mad.
"So it's false then," she finally interrupted the laughing.
Draco looked at her questioningly.
"Malfoys do know how to do something other than smirk. Damn, I wish there was a pool on that."
That was all it took to set him off again.
"So why were you up in my room anyway?" he asked when the laughter seemed to have run itself out.
Ginny jumped as if he'd bitten her. "Hurry up, get dressed. The Order is coming for supper."
Draco sat heavily back down on his bed, crossing his arms over his chest. "I am not eating supper while being scrutinized by the likes of them."
"Oh, yes, you are."
"What say have you got, Weaslette?" he demanded petulantly. "I say I'm not."
"And I say you are, because I'm not about to go back down there without you. If you don't want to dine with us, you can at least have the manners to tell Mum yourself."
Draco huffed and puffed, but Ginny remained firm. "You're going. Get dressed."
That was when Draco saw the dresser.
"What have you done to my clothes?"
Ginny paled. She'd forgotten about that. Damn. "Well, actually, you did that."
"I did not."
"Yes, you did."
"I did not."
"Yes, you did."
"I would never –"
"You were dreaming, all right? You almost got me with that curse too."
"I was –"
Ginny heaved a sigh. "You were having a nightmare. A loud one. I thought someone was killing you. Guess I'm not that lucky."
Draco glared at her. So much for smoothing this mess over with her comedic ability.
"Kidding. I was going to leave you, but then, I don't know, I guess I could feel it coming. So then I was going to try to wake you before you pulled off the accidental magic, but I wasn't fast enough. How do you know Sectumsempra anyhow?"
"Long story. But what I want to know is what you're going to do about my clothes." It did not occur to Draco to ask how she knew the spell as well.
Ginny snorted. "Do I look like a House Elf to you?"
Her expression clearly stated that the answer was no, and Draco always had been a smart boy.
"Well, no, but…"
She cut him off flippantly. "Use a Reparo on them. That should work well enough."
Draco eyed her as if she'd just told him that Blast-Ended Skrewts were highly valuable commodities. "Malfoys do not Reparo their clothing."
"Oh, so you have enough time to make a dash to Diagon Alley before supper?"
"Well, no –"
"You know sewing charms and can stitch them up?"
"Reparo it is," she called cheerily over her shoulder as she began to exit the room.
"Hey!" he cried suddenly. "You're a girl –"
Ginny whirled on her heel to face him. She really had already had quite enough of the 'but Ginny, you're a young lady' crap from her mother this afternoon, thanks. "How nice of you to notice. Now, you have about ten seconds to rephrase that, and after, I suggest you speak with Ron about what happened to him the last time he started a sentence with that phrase."
Ginny's jaw nearly unhinged, it dropped so fast. "Did you just apologize? Surely Malfoys don't apologize."
"I'm sure the ancestors are spinning in their graves, but I'm really not in the mood to have flying bogeys attack my face. That is disgusting, by the way."
Draco became indignant. "I am not a wimp!" He frowned peevishly at her. "I'm sure you wouldn't like bogeys attacking your face either."
Ginny waved her hand negligently. "I'm the only one Bill's taught the spell to, so not possible. Just get on with it. What were you going to say?"
"Well, you must know sewing spells, right? Girls are supposed to learn that sort of stuff."
She covered her face with her hands and shook her head. "Dear Merlin. He's in league with my mother." When she looked at him, she sighed. "Look, I don't knit, I hate cooking, and I can't cast a proper sewing charm to save my life. I am not domesticated at all, and according to my mother, I'm going to die old and alone for it."
Draco arched an eyebrow at her, but wisely remained silent.
"Now repair your clothes and hurry up and get dressed. Mum'll have kittens if we're late for supper."
"Have you lot made any progress?” Tonks asked from across the table.
"Not at supper, Tonks," Mrs. Weasley scolded. "We have enough of this conversation at other times; I won't have it at my table too."
"It is not your table," Ginny growled under her breath, still brooding over her mother's unwelcome favoritism. Unfortunately, she wasn't quite quiet enough, and Harry – on one side of her – choked a little on the gulp of pumpkin juice he'd just taken while Draco – on her other side – snorted into his roast. Remus, up near the head of the table, caught her eye and quirked a curious eyebrow at her. Ginny blushed. She often had wondered whether being a true werewolf affected his human senses the way being a kind-of werewolf affected Bill's. Well, now she knew, but at least she could trust he wouldn't tattle to her mother.
When the meeting was called to order, Ginny's mother looked at her expectantly.
Ginny pointedly ignored the look.
"Ginny, dear, the meeting is starting."
Fred and George chuckled. Ginny smiled blankly at her mum. "I know."
"You're not. You're too young." Her mother's voice held a threatening quality with which all the Weasley children were well familiar.
"I'm seventeen. I'm of age, and I'm a member of the Order now. I'm staying."
"I won't have it!"
"You are embarrassing me," Ginny hissed at her mother, while the Order looked on bemusedly.
"Actually, Molly, Ginny's input would be appreciated tonight," Remus interjected.
"Yes, dear, Remus is right." Arthur Weasley studied his daughter for a moment. "And Ginny is right too. She is of age, and it was her decision to join the Order."
Molly looked around the table. When she saw no one was going to back her up, she slammed herself down into her seat. "Fine."
Nobody had the audacity to believe that anything was actually 'fine.'
The meeting was actually a mission update, and as such, limited to key members. Draco was surprised he'd been allowed to stay.
"So, let's have it then. What's the plan? Where do we stand?"
"Well, Malfoy –" Ron started, but there were several cleared throats that interrupted him.
One of which, Draco was happy to note, was Ginny's.
"Fine. Draco says that Regulus Black was his godfather. If he is who we think he is, and was killed why we think he was killed, then we're pretty much set."
"Could you not be so cryptic, Weasley? Because if you think I'm going to help you without knowing what's going on, you'd better think again," Draco objected.
"I told you so," Hermione hissed at Ron.
"I'm not telling that Death Eater anything!” Ron roared.
Draco leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "That's your prerogative."
Ron looked smug for a moment.
"But if that's how you feel, you'll be completing your mission without my help."
"Then… Then we're going to turn you over to the Ministry!"
Ginny had to interrupt then. Things were getting a little ridiculous. "Ron, you're acting like a two year old. For Merlin's sake, just tell him!"
Draco smirked at Ron.
"And you aren't helping your case," Ginny said, not even deigning to look at Draco.
Ron sputtered and looked to Harry. Harry, to everyone's surprise, nodded. "She's right. Unfortunately."
For his show of, albeit reluctant, faith, Ginny rewarded Harry with an impromptu kiss on the cheek. Ron sighed and deferred to Hermione, who looked elated at the idea of explaining the situation, in an orderly and neatly presented fashion, of course.
"Well, let's start at the beginning then."
Ginny groaned softly next to him, and Draco bit back a smile.
"Do you know what a Horcrux is?"
Draco fixed the bushy witch with a look of disbelief. Stupid Gryffindors. "Did you forget who my father was?"
"Oh, right. Erm, sorry."
Draco waved off her apology.
"Well, I don't know how much information you were privy to, so I'll just tell you what we know, all right?'
Draco nodded before he realized she was actually addressing Harry, seeking perfect Potter's approval to tell him.
"Okay. Well, Voldemort had been creating Horcruxes to ensure his survival. We deduced, with the help of Dumbledore and a borrowed memory, that he wanted to split his soul into seven pieces. That would require the making of six Horcruxes. Anyway, one night Professor Snape overheard the last bit of a prophecy and ran to report it to Voldemort. In short, the prophecy says Harry is the only person who can kill Voldemort. So, Voldemort, having heard Snape's partial retelling, goes after Harry, believing that he's fulfilling this prophecy and intending to make the sixth and final Horcrux from Harry's death as sort of a symbolic right of power – immortality – what have you. Obviously, things didn't go as planned, and that's why he was reduced to a vapor-ish soul instead of being killed outright when his curse rebounded back onto him," she finished before drawing a giant breath.
Draco closed his eyes for a moment, sorting the information. That explained a lot. Then he nodded his head. "Right."
"Okay. So that left him with five Horcruxes. Before he was, um, regenerated – for lack of better word – in our Fourth year, he killed an old man – the gardener at the Riddle home – and used that kill to make the sixth and final Horcrux."
"Nagini," Draco said immediately.
"How did you –"
"I didn't. I just figured he wouldn't be so obsessed with another living thing if it weren't somehow important. After hearing about his Horcruxes, what else could she be?"
Hermione appraised him for a moment. She had obviously overlooked some of his more choice traits somewhere along the line. "Right. Well, she makes six. The best we can figure, each Horcrux is something sentimental to him or something that would be a prize to possess. Literally, in this case."
"The Founder's heirlooms."
Hermione looked gob smacked. "Right. Again."
"I'm not stupid, Granger. I'm a lot sharper than I let on."
He waved his hand negligently, dismissing her apology for the second time that evening, and Hermione found it disconcerting that he waved her off so easily.
"What have you got so far?" he asked.
"Well, four pieces of his soul have been destroyed." Draco only nodded, so she continued. "Slytherin's ring, Hufflepuff's cup, Ravenclaw's wand, and –"
"You destroyed Ravenclaw's wand? Do you have any idea what that's worth?"
"Quite a lot, I'd presume. But no, we didn't destroy the wand; we destroyed the piece of his soul in the wand – the same as we did the cup. Although, it did crack down the side when we extracted it. The cup shattered altogether. I suppose Ollivander could repair that. According to Diggle, Ollivander picked up all sorts of new tricks since he went on that expedition."
Expedition? It was true, Gryffindors would buy anything. Who in their right mind thought someone from the oldest line of wand makers ever – who'd been making wands himself for over a century, at least – would need to go on an expedition to pick up new tricks? The Ollivanders created the tricks.
"Don't take it to Ollivander," Draco settled on saying.
"Well why ever not?" Hermione asked before the possibility formed in her head. "You mean?"
Draco nodded. "I can't tell if it's the Imperious or not, but either way, yes."
Hermione's eyes lit up. "Of course! That's why the Ministry can't track them!"
At least she caught on quickly enough.
Everyone else around the table looked confused, but Remus seemed to have cottoned on to Hermione's train of thought. "We never even considered the possibility – that explains quite a lot. Alastor, get an owl out to Kingsley."
"On it yesterday," came the reply from an already moving Alastor Moody.
"On what? Would someone tell me what's going on?” Harry bellowed amid the flurry of motion Draco's revelation set off.
"Honestly," Draco snipped, "And you're supposed to be the hero. Merlin save us."
"Could've been Neville," Harry snapped back.
"Bless for small miracles then," Draco replied – hurriedly eating his words.
Ginny took pity on Harry. "Harry, your Fifth year the Ministry wanted to expel you for Under-Aged Magic. How did they know you did it?"
"I dunno. My wand?"
"Yes. Every wand is unique. Of course, there are only so many different kinds of cores, but they all come from animals that are unique, and in combination with the type of wood used and the length, having two wands that are exactly the same is all but impossible."
Things suddenly seemed to click for Harry. "Wands are registered to their owner by the merchant. If they have Ollivander, they have unregistered wands, and the Ministry wouldn't be able to track them."
"But how –" Ginny turned to Remus. "I thought individual wands couldn't be tracked when more than one or two were present? Wouldn't there be too much magical interference to follow a specific wand?"
Remus nodded. "Generally yes, but in those settings, there are typically corroborating witnesses, so it isn't really an issue. But one of Kingsley's Unspeakables – Cho Chang, if memory serves – has been fine-tuning a means of tracking only specific spells. Unforgivables, in this case. We thought it was a failure, because we weren't picking up any uses except the ones they were authorized to cast in testing. We never considered the possibility that they had wands we didn't know about."
"Right. Good show. We're going to have to reconvene, I'm afraid. Good tip, Malfoy," Moody announced upon his return from the Floo. It was as close to praise as anyone, with the possible exception of Tonks, had ever gotten from him.
The meeting adjourned, and everyone went their separate ways – the kids, Mrs. Weasley, and Tonks to their respective rooms and Alastor, Remus, and Arthur out to work their newest advantage to the fullest. Draco, for one, felt particularly satisfied as he flopped onto his bed for the night.
“Oh” was the only halfway coherent statement she could get out as he dragged his lips down her neck and across her collarbone. The candles seemed to brighten as she drew in a gasp and arched up underneath him, desperate to have more of her body against his.
He glanced up at her from underneath his messy fringe; when he reached her belly, his hands trailed down her hips and gripped her bum, pulling her closer to him. He was very coordinated, to be doing so many little things that made her feel like she was going to explode all at once and remain so ardently dedicated in his goal of what seemed to be mapping every inch of her with his lips. His eyes, dark with lust, never left hers as he dipped his tongue into her belly button.
Sweet Merlin, he was trying to kill her. She might have said something, but she was certain that it really came out as a moan when he smirked at her, before pulling at her knickers and sliding his lips lower.
Then he shoved her. That was uncalled for! How did he manage to shove her from the side when he was clearly, deliciously on top of her? Then he started to shake her.
“Ginny, Gin? Ginny! Would you –“
She wished he would shut up. He sounded like Ron, yelling at her like that.
Ginny’s eyes shot open. There, not two inches away, were bright blue eyes staring back at her. Thoroughly disoriented, and more than a little shaken, Ginny shrieked and reached for the closest weapon at hand.
Ron’s shout of indignation was effectively muffled by the pillow she swung into his face. She kicked out at him, and by the time Ginny realized it was Ron she was fighting, it was too late. Her aim was impeccable, and the damage had already been done. As Ron slumped to the floor, she saw Harry and Draco abruptly stop their fighting to get through her bedroom door.
As she leapt from the bed to tend to Ron, Ginny, for perhaps the first time in her life, was painfully aware of how ill-fitting her sleep clothes were. The top was a good bit too short and fit snugly around her breasts, and the pants might have been Charlie’s at some point because they were baggy and hung loosely from her hips. Her neck and chest were still flushed and sweaty from her dream, and she prayed to any deity that might be listening that Harry and Draco would think it from embarrassment and the exertion of fighting off Ron.
“Oh, Ron! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, honest,” she proclaimed, kneeling next to him on the floor.
“Don’t touch me,” he grunted hatefully.
“Ron, come on.” She reached for him anyway, and he drew away from her.
“Seriously, Gin, give me a minute. Yeah?”
“Oh, sure, I’ll – Um, I’ll just get cleaned up and, uh, give you a minute then.” She gave him a little, embarrassed shrug and bolted from the room, pushing between Harry and Draco in her rush to the veritable safety of the loo.
It was not until she’d braced herself over the edge of the sink and looked in the mirror that she realized she was uncertain about whom, exactly, she’d been dreaming. This, understandably, did not make her feel any better. Ginny turned on the tap and splashed her face with cold water, hoping it would help her blush disappear.
Once she was gone from the room, Ron stretched out on the floor and rolled to his back. Covering his face with his hands, he groaned, “Buggering fuck.”
“Bad luck, Weasel,” Draco drawled from the doorway. “Next time, try not to scare her to death, and maybe she won’t feel the need to help improve the general population’s intelligence by keeping you from procreating. …Not that I don’t applaud her efforts.”
Inside, his organs were slowly beginning to unwind themselves from the knot they’d snarled into when he’d first heard her screaming from his new room, down two doors and across the hall. Of course, this realization did nothing other than cause him concern that his previous statement could be interpreted as him caring for Ginny, so he quickly amended it. “Besides, Potter here desperately needs beauty sleep, and he can’t very well get that while she’s screaming, now can he?”
“Bugger off, Malfoy.”
Draco arched an eyebrow at Potter. “Are you going to make me?”
“No, but I might,” came an amused, distinctly female voice from behind him. “Leave Ron alone, Draco. It’s not a big deal.”
Draco’s nerves felt they might jump out of his skin as her hand skimmed across his shoulder. “Here to save the weak and protect the innocent?” he inquired.
“If so, I think someone gave me the wrong directions. Go finish your primping,” Ginny teased, flicking his ear as she passed by. Even she was amazed at the sort-of camaraderie they’d forged in the wake of the trio-that-could-neither-be-parted-nor-infiltrated. When he continued to simply stare at her, Ginny frowned. “I said shoo. So shoo.”
"Why does he mind you?" Harry asked as Draco stomped down the hall.
"Don't be a prat, Harry. He doesn't mind me. He listens to me because I treat him like a human being and not a nasty creature."
Harry shrugged. "Well, until proven otherwise," he said with a grin – just in case she couldn't tell from his tone of voice that he was kidding – kind of.
"Harry! Really." She giggled before she could help herself. "I don't even know if I can scold you for that. …I think Ron wanted to talk to me though, so, um –"
"Yeah." He ran a hand through his perpetually chaotic hair. "Why don't we catch up later? Maybe we can find time for a game of Exploding Snap or Wizard's Chess?"
"If we're going to play Wizard's Chess, you should go and practice," she teased.
"Oh we'll see who needs practice."
Little shivers ran down Ginny's spine as she entered her room. Things between she and Harry had changed, and she didn't think they could ever go back to the way they were. The shivers, unfortunately, seemed to be only the remains of a habit formed long ago. But they were still there, and that bothered her conscience – especially since she was almost positive that it was no longer Harry starring in her dreams.
By the time she turned her attention back to Ron, he had made himself at home on her bed and was giving her a concerned look. "Sorry I scared you, Gin," he said as she climbed onto the bed beside him.
"S'all right. Sorry I, um, just, sorry."
"It's okay. What's the deal with you and Harry? You guys seemed okay just now."
Ginny sighed. "I don't know, Ron. Yes, just now things were okay, but at the same time, they aren't really, and I guess – I don't know. We're just kind of in a state of limbo."
She took a moment to study her brother, for the first time in a long time. He had grown into his lanky frame, and his eyes, while they still twinkled like they had when they were little, looked older somehow. A little wiser, a little more knowing – and almost sad to be that way.
"But you didn't wake me up to talk about me and Harry."
Ron twiddled his thumbs for a moment before heaving a sigh. "You aren't going to make this easy for me, are you?"
She grinned at him. "Now, why would I do a thing like that?"
"I think you might be spending too much time with Malfoy."
"Draco," she corrected absently.
"See?" he teased her. "Do you think you could help me though?"
A sly smile crept across Ginny's face. "With what?"
"Come on. Don't make me say it." He bumped his shoulder against hers and managed to wait for a moment before blurting it out. "Hermione's birthday is at the end of the week."
"Ah. I see."
"So?" he asked hopefully.
"So what?" she teased him.
"So, what do I get her? I mean, I want to get her a, you know, a girl gift. But something that she'll still be able to use."
"Well don't get her any more of that perfume you got her for Christmas when you were in fifth year. That smelled bloody awful." Ron flushed, and Ginny suddenly felt bad for being so very blunt. He was trying, after all. "Well, what ideas do you have?"
"Uh, well, I thought about getting her perfume, but obviously that's no good. I thought about getting her a book – I saw that she had a list of ones that she wants. But Harry's getting her a book from that list, and I don't want it to be like, 'Hey, here's a book, and I know you like books 'cause we're mates.' You know? Then I thought she might like something for her hair –" He cut himself off upon seeing Ginny's reaction to that suggestion. "Would that not be good?"
"I, um, well you getting her hair products could be a bit, erm, misunderstood. She's very sensitive about her hair, actually. But you had some good ideas," Ginny said, trying to cheer her brother up. "Let's go back to the book idea. What about a book that's not on her list? Surely we can come up with something that doesn't say 'Hey, let's be mates' without it being totally non-academic, right? You know her well enough to have an idea of what she's interested in. I think she would be touched that you took the time to pick something you thought she'd find interesting."
Ron looked doubtful, but dutifully chimed his agreement. By the time he left, Ginny was smiling in satisfaction. They'd not only planned a present, but also an entire surprise party for Hermione. Her brother could be brilliant when he applied himself. Hermione was a lucky witch.
"Ginny, really, I don't want to do anything special for my birthday."
"Bull," Ginny said, not pausing her efforts to drag Hermione down the hall with her. "It'll be fun."
"Contrary to popular belief, I've never really been a Trelawney fan," Hermione deadpanned.
"Hermione, we never do anything for your birthday. Would you just relax and try to have a good time? You cannot make me believe that you would be happy to spend your birthday in the library, just like you do every other day of the year."
"I like the library, thanks."
"Granger, would you just go with her so she'll stop harping on? Some of us are trying to enjoy life," Draco snarled from his doorway.
Ginny looked pointedly at him. "Yes. And if you want to continue to enjoy yours, you will be nice to the birthday girl."
Draco rolled his eyes at Ginny's most likely idle threat. "Surely you know by now that I'm not nice."
"I know. You have the temperament of a Hungarian Horntail." She crinkled her nose at him. "A grouchy one."
"Dragons don't play nicely. Surely you know that. Your brother is a dragon tamer."
"Then it would be wise of you not to make me floo him."
Hermione smiled as Draco arched an appraising eyebrow at Ginny.
Finally satisfied, he nodded. "Touché."
Ginny smiled at him. "Thank you. Now then, I know you have things to be doing, so shouldn't you, you know, go?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'm going." He muttered unintelligibly as he stalked down the hall.
"What are you making him do?” Hermione asked as she allowed herself – for the moment – to be pulled up the stairs.
"Something not for him," Ginny quipped. While she personally thought Draco's attitude had improved in leaps and bounds, he was still a selfish little snot sometimes.
"Oh, while we're alone up here – and I'm certain there aren't any Extendable Ears –" Hermione paused on the landing of the third floor and wrung her hands together. "Thank you for helping Ron with my gift. It's perfect. Poetry and history all in one."
Ginny smiled. "Hermione, Ron picked that book out himself. I mean, I pointed him in the right direction – I won't deny that – but he was the one who came up with the idea, and like I said, picked that book out. He spent an entire hour in Flourish and Blotts."
Hermione's eyes lit up. Ron positively hated Flourish and Blotts. "Really?" She bounced on the balls of her feet a little bit; only just barely suppressing what Ginny thought might have been a very un-Hermione like squeal. "Yes. Yes, yes, yes! Take that, Lavender Brown."
Ginny barely kept her own squeal in check at seeing her friend so happy. And to think, it only took telling her that Ron had picked out a book for her. Ginny always knew life was about the little things.
"Are you ready?" she asked Hermione once the other girl's happy dance subsided. She didn't give her time to answer – or stall – instead reaching out and rapping sharply on Professor Trelawney's door.
[[A/N]]: Thank you for reading! If you would be so kind as to review and let me know what you think, I would really appreciate it!
"Come in, come in my dears!” Professor Trelawney exclaimed as she opened the door with a flourish and a half-curtsy that made Hermione shoot a look at Ginny. "It is my understanding that you wish to seek the future untold, correct? Of course it is, for what other reason would one come to a seer? How silly of me. The stars, of course, divined that you would be in dire need of help." She ushered them into the room, which, like her classroom, was warm and heavily perfumed. "Come, sit, sit."
Even Hermione had to admit that, while she wasn't one for relying on tea and wax and the stars for guidance, and while Professor Trelawney was a poor excuse for a teacher under any circumstances, the woman did know how to put on a show. Especially since it seemed she'd been denied regular access to cooking sherry, or other alcoholic beverages.
"It's her birthday," Ginny informed the batty woman with a mischievous grin. She watched Hermione twitch just the smallest bit, and her grin widened.
"Of course it is! Well, we must do a reading then, mustn't we?" she asked, voice taking on a much more mystical tone than it had had moments ago.
"Oh, that's okay. You could read Ginny, if you wanted. I'd be happy just to watch," Hermione offered hopefully.
"No, no. The spirits are quite insistent that I read you. They feel a very strong connection to you. Yes, yes. Tell me, dear, do you have a touch of the Sight?"
Hermione looked so offended that Ginny almost laughed.
"Oh, my dear, don't look so distraught! It's a marvelous gift, though I know the burden can sometimes be tiring." She clapped her hands together twice, and then escorted them to two poufs on one side of a short table. "Just a moment while I gather the necessary tools, if you please."
Hermione looked pointedly at Ginny. "You'd better have gotten me a very nice birthday present to make up for this."
Trelawney floated towards them with an impossibly tall stack of materials in her arms, and Hermione's good manners won out. "Oh, goodness, do you need help?"
"Nonsense, nonsense. Sit and be comfortable. However, I will have you start that pot of tea. I feel strongly that we should begin with a proper tealeaf reading. However, since the spirits seem to react so strongly to you, I will ask – do you feel this is the proper way to go about our reading?"
"Oh. Um, why not?" Hermione flicked her wand at the teakettle. She didn't feel any particularly insistent spirits that indicated she should do otherwise. Unless logic counted, but it was too busy dying in a fit of hysterics to bother.
"Drink up, drink up now, my dears!” Trelawney instructed once the girls had poured their tea. "As fast as you can, don't stop. Well, stop if you must, of course, but only then. The spirits would be much displeased if you died before they could convey their message to you. It is an important one, do you feel it?"
Ginny began to tip her cup down so she could answer – as the manners her mother had managed to beat into her brain demanded – but Trelawney pushed the cup back up, causing Ginny to sputter into her tea. "Don't stop drinking, Ginny. We must preserve the spirit's message."
Ginny's eyebrows knitted together over her cup as she contemplated what the punishment for beating someone to death with a teacup would be. But she continued to drink nonetheless. Ron so owed her. Ron owed her big.
"Good, my dear. Swirl the leaves around now. Once more, there, that should do. Now then, what do you see?"
Hermione reluctantly peeked into her cup, and her bravery was pleasantly rewarded by the clump of leaves near the top of her cup. "Oh!" It was something she would recognize anywhere. "A book!"
"Let me see!" Trelawney snatched the cup away from Hermione. "Yes, yes. And what does the finding of a tome indicate?" she asked, eyes appearing the size of saucers behind her thick glasses as she peered into the cup. "Never mind, you've not enough training to know. You, dear, were not enrolled in my class. Your mother insisted otherwise, didn't she?"
Hermione arched an eyebrow – frankly, she couldn't believe the woman hadn't recognized her. And really now, how did she know that her mother had been opposed to Hermione taking the class when they'd gone over her schedule? Her mother was right, of course, she had that infuriating habit, but still.
Trelawney continued, oblivious to Hermione's somewhat worrisome thoughts. "An open book indicates the finding of an answer. Good, child. There also appears to be a chain along the bottom of the cup. Congratulations. Oh. Forgive me; I spoke before the spirits had finalized their message. There are multiple swords, as well. I am sorry, dear. But you should know that bodes poorly for your future."
Hermione gave a little laugh and smiled, more for lack of other appropriate response than anything else, as her former professor handed her cup back and floated around to Ginny. She smiled as she noticed some tealeaves in the shape of a lamp along the side of the cup. A light to read by as well, how thoughtful of the spirits.
"And what do you see?” Trelawney asked, plucking the cup out of Ginny's hands. "The spirits are growing stronger. Can you feel them?"
"Of course." The words slid off Ginny's tongue without thought.
The scary part was; she could. Ginny didn't know if it was the spirits, per se, or not, but she could feel the magic in the air. It was growing, almost pulsing, in the small room.
Trelawney peered into Ginny's cup, and then drew back violently. "Oh, my darling! I can't, no, I mustn't!"
Trelawney turned dramatically away from them, and Ginny winked at Hermione.
"All right! All right, I say! I'm sorry, but the spirits do so insist. I see the Grimm, child, and a dagger and axe. But don't fret! There is also a cross and a flame."
"What does the flame mean?"
"It means," Trelawney stalled, grappling for an answer. "It means that the flame of young love is struggling. I am so sorry."
Hermione bit her lip. She was going to burst if she had to contain her laughter for much longer.
"Oh." Ginny frowned. She had hoped there was a true explanation of what the flame symbolized. Perhaps there was, only Trelawney didn't know it. "Could it instead be an indication of what should follow?"
"Yes, yes! Of course. It clearly means that wax scrying is the only acceptable next step. I was testing you, child, and you passed marvelously." Trelawney cupped Ginny's face in her hand. "Such a gift for feeling the will of the spirits you have! Perhaps we should discuss meeting to begin your training."
Hermione snorted loudly, eyes watering at the put out expression on Ginny's face. She broke into a hasty coughing fit to cover her conspicuous snort.
“My dear, do conjure yourself some water! The spirits react pleasantly to your wand. I must go and select wax appropriate for you. It must strike me, in order to connect the spirits to you. Please be patient, it could take a moment.”
No sooner had she swept behind the curtain dividing the room did Hermione double over on the floor, clutching her stomach and laughing uncontrollably – albeit quietly. “I – I –“ she cut herself off with another bout of laughter. “I have a touch of the Sight? She’s mad. Divination is woolly business, and mostly guesswork. Really –“
“But Hermione, it’s a gift!” Ginny insisted with a grin, before looking into Hermione’s teacup. “There’s a lamp in here too. Did you see that?”
“Yes. Kind of them, wasn’t it, to provide me light to read by?”
Ginny’s grin widened. “Right thoughtful.”
“Hermione, child, what type of wood is your wand?” Trelawney reappeared from behind the curtain, two balls of wax in her hands. One was violent, Cannons’ orange, the other the color of spun gold.
“It’s vine wood.” Hermione eyed her former professor warily, unsure of where she was going with her inquiry.
“Do you know that the most renowned property of vine wood is its ability to release prophetic powers? It wouldn’t have chosen a witch without the Sight. It just –“Trelawney stopped mid-lecture, and her entire body seemed to shudder for a moment.
“Professor?” Hermione asked, rising from her seat. Ginny too had stood, and the girls exchanged merely a look before rushing to the batty woman’s aid.
They were nearly to her when the wax suddenly dropped from her hands. “The marked knows his destiny,” she said, her voice deep and entirely unlike the mystically toned one she used to make her earlier predictions.
“Professor Trelawney? Are you all right?” Ginny ventured.
“The marked knows his destiny!” Professor Trelawney boomed. “Power has been forgotten. Logic remembers, but the heart must make his peace before it will be known. Bravery must find balance with logic, and they with the heart, for the heart shall falter before the Dark Lord without them. They will fall worthless without strength, for it is he who guards the power. Without her, all is lost. The marked knows his destiny and he must make his peace.”
Ginny and Hermione were rooted to the spot, looking incredulously at Trelawney, and then each other, and then Trelawney again. The biggest fraud in all of Hogwarts was making a prophecy, a real prophecy, in front of them. Two of the greatest anti-Trelawney advocates in the history of Hogwarts.
And suddenly, as quickly as it had set on, the blank look on Trelawney’s face disappeared. “- wouldn’t have. Of course, it has other character traits, such as a strong connection to the mental powers and tenacity of the owner.” Trelawney suddenly seemed to realize that Hermione and Ginny were standing, staring at her, and she paused. “No, no. I don’t need any help, it’s no trouble at –“She abruptly looked down to find her hands empty. “It appears the spirits have changed their mind. There shall be no scrying today.”
“It’s okay, we’d be more than happy to stop back by another time. We should be getting on, as it is,” Hermione said quickly. When Ginny only continued to gape, Hermione elbowed her in the side.
“What? Oh! Oh. Right. The, um, the thing. We should go. We have a thing.” Ginny looked at the door. “Tonight. Now.” She nodded her head to emphasize her point.
“Do be careful, my dears. Especially you, Ginny, with the Grimm in your cup.”
“Of course,” Ginny agreed, dragging Hermione out the door with her.
The door to the room shut behind them, and Hermione turned to Ginny. “She made a prophecy.”
“Yes,” Ginny replied vaguely. Both girls still wore stunned expression on their faces.
“Ginny,” Hermione began slowly, gathering her thoughts. “Ginny, she just told us how to defeat Voldemort.”
Ginny nodded. “I know.”
And that was all it took. The girls set off – running like madwomen down the hall for the stairs.
“We have to call the Order,” Ginny said between breathes as they thundered down the stairs.
“Find Remus,” Hermione added, as they turned the landing between the third and second floors.
“Find Malfoy.” Ginny’s stride faltered for a moment, but before she could say anything, Hermione, sensing the coming question, expanded on that particular thought. “What? He’s sharp as a tack.”
Draco stalked out of his room and the few steps to the landing of the second floor to see what the commotion was all about. With the amount of noise, he expected to find the wretched house collapsing. He was surprised to see only a blur of brown and red as it flashed by him, and more surprised still when a hand shot out of said blur and clamped closed around his wrist, tugging him along with them.
“Oh, really, it’s not necessary Tonks. I have everything under control in here; there’s no need for you to tire yourself,” Molly cajoled Tonks, attempting to talk the bubblegum haired witch into putting Hermione’s birthday cake back on the counter before something dreadful happened to it. “I’m sure you had a long day at work, so why don’t you just have a seat and relax at the table?”
The cake tilted dangerously towards the ground as Tonks turned sharply to face Molly. Molly drew a sharp breath.
“It was a light day at work. It’s going to be light days for a while, can’t have a pregnant witch out chasing down the bad guys, now can we? It’s a load of tosh, but that’s beside the point. There’s no one in here to help you.”
“I could call Dobby,” Molly tried.
Tonks shook her head, and the cake in her arms wobbled. “The least I can do is take the cake to the table. There’s no need to call Dobby in for that.” Tonks shrugged with the last statement, and the cake tilted dangerously again.
Molly's smile wavered. There was no going back now. Besides, it sounded like the poor dear had a rough day, if taking the cake to the table made her feel useful… "Well, if you insist," she said at last, despite her better judgment. It was a short walk, hardly three meter's worth across open, non-rugged and non-troll-standed floor. What could possibly happen?
No sooner than Molly allowed Tonks – and the cake – out of arms reach did the kitchen door burst open. Hermione and Ginny, frantic as they were, had enough control over their feet to avoid Tonks, who was trying to dodge them as well. Molly held her breath as the cake waved haphazardly through the air. Tonks finally stopped, but before Molly could whisk in and remove the cake from harm's way – rude or no – tragedy struck.
Draco, unfortunately, had been dragged along by Hermione, and when she dodged to the side and stopped, he was propelled directly into his pink-haired cousin. And Hermione's birthday cake.
By the time the Order, most of whom had planned on coming to the birthday get together regardless, was called, Draco had been able to clean himself up. Except for the streak of icing he'd missed along the corner of his jaw. Ginny spotted and scooped up that particularly troubling bit of confection, and she promptly stuck her icing covered finger into her mouth. Draco momentarily thought his eyes might bug out of their sockets before he regained control of them.
She'd seen though. She'd seen his reaction to what she considered a totally platonic action, and she was perplexed. After all, the rest of the cake had ended up on the floor, and really, who was foolish enough to waste her mum's homemade icing? She wanted to see it again, that expression on his face before the mask of control slammed back down. It would have to wait though; the Order was ready to begin discussions.
"Harry! Harry, would you wait for me?” Ginny called after him, chasing him down the hall after the meeting. He hadn't reacted well to the newest prophecy, to say the least. Really, he was being a bit ridiculous. Ginny was certain that had she – or any of her brothers – ever acted like this as a child, her mother would have tanned their freckled hides.
"Leave me alone." He took larger steps.
She continued to chase him, and had she been more focused on where she was going, she probably wouldn't have crashed – yet again – headlong into Draco. "Draco move. I need to get to Harry," she said absently, focused intently on seeing which direction Harry turned at the end of the hall.
"I thought you were finished with chasing after Potter?" he growled, irritated with himself for being irritated with her. He was not jealous. He wasn't. Malfoy's didn't do jealousy.
She looked up at him, wondering at the unnecessary bite behind his words. "I'm not chasing after him. I'm trying to – Oh for Merlin's sake!" Ginny threw her hands in the air. Why was she explaining herself to him as if he'd caught her doing something naughty? He certainly didn't care. And why did she even give a damn whether he cared or not? "This has nothing to do with that. Now get out of my way."
She tried to step around him, but he moved to block her path.
"Why? So he can make you cry? Tell me," he paused and smiled cruelly. "Are you a masochist, Weasley?"
His words shocked her speechless for a moment, and she stared at him almost wonderingly until she regained control of her tongue. "You'd better be careful, Malfoy, or someone's going to think you care," she spat.
His lip curled up into its trademark sneer, and he spread his arms wide and stepped to the side, almost bowing her past him. "My mistake."
His eyes glittered dangerously in the low light, and Ginny hurried by him, telling herself that she was just upset that Harry was being a prat – not about anything Malfoy may or may not have said, or implied. She swore she felt those eyes burning holes straight through her back as she hurried down the hall, but when she looked back over her shoulder, he was nowhere in sight.
The door to the Tapestry room was closed, locked. Ginny stomped her foot and then proceeded to bang on the door. "You let me in there this instant, Harry! Or so help me Merlin, I will blast the damned door down!"
She gave him a moment, and then tried the handle again. Nothing.
"Fine. Be that way!" She took a step back from the door, took a deep breath, and prepared to use the one blasting curse she knew.
The door flew backwards in several large pieces, and Ginny allowed herself the tiniest of proud smiles. It was Draco's curse, and she was certain her proficiency with it would have made Draco proud – had she even been thinking about him, which she wasn't.
"Ginny! What –" Harry protested. He hadn't thought she would actually blast the door in. "I said I wanted to be left alone."
"Why? So you can brood?” Ginny snipped. She casually flicked her wand at one of the larger pieces of the door. It, and the other pieces, obediently picked themselves up and fit themselves together before nimbly re-hinging themselves.
"This doesn't have anything to do with you," he snapped.
Her eyes narrowed. "No. It has everything to do with me. And you. And Ron, and Hermione, and the entire bloody Order. Harry, this Prophecy changes everything! It's not just you any more."
Harry scowled. "So because of another Prophecy I have to change my life again? That's bloody fantastic. You'll have to excuse me if I don't jump for joy."
"What is the matter with you?" She didn't know why she still found his selfishness surprising. "Your life sucks because you're fated to save the world, and for some altogether faulty logic you have to be alone to do that – except Ron and Hermione can come, because they don't let you bully them into things. Except now you certainly aren't going to be alone at the end, and that's just horrible too. What do you want, Harry? You can't have it both ways." Ginny thought it was painfully clear that she wasn't just talking about the prophecy any more.
"You wouldn't understand," he said sullenly, sinking onto the couch against the far wall.
Then again, she was dealing with Harry.
"No, I suppose I wouldn't. I couldn't possibly." Sarcasm dripped from every word.
Harry started to speak, but Ginny cut him off. Everything was finally coming to a boil – the resentment at his cavalier treatment of her, anger from being left out, hurt from being rejected. The limbo was over.
"You're right. I could never understand, because you aren't making sense. You never make sense! You never stop and think. It is not your fight, Harry. It's our fight. You never were the only victim of Voldemort, and this isn't up to just you anymore! You heard the Prophecy straight from Hermione's memory – the marked know their destiny. So get over it."
"It's my life," he replied stubbornly.
His reply only succeeded in setting Ginny off further. "Yes, it is. And you're ruining it yourself," she spat, the amount of venom behind her words surprising even her. The light from the candles flickered menacingly. "And not just for yourself, but for every other person who has the unfortunate privilege of being somewhat involved in it!"
Harry leapt to his feet. "The prophecy –"
"Is not something you can control." Ginny waved her hand negligently, artfully squashing his outrage. "But it's going to happen that way whether you try to make it happen, try to keep it from happening, or just go with the flow. It's going to happen. Prophecies are self-fulfilling. What you see is the result. They happen that way no matter what you try to do to change it, sometimes because you try to change it. Look at what happened to Voldemort. He tried to stop the Prophecy from happening, and he ended up causing the first Prophecy to occur. So I suggest you just work out the best way to deal with what you've been given."
Where had that come from? Last time she checked, she was more the emotional type – either so furious she couldn't speak or yelling loud enough to bring the roof crashing down – than the calm, calculating type. Ginny frowned. It was the difference between Gryffindor and Slytherin. Great. Ron was right. She was spending too much time with Malfoy.
"I'm trying to!” Harry roared. It seemed the calmer Ginny was, the more incensed he became.
"No, you aren't. You're being a baby! My mum would have whipped us within a hair's breadth of our lives if we'd ever stomped out of a room full of adults, and Merlin forbid we ever pitch a fit like you did tonight. Grow the hell up!"
There. That was more like it. She might have smiled at her victory over the Slytherin within, but she couldn't. Because as quickly as her need to straighten Harry out had whipped her into a rage, the rage was gone. There was something else there that hadn't been dealt with, something else that needed to be said. Slowly, the pieces fell together.
"It's not that you won't deal with it, is it? It's that you can't. You don't know how."
He remained stoic, hands clenched at his sides. His breathing was heavy, fast, and loud – as if he was only just in control of himself.
She was right.
"You don't know how to let anyone else in. Hermione and Ron more or less forced their way in; you can deal with that. But you don't know how to make it not about you, do you? Because it's always been about you. All the problems at the Dursleys, they blamed you. The first time Hagrid took you to Diagon Alley, you were swarmed by people for something you didn't know you did. It's always been about you," she said, more thinking aloud than to him.
"No," Harry said, shaking his head. "No, I let you in too."
Ginny very nearly started at his response. She'd all but forgotten he was there. It took a second to realize what he'd actually said, and that only had her shaking her head. Poor, poor Harry. "No you didn't, Harry. No, you shut me out more than anyone else."
"I wanted to let you in."
Ginny's heart clenched; the candles in the room dimmed. "But you didn't."
"I tried to –"
"Don't be silly, Harry." She stopped his explanation, his excuses, before either of them could be hurt any more. "You dismissed me quite easily. It's always been me chasing you; it's never been the other way around. You chased after Cho far more than you ever chased after me."
She was surprised to hear no malice behind her words. They were clear, untainted by anger, bathed only in the light of revelation. The thought that she'd been so very silly not to realize this before hurt much more than the realization itself.
She had to leave. She had to think about everything that had happened and figure out how she could've missed something as big as this.
"I'm going to go now," Ginny said suddenly. "I should apologize to Hermione for ruining her surprise party. Goodnight, Harry."
"Ginny, Ginny wait –"
"No. No, I think… I think I've done enough waiting. Goodnight, Harry." She left him in the Tapestry room, staring after her as she walked wearily down the hall to the room she'd shared with Hermione before the dreams had come back with all the vengeance they'd had the summer after her first year.
She needed to talk. Hermione wasn't really her first choice, because somewhere in the back of her mind, Ginny felt like the older girl would forever side with Harry. Somehow, though, she didn't think the twins were a better option for one of those deep, girl-to-girl, pinky swear, stick-a-needle-in-your-eye things. Nor was Draco – Malfoy, she reminded herself – for that matter, especially given the evening's earlier conversation.
It was long past midnight when she padded carefully back down the hall to her room. The floor creaked somewhere ahead of her in the dark hallway, and she stopped in her tracks. "Who's there?"
"Lumos," came the reply. The light from his wand created odd shadows on his half-lit face.
Ginny's breath left her in a whoosh. "Draco, you scared me."
"Back to Draco now?" He paused for effect. "It's interesting, the effect warming Potter's bed has on you."
"I do not –"
"No, you don't, do you? He doesn't keep you long enough to get anything warm. A bit of how's your father, and then it's back out to the hall for you, isn't it?" He sneered at her.
His words hurt, but she would die before admitting that to him. "Take it back." She didn't know whether to be appalled or incensed. Maybe both. But not hurt. Definitely not hurt.
"No." He smirked.
"Take it back," she insisted more vehemently. The candles flared, making his Lumos unnecessary.
"Why? So you can feel better about yourself when you crawl into your own bed tonight?"
This, from him, on top of everything else, was too much. That he would cut at her so carelessly, with no real effort at all, without even reason, hurt her. That she wanted him to care, despite herself, and he so clearly didn't made her feel mere centimeters tall.
"I hate you." Her voice sounded tiny, even to her own ears.
The words stung much more than they ever had before, much more than he wanted to admit. Was her chin trembling? What was the matter with him? He didn't care if her chin trembled. He didn't.
"Am I supposed to be broken up about that? Why would I care what someone like you thinks of me?" He was lying, and he knew it.
"You don't mean that. You're jealous." She hoped she was right. She wasn't entirely sure what she'd do if she weren't.
"Jealous over you? I said it before, and I'll say it again. Malfoys don't pay for their women. And if we did, well, we'd sure as Circe pick something better than you." Draco hoped his sneer didn't look halfhearted as he tried to make himself believe his own words. Malfoy's didn't get jealous. In addition, they certainly didn't develop things for Weasleys.
Her mouth dropped, and she turned big, sad eyes up at him. She had six older brothers, one blunt boyfriend that wouldn't know what cushioning a blow was unless he could find it in a reference book, one boyfriend who was so nice to her that it irritated her, Harry – who really needed no other description, and she worked with Mad Eye Moody to improve her dueling semi-regularly. But Draco, well, Draco took the icing on the cake, didn't he? All of those experiences rolled into one could never in a lifetime have prepared her for the sting that came with his short, spiteful stabs. She was clearly a fool to have ever thought he was something more than what he appeared to be.
Ginny wondered why she was surprised. It wasn't like she was well known for being a great judge of character. The Diary was a shining example. Harry too, if she really wanted to be critical.
She shook her head slowly, sadly. "I was very wrong about you," she whispered, more to herself than to him. "Excuse me."
Somehow, she managed to brush past him in the hall. Ginny even managed to close the door between them, change into her pajamas, and draw the covers in tight around her and pretend that nothing other than the ordinary was wrong at all.
Draco stared at her closed door for a long time, not even bothering to retire somewhere private while her words bounced around his mind. I was very wrong about you. He leaned back against the wall and slid slowly down it until he was seated on the floor, cupping his head in his hands, wondering what he had just managed to do.
Ginny tossed and turned in her sleep.
The cracks of multiple Apparations were all around them, interrupting their conversation and their birthday lunch date, when Luna Lovegood suddenly turned to her and said, "I always wanted to be Ginny Weasley, you know – even if it was just for a bit."
Ginny wanted to ask Luna what in the world she thought important enough to go nattering on about now, but she didn't have time. The Death Eaters were there, and they were dueling crazily in the middle of nearly abandoned Hogsmeade against the group that outnumbered the pair of would be Sixth year girls three to one. Ginny scrambled through the rain of spells towards Luna. Ron might have been the strategic genius in the family, but Ginny had more than enough sense to realize that the closer to back-to-back she and Luna could be, the better.
In the midst of the spells flying around her, them, Ginny didn't even notice the first spell out of her friend's wand was aimed at her. She had felt a bit tingly and her sense of balance was thrown a little out of whack, but Ginny attributed those should-have-been tells to catching the tail end of a jinx whizzing by her on her tear towards Luna.
Luna laid waste to one of the group, shouting a spell that had him ambling away dreamily. Ginny caught another in the gut with a stunner that sent him flying backwards through the air. She nearly fainted in relief when a spell from one of the remaining Death Eaters caught her shoulder but seemed to be ineffective. It was only after they were separated, forced apart by a cleverly placed spell that necessitated the leap away from each other, that the Death Eaters managed to fell Luna. They gathered Luna up, and Ginny instinctively rushed them. They would wish that they had not forced her to abandon her curses in favor of physically attacking them.
She came close, but when she leapt towards the closest of them, she hit a wall. An invisible boundary, something akin to Dumbledore's Age Line around the Goblet of Fire. It hurtled her halfway across the street, and she landed painfully on her back, eyes closed and gasping for breath as she waited for one of them to come finish her off from the vulnerable position she'd left herself in. It was only when she opened her eyes that Ginny realized the hair in her face was a dirty blonde, and not the coppery red she was so used to.
"Luna!” Ginny screamed, but they were gone. They Disapparated in front of her, Luna-Ginny slung over one of their shoulders like a sack of potatoes. Ginny didn't stop screaming, not until long after Fred and George found her.
She'd been in such a state when she flung herself into bed that she forgot to put the silencing charms up around her room. Otherwise, none of it would have happened. Well, Fred and George might still have woken up, because the re-charming was part of their nightly routine, but Draco, at least, might have had some hope for escaping his own dreams.
She was screaming and screaming and screaming. He knew it was a dream, even as he slept, but her screams echoed in his head and in his ears. She was screaming, and that red hair fanned across the ground as Bellatrix and his father cast the Cruciatus again and again. His heart plummeted as he watched, helpless. He couldn't do this. He couldn't.
Her back arched up off the ground as she contorted in pain. His stomach rolled; he didn't have a choice. He'd never had a choice.
"Enough!” Voldemort roared as he strode into the room. "Did you have my permission to torture her?"
The question was phrased dangerously, like a father extracting a confession from his child. Draco vividly recalled similar questionings with his own father, and he thought that had the Dark Lord still had eyebrows – or even anything resembling them – one would have been arched in a very imposing manner. Somehow, though, Lord Voldemort did not need them to look as intimidating, or as furious, as he was at that moment.
"She's a Blood Traitor, my Lord," Bellatrix replied, almost flippantly, but with just enough reverence to avoid the majority of any wrath her boldness might bring upon her.
"Was she your Blood Traitor, Bella?" the Dark Lord asked, sneering out his most favored Death Eater's name. "Did you order her capture for your express purposes? Do you have the authority to order the capture of a Blood Traitor for your own amusement?"
"No, my Lord," Draco's aunt mumbled.
Despite the fact that her hood was up and her head was down, Draco knew that even though her voice dripped sincere apologetics, she was furious at the reprimand. Her face contorted into a fierce snarl the moment the Dark Lord turned his back to her. Her fun had been interrupted; she was not pleased.
"Precisely." Voldemort paused, and what once might have passed for a contented smile flitted across his grotesque face. "Crucio." The curse rolled off his tongue elegantly, almost a caress, and Bellatrix Lestrange joined the now panting redhead on the floor. She, however, bore her punishment silently, a twisted smile upon her face.
What his aunt had not learned, Draco thought with disgust, was that not all attention was better than no attention. She reveled in anything that set her apart, even if it was something derogatory to her nature. But her love of the punishment was also one of the reasons she was so favored by the Dark Lord, and wild rumors circulated that he often sent for her privately for that very same reason. It was the first time Draco paid those rumors any mind.
When he'd finished amusing himself with Bellatrix, who in her punishment never uttered anything other than a disturbingly breathy sigh, the Dark Lord turned to Ginny. "Help her to her feet, boy," he barked at Draco.
Draco obeyed, schooling his face and his thoughts to careful blankness as he crossed the room. He flinched when she recoiled away from his touch. He thought it odd, she'd never shown such weakness before, but paid her flinch no serious attention because even her willful spirit should have been broken under the Cruciatus by now. When he removed his hands from her she nearly fell, and at a glare from the Dark Lord he remained behind her, steadying her and supporting the majority of her weight as the Dark Lord circled them, appraising her.
"I've missed you, my Ginevra," he hissed.
She didn't respond, only stared straight ahead.
"Didn't you miss me? Didn't you miss Tom?"
That wasn't right. It couldn't have been right, because the whole lot of Weasleys were firmly entrenched on Dumbledore's side. Potter's side. The Dark Lord was a damned fool. Moreover, who the hell was Tom?
Her eyes flashed, but not with fire. No, they were different. More knowledgeable, more understanding somehow. "Tom Riddle died the night you made that diary. That diary is not, was not, Tom Riddle. It was you."
Her voice was contemptuous, but Voldemort only laughed.
"It was pathetic, really. You couldn't even manage to possess a little, helpless, First Year girl with no friends." She shook her head. "I would have expected more from the Dark Lord."
She spat his title out of her mouth as if it tasted foul, and then she smiled at him. Other than that though, the whole spiel had been calm – entirely too calm to have come from a Weasley, especially the Weaslette, if you'd asked Draco. The girl talked as if she understood much more than they ever would, and that she thought that was very sad.
"But then, I'm just a silly, little, girl." She stood on her own then and met Voldemort's eye.
Draco didn't know what passed between them in that look, but then he really didn't have time to ponder it as Voldemort suddenly backed away from her. A look of rage crossed his features, and Draco had half a mind to flee. The look on his face now made his earlier expression seem doting.
"Crucio!" he bellowed, and the girl screamed.
"Unghf!” Draco grunted as something collided into him, knocking the wind out of him. His eyes shot open, but he couldn't make anything out in the pitch black. He scrambled for his wand, trying to get his bearings at the same time. Had he fallen asleep in the hall? On the floor?
His nose crinkled involuntarily. How plebian. Of course, his self-loathing was cut short when he realized the screaming form his dream had not stopped – though he was now very much awake.
"George! She's put some sort of spell on her door," Fred called across the hall. It seemed that his accidental kick to Draco's gut hadn't hindered his progress to Ginny's room at all.
Draco had begun to stand when more footsteps came thundering around the corner. He tried to get out of the way, but by moving blindly about, he really got more in the way. And so in a tangle of legs and curses, Draco cushioned the other Weasley twin's fall to the floor in the middle of the hallway.
The Weasleys were clods. The whole ragtag lot of them. And the Mudblood too.
"Fucking hell! Move, Malfoy, before she wakes Mum," George spat as he untangled his legs from Draco's, pushing the blond back to the floor as he stood.
The screams didn't waver as the twins tried every unlocking, unsealing, and unsticking charm they knew on the door.
It lasted for almost thirty seconds before Draco couldn't take it any more. "Reducto!"
Fred took two steps inside the room and cast a silencing spell before hurrying back out of the room and preparing to Reparo the door.
"That's it? You can't be serious." Draco was appalled. "You're just, just silencing her? You aren't even going to see what's wrong?" he asked in the once again noiseless hall.
"You think I'm happy about it? She doesn't like being woken up. That's how I got this." Fred pointed to scar across his eyebrow.
"I don't give a damn whether she likes being woken up or not. You can't leave her like that! Look at her!" He flung his arm out in her direction. And they called him heartless? Stupid Gryffindors. Noble his arse.
"From the mouth of the one who probably caused her nightmare. Classy, Malfoy," George snarled back.
It wasn't as if they enjoyed leaving their sister to her nightmares. He didn't like it at all, and he especially didn't like that for once, they'd been unable to come up with any kind of solution to the problem. They could turn her into a canary, give her a fever, or make her puke up her guts for a week, but they couldn't find any way to soothe her dreams. On top of that, he really didn't need to be reminded of it – least of all by a Malfoy. "If you have an idea, well then you bloody well give it a go."
Draco stared at the twins for a moment, face stoic, fists clenched at his sides as he stood there. So much for Gryffindoric bravery. One bad experience and they wanted to call it quits. He opened his mouth and almost hesitated.
It was tight, clipped, and not what he had planned to say at all. He swallowed and took a step into her room. When nothing exploded and no curses were hurled in his general direction, he let out the breath he'd been holding and took another step.
"What do you think you're doing?” Fred hissed from the doorway.
Draco really had no idea, but he couldn't very well say that – not to them. "What you won't," he hissed back instead, taking another cautious step forward.
She tossed and turned in the bed, and her hair fanned out behind her on the pillow. Draco paused and took a step back. Perhaps the worst was over. Then she started trembling. Her mouth opened in a silent howl, her legs curled up, and she looked impossibly small. Once again, before he really knew what he was doing, Draco was up in the bed with her.
He gritted his teeth as he stretched out beside her and pulled her into him, brain flying faster than the speed of light but making no real progress in sorting through his thoughts. Slytherins were not impulsive. Or at least, the good ones weren't. So, what was his plan? He simply hadn't gotten that far yet.
She rolled into his arms the moment he reached for her, and he wondered both what that was about and what to do with her now that she was there. She buried her face in his sweatered chest, clinging to him tightly, and sobbed.
Draco had no more idea how to react to that than he did her casual acceptance of his growing up with Death Eaters for parents. Yes, his mother had held him when he was little, but the older he got the smaller the gestures became. The brushing of a stray hair out of his face when he was harried and stressed under Voldemort's impossible mission communicated her concern and soothed his mind. A small squeeze of his hand before she released it was the same as – if not more than – a peck on the cheek. Always they were tiny, casual gestures that would need careful scrutiny in order to see the meaning behind them.
But this, this was entirely different. Ginny Weasley was certainly not his mother, for one thing, and more than that, the tentative friendship he'd so callously attacked earlier in the evening would not allow such small gestures to be correctly interpreted. Or at least, not at this point.
He had patted the back of Pansy's hand that time she'd cried in the common room because someone had called her Pug Nose to her face. But this was different than that too. Ginny clinging bodily to him was different – more desperate, more direct – than anything he'd ever encountered. Slytherins, male and female, would die before allowing a peer to outwardly comfort them – much less cling to someone, especially in the sight of others. His hand patting had been the talk of the common room for weeks; Pansy almost hadn't forgiven him for it.
He didn't know how to deal with Gryffindoric emotion like this. He was in over his head.
However, he had learned how to think on his feet, and he did have a general idea of where to start. Surely putting together some semblance of the right reaction couldn't be all that hard. At the very least, anything – even the wrong thing – was better than leaving her to her nightmares as those oafs she called brothers were wont to do. Draco assessed the situation.
She clung to him like she would be ripped away if she didn't hold on, so logically, she would feel better if she felt grounded, secured somehow. Draco wrapped his arms around her. One of his hands found its way to the flame waves, and he carefully combed his fingers through the fire. The other hand held her steady as she shook against him, and he made what he imagined soothing noises would sound like in her ear.
"What do you think –" Fred started, striding into the room to haul Malfoy bodily out of his sister's bed. Then, preferably, beat the presumptuous ferret into a bloody pulp.
George grabbed Fred's shoulder, surprising – how rarely that happened – his brother into a moment of silence and stilling his strides toward the bed. "Wait," he said quietly.
Fred turned on him. "Wait?" he hissed. "Have you gone mad?"
"Look," George replied, nodding in the direction of the pair on the bed. George pointed his wand at Ginny and removed the silencing spell.
Her hair mesmerized him. So much red. Not orange like her brothers' – but a vibrant, coppery red. There were little strands of gold woven through it; they caught the light of the candles as his fingers passed through the mane.
He was startled to realize that he could hear her sobs; he hadn't expected to lose track of everything except the sight of her bright hair against his pale fingers. Then again, she'd always had a way of shattering his expectations of her. The Bat Bogey Incident was only the beginning of the list he'd formed in his mind. He didn't pause his version of soothing noises even as he looked at the twins in the doorway. George raised his chin in acknowledgment.
"Luna, they took Luna," she whispered into his shoulder, clutching him tighter. "She knew what they wanted, and she switched us, and they took her instead."
She switched us. The words echoed in his ears. He always had known his sins would come back to haunt him. "It's all right," he murmured back, at complete loss for anything else.
"No, no, no." She shook her head against him as she spoke. "She knew. I let them take her – I could have, I should have –" She didn't know what she could have or should have done. What she did know was that she hadn't done it, and that hurt more than not knowing. Ginny drew a great, wracking breath.
"You couldn't. They put a repelling spell on her." Draco frowned. He should have known the moment she had bombarded them that the girl they had was not Ginny Weasley, but for some reason, his heart could not have been more relieved. "They put a repelling charm on you. That's why you were tossed backwards. You couldn't have gotten close at all. Any spell would have backfired on you."
She cried harder. "We shouldn't have been in Hogsmeade. Mum tried to stop me, but I insisted. It was my birthday."
"It's not your fault," Draco whispered desperately. "It's not your fault."
"But they wanted me. If it weren't for me-" She fell quiet.
Draco didn't have an argument for that, and so he reverted to his soothing noises. When her breaths came steadily again, in warm puffs of air that sent chills down his spine to his very core, he laid her back on the mattress and pulled the comforter up to her chin. The room must have gotten colder.
Draco brushed past Fred and George, who were still standing just inside the doorway gaping at him, without sparing them a glance. He needed to think. To sleep. To – to something other than be there.
Fred pulled George out of the room behind him after they'd checked that Ginny was indeed sleeping peacefully. "She's sleeping," he said incredulously.
"Without waking the dead," George deadpanned.
"How'd he do it? If it was anything dark…” Fred trailed off as they approached the stairs.
They reflected on that thought in silence as they padded towards the kitchen.
"I don't care," George suddenly stated, waving his wand to light the kitchen. "Despite what they rest of them think, dark has more to do with intent than anything else. You know as well as I do that half our inventory is dark by Ministry standards."
Fred nodded. Malfoy hadn't intended anything remotely dark or evil towards their sister. That was what worried him. "I don't know whether to thank him –" The twins shared a look and shuddered. "Or to hex the tosser for doing in twenty minutes what we've been working on for the better part of two years."
George summoned the container of biscuits their mum kept hidden on the top shelf of the pantry while Fred summoned pumpkin juice and cups.
"This one was about Luna," George announced gravely, once they'd served themselves and sat at the kitchen table. He couldn't keep it to himself any longer.
Fred choked on his cookie.
He only barely resisted shaking the hysterical blonde girl in front of him. They were the only ones who'd been able to get there, and they had no idea how to handle this situation effectively. Especially since it was Luna, sans Ginny, that had raised the alarm. All he knew was the Death Eaters must have taken Ginny and this had taken entirely too long already. "Luna. Luna, look at me! You have got to tell us what happened. Right now!"
She shrieked something in his ear in return, and it came out so high pitched and mangled by gasps and sobs that it was completely unintelligible. She continued shrieking and gesturing wildly.
George stopped his harried pacing to round on her, bending down and taking her chin roughly in his hands. "Listen to me, you twit! They have Ginny! Unless you provide some useful information right this minute, I'll hex you to Hell and back," he snarled.
That had irritated their witness into coherency. "I. Am. Not. Luna," she ground out. "Cast a Finite on me, please!"
"We don't have time to play daft games!"
"I am not playing a game! If you would shut up for more than a second at a time, I would be happy to tell you what happened, George Weasley! And let go of me!" She jerked her shoulder out of Fred's grasp.
Fred hadn't noticed her correct identification of them, and if George had, he never mentioned it.
She walked them through the whole duel as completely as she could – ignoring how they rolled their eyes when she insisted that Luna must have cast some sort of switching spell to cause their inverted appearances. When she got to the part about the Death Eater 'Luna' had sent wandering away – probably under a Confundus – they'd jumped into action. To their annoyance, she called out after them, "Hurry, please hurry. She can't have much longer before they find out that she's not me – Ginny."
Fred lost what little self-control remained when neither the Death Eater she claimed she had stunned nor the one that "Luna" had sent ambling away could be found. They had wasted an hour searching, and they still had no idea what had happened to Ginny.
Luna, wringing her hands and pacing in front of the store where she was supposed to have lunch with Ginny, immediately became a target. As far as he was concerned, the reason they knew so little was her fault.
"Fred, did you find them? Please tell me you found them! We have to find her before they realize she's not me!” Luna cried.
"And who else would she be besides Ginny – my sister! A Crumple Toed Snorkhack? Or some other nonexistent creature that you're convinced is real? In Ginny's form, no less." The girl's already large eyes grew even larger. "We don't have time for your non-"
Stringy blonde hair filled out and began to curl as it rapidly ran through the colors between blonde and dark red. Buggy, blue eyes morphed into big, chocolate orbs. Freckles appeared, muscles filled out a bit. Her legs lengthened, and her bottom lip plumped out.
Ginny's eyes grew in surprise at the transformation back into herself. Tears welled as she realized what made it happen. If Luna, or someone else, had broken the spell, the transformation would have been instantaneous. But the metamorphoses could only have come from the slow slipping away of magic. Luna was dead.
She flew at Fred as she made the realization, hitting and slapping at him in rage. He let her hit him for a moment, before grabbing her arms and pulling her close to him.
"Stop. Stop, Gingerbee. It's okay. It'll be okay," he soothed her as she collapsed into him. "It'll be okay."
[[a/n]]:: Okay. I know this chapter has the capacity to be majorly confusing. Not everything that is explained is happening in the present - there are two seperate dreams and a flashback in addition to the things going on "in the now." If I confused you (and there's a strong possibility that I did), here's the breakdown: Like in chapter 3 (Nightmare), the dreams are real events. Both Draco and Ginny's Dream is about the same thing, though from (obviously) different point of views. Draco's Dream directly follows Ginny's dream in chronology - IE: his dream is what happened to Luna after the DE's disapparated from Hogsmeade. Fred and George's moment is the flashback. Like Draco's dream, they're recalling their experience from the same day - after the Death Eater's took Luna-Ginny and they arrived on the scene. I hope that helps explain any confusion! Reviews are love!
Ginny stood on tiptoe and strained for one of the only two glasses not already in use – or abandoned somewhere decidedly not the kitchen – left in the cupboard, her hips flush against the countertop. Why did the boys have to take all the good genes? It wasn't even that she was short. She just wasn't tall. And who on earth would make a top shelf so high that even Ron had to reach a bit to get to the back of it? Did they do nothing without magic?
All she needed was just a few more inches, and if she could just get a finger on one of them – almost, almost, aha! Got it.
The glass tipped to its side and rolled to the back of the cabinet, completely out of her reach. Ginny resisted the urge to stamp her foot. All she wanted was a glass of Pumpkin Juice. Was that really so hard? She took a deep breath and bounced back up to her toes, straining for the glass still in reach.
He appeared from nowhere, sliding up behind her and easily reaching over her to fetch the upright glass. His initial thought was to take it and serve himself just to rile her, but something about being close to her made him want to stay. Before he could talk sense into himself, he had passed the glass down to her and taken yet another step closer.
He was on his toes now, nearly molded to her and pressing her further into the counter, stretching for the glass that had escaped her earlier attempts of extraction. Ginny was certain she was trembling, but valiantly tried to pretend as if having boys pressed up against her was an everyday occurrence. She determinedly blocked all thoughts of the still unresolved argument between them, as well as her memory of his strong arms and comfortable chest from that night last week. She looked up to thank him as he passed the second glass down, but he broke the moment by speaking.
"You could have used your wand, you are a witch."
Ginny frowned. Aside from his somewhat unsettling ability to appear silently from the middle of nowhere when she was about to lose her cool, he really could be wonderful. When he didn't speak. "I had things perfectly under control, thank you."
Draco arched a pale eyebrow at her as he stepped away, and Ginny rolled her eyes. "Fine. I left my wand upstairs and didn't want to go get it."
It did not occur to her that he just as easily could have used his own wand to 'help' her.
"Since you retrieved both glasses, am I to assume that you would like some Pumpkin Juice as well?" she asked as she pulled the juice from the icebox.
"Thank you," he said.
He'd already seated himself at the table, and Ginny wondered if he'd discovered some type of written explanation on how to push her buttons. It was a complete mystery to her how, exactly, she dealt with him on a regular basis. Nevertheless, for all his faults, he did have some redeeming qualities – and regaining the ability to sleep through the night was something she was truly thankful for, despite the fact that she wasn't entirely sure how he'd managed to make the nightmares go away. Furthermore, in spite of herself, she enjoyed his company. He provided her some form of human interaction previously missing from her routine at Grimmauld Place. When they were able to keep the lid on their tempers, she even thought he had a fair few insightful points to make for his perspective on things, which was surprisingly not as different from her own perspective as she'd once thought. Or, at least, it wasn't as deranged and homicidal and extreme as she'd once thought.
Apparently, she wasn't the only one who thought so either, because after all, it hadn't been that long ago that his room had been moved down from the third floor. That, in and of itself, had certainly been more than fine with Ginny, since she was the one always sent up to pull him out of a snit and down to the kitchen for supper. Aside from that, Trelawney's perfumes and incense permeated the whole of the third floor, and Hermione had long been convinced that anyone left up there for too long would eventually be asphyxiated. Ginny thought Hermione might be onto something with that, because even just visiting the former professor left her with a headache that had the ability to last for hours on end. Who wasn't to say the reason Professor Trelawney was so batty was because she'd killed off the majority of her brain cells by lack of oxygen – and then given the rest a good fight with the cooking sherry?
Ginny joined Draco and picked at the sections of The Prophet he'd left on the table. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, she finally decided that the least she could do was make a show of good faith.
"Watch out for booby traps in your room. Mum and I checked for them – the twins are bad about accidentally on purpose leaving things for others to find. But we didn't find any." She selected the Sports section.
Draco stared at her in horror. "I've been in that room for nearly three weeks. Why are you just now telling me this? I was better off not knowing. Now I'll be too paranoid to sleep properly."
Ginny shook her head no, not removing her eyes from the sports page. "If Mum couldn't find any, you should be fairly safe. She knows all their tricks – or, at least, the majority of them. And I know the rest." She looked up to give him a reassuring smile and was immensely pleased when she found it returned, if a bit sickly looking. "Oh! The Falcons beat the Cannons!"
"Was there ever any doubt they would?” Draco drawled. "The last time the Cannons won a game was in the Dark Ages."
"I know that. Even Hermione knows that. But my brothers refuse to favor anyone else, and I've just made three Galleons." Old habits of self-preservation kicked in then, and she arched a slim brow at him as she beat him to the punch. "I know it's pocket change to you, but it's not to us, so spare me the insult."
"Insult? No, I was just wondering how you were ever put into Gryffindor. You do realize you've all but extorted your brothers for money, don't you?"
"Gryffindor never said anything about overlooking a sure deal," she teased back, tossing her section of paper at him and finishing her juice. She was surprised to find that she wasn't quite ready to leave the conversation – not just yet – and wondered what else there was to talk about.
"Weren't you supposed to meet Tonks in the Tapestry Room five minutes ago?" he asked.
"Yes, but Tonks is consistently fifteen minutes late to everything. I should probably head that way though." She stood from her chair, and he rose as well. "You don't have to do that, you know."
"Do what?” Draco asked, looking around him for a moment before he realized she was referring to his manners. It was almost a shock to him that she was right. He didn't have to any more, not without his mother there to enforce her code of conduct. But he suddenly discovered that he didn't mind showing her the small signs of respect his mother had ensured he learned. He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't have to, but I do." He was inexplicably pleased to find that his comment – and its implications – earned him a quiet, unsure smile.
"Oh. Well –" Ginny wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, and an awkward pause followed her stutter. "You're welcome to join us – Tonks and I, I mean – I'm sure she won't mind."
He did not react, and Ginny was just beginning to hate herself for being so stupidly girly when a smile crossed his face.
"Thanks, but I'm supposed to meet with Shacklebolt at lunch, and I should probably look over some of the information he gave me for the meeting."
Ginny tried to keep her face from falling. She had known about the meeting, and it wasn't as if he could just blow it off. "Right. Well, the offer stands if you change your mind, or get finished early, or whatever."
He nodded absently as he returned to his portion of the paper, and Ginny sped from the kitchen, berating herself for babbling on like a fool. She'd been certain that she'd grown out of things like that – as well as sticking her elbow in butter dishes. Apparently not.
It was an unpleasant realization.
Draco tipped his head back on the somewhat musty sofa in the living room and sighed. He'd be meeting with Shacklebolt and Moody in a moment, and they'd taken to inviting the Weasel King to their discussions. Though he would never in a million years admit it – even under extreme duress – Draco begrudgingly had to give the oaf credit that he had a unique strategic take on things.
But that was all he was willing to acknowledge.
They were planning their siege on Malfoy manor and the last of the Horcruxes for the end of October – All Hallows' Eve, and Draco had to walk them through the layout of the manor. The traps, the strongholds, and the weaknesses. He was single handedly going to lead a horde of Blood Traitors and Mudbloods into his childhood home and help them systematically tear the wards that had been on the Manor since its very existence down. Then, he was going to find a way to trust them to cover his arse while he robbed his own vaults.
And somehow, the only thing that had been on his mind for the past hour had been the way Ginny Weasley had looked, standing on tiptoe and reaching for that lovely, blessed, wonderful glass on the top shelf.
Draco rolled the heels of his hands against his eyes with more force than was necessary, viciously berating himself for straying from his present dilemma. How did he manage to land himself in the middle of this? He was supposed to be a recent Hogwart's graduate with at least five NEWT's indefinitely in business in Switzerland. That had been the plan. He was not supposed to have a bleeding Dark Mark on his arm, and he was not supposed to be stuck in some godforsaken moldy house with a whole herd of Gryffindors. Where did he get so terribly mixed up in the thick of things?
Oh, right, about the same time that The Boy That Just Wouldn't Die sent his father to Azkaban and wounded his pride.
Finding a way to blame Harry Potter for his current problems lifted Draco's spirits the tiniest bit. Really, what did it matter? He'd already disgraced everything his father had taught him to hold in esteem; he might as well finish it properly. Draco idly wondered what his father would say about conviction now.
"Malfoy, glad you made it," Shacklebolt greeted him, leading Moody, and – to Draco's immense displeasure – the Weasel into the room.
"Like he had anywhere else to be," Moody growled.
Draco rose from his seat and turned to greet them. "Let's get to work. Get this over with." He might have agreed to it, but that didn't mean he had to like it.
"How do we know this isn't a trap?” Ron asked waspishly.
Draco damned himself for ever vowing to fix the Malfoy name. How utterly stupid of him. He could have just as easily fled to Switzerland. "I'll suppose you'll just have to trust me."
"Why should we?” Ron shot back.
"Because Slytherin's locket is in the Manor and whether you accept my help or not, you'll have to find it there. Without me, the wards would rip you to shreds, and if you actually managed to get inside, you'd never be able to get into the vault – much less out of it. Not that you would know anything about family vaults or even the generic curses and hexes used on them." Draco sniffed. That one had been almost too easy to properly enjoy. Almost.
Weasley was turning an interesting shade of beet and beginning to snarl a retort when Shacklebolt interrupted them.
"Enough!" he bellowed.
Ron paled, and Draco quickly fixed his eyes on the tall black man.
"That is enough! You are on the same side –" he turned to give Ron a look. "And if you can't manage to act like adults, I will personally boot you both out that door. Without my wand." When neither Ron nor Draco acknowledged his threat with a verbal reply, Shacklebolt demanded a response. "Have I made myself clear?"
While the Weasel stumbled over his tongue, Draco met Shacklebolt's eye and gave him a short, single nod. Mentally, he bumped the Auror up near the head of his "Wizards to Respect" list.
"All right then," Moody intervened, guiding them all to the round table in the room. "We need the most detailed description and layout of Malfoy Manor as you can manage." The blond boy looked a bit overwhelmed at the request, though he didn't sputter as Moody expected him to. "We'll need to see exactly where we're going and the layout of things. Rumor has it that You-Know-Who has been using it as a base for his Death Eaters."
Draco was incensed. His home, a base – a camp – for a lot of murderous, twisted monsters? Not only would he have to work the House Elves to death to get it to smell right again, they'd probably already run off with anything of value. He paled a bit – they'd have cleaned out his home. Thank Merlin for the vault. At least his mother's jewelry and the important family heirlooms were stored in the vault.
How dare they? How dare they think him so unworthy of their respect. He was a Malfoy.
No. He was the Malfoy.
They boy's eyes flashed from silver to gunmetal, and the ex-Auror smiled to himself. He'd learned long ago how to play the true Slytherin game – and his last name did not carry near the weight of Draco's. It was not all the cowardice and bullying and backstabbing that they played at now – ever since Tom Riddle had first stepped foot into Slytherin House. But the true game, the one where cunning and wits and a brain of one's own was required. The old game, the old ways and rules of respect and loyalty and fair – or at least, mostly law abiding – play were most valued. One he'd been unsure, until now, that Malfoy had been exposed to.
For once, Alastor Moody was happy to be proven wrong. The boy had been steeped in it – his mother's doing, she was a Black, after all. The former Slytherin smiled to himself. Draco Malfoy might just be the edge they needed to win this bloody war. "Remus gave me a charm that will allow us to plot it down, straight from your memory. A bit taxing, but it's dead useful. It'll even show us whose there, right this minute."
For a moment, Draco didn't care if it was a trap. He needed to know who was in his house, right that very second, so he could take down their names and prepare appropriate retribution for daring to breech their loyalty to the Malfoy name – to him. Draco whipped out his wand, and the man's eye twinkled and the corner of his mouth curled into a smile.
It was the smile – well, the smile in combination with the twinkle, which gave it a disturbingly slippery feel – that stopped him. Only Slytherins smiled like that, and only then when they thought they'd won. He had foolishly rushed into things before because of his pride, and he rather thought it would be quite unbecoming to make the same mistake twice. No, he would control this bargain; he had terms that needed to be met as well. Malfoys were never bought, and Blacks never played. It was high time he lived up to his heritage.
Ginny mopped the sweat off her neck with a towel and leaned against the wall of the big room on the third floor, where she and Tonks had just finished practicing dueling. Or rather, where Tonks had drilled Ginny within an inch of her life on several of the more physical aspects of dueling. She glanced at her ankle, which was rapidly, contrarily turning purple despite the healing charm she'd done on it earlier. Her mum would have to look at it – and she'd never hear the end of that, she was sure – but, on the bright side, she'd finally gotten that stupid roll down decently.
She worked her hair into a sloppy bun as she thought about what Tonks had accidentally divulged that afternoon. Who would have ever guessed that Alastor Moody was a Slytherin? Of course, it did make sense. He was cunning and sly – you'd have to have been to be an Auror and live through the First War. He was paranoid, true, but then he'd also been responsible for the incarceration of a whole slew of Death Eaters. Anyone who'd done that and hadn't turned out paranoid would have to have no more sense than a Flobber Worm. It was enough to make one rethink the whole evil Slytherin state of mind.
Lots of halfway decent people had been in Slytherin, Ginny reasoned. There was Moody, and Professor Slughorn – who was definitely all for looking after himself, but positively brilliant nonetheless. And, and – Ginny grappled for something else to justify her train of thought. Fred and George probably should have been in the green house, they were certainly conniving enough for that. Many of the Prewitts were Slytherins. Her mother's great, great grandfather Phineas Black was a Slytherin and had been Headmaster. Surely that had to account for something. Then there was Draco – Well, aside from that, the Sorting Hat had wanted to put Harry in Slytherin. Which, really, when you got down to the nitty gritty wasn't all that surprising. He was ruthless when it came to doing what he thought needed doing.
Really, Ginny was fairly certain that the only reason she'd been placed in Gryffindor was because the hat saw she was serious when she threatened that she'd rip it to shreds before it finished the word if it shouted Slytherin. Never mind the fact that it had been muttering about "nearly missed" and "getting too old" when Professor McGonagall pulled it off her head. She wondered how much of that had to do with the diary. What would the hat have said if it had gotten to look at just her soul, or thoughts, or whatever it was that the blasted thing actually looked at?
Maybe she was really supposed to be a Hufflepuff. She supposed there were worse things to be than a Hufflepuff – not that you'd believe it to hear the other Hogwarts students talk. But still, sometimes she felt Hufflepuffish on the inside. If Tom taught her anything, it was to be loyal to her beliefs and her beliefs alone. Because really, it was when you started compromising those beliefs that you got yourself into trouble, wasn't it? Or was that a Slytherin thing? It could be Gryffindor; they were all about being just. You can't be just if you don't agree with what you're doing.
Ginny shook her head. She was going to give herself a headache if she kept trying to puzzle things out like that. People were just people, and the best had qualities from all the houses, rather than just embodying one.
There was no black and white with people, and that was something the Golden Trio – she really had been spending too much time around Draco – had yet to figure out. That was something the majority of her family had yet to figure out. She wondered if letting Moody's secret slip would help anything along.
No, probably not.
Hermione snuggled closer to Ron as she turned the page of her newest book. He snored – a little snore, not a body rattling one, thankfully – and wrapped his arm tighter around her. Hermione smiled and continued to read, musing that she never thought she'd be a fan of the after dinner nap. After devouring the first half of the book, Hermione decided that she liked the old prophecies the best; they were written more like poems than riddles. The book said that it was thought to make the prophecies more memorable until a more suitable organization method could be arranged. Interestingly enough, the form the prophecies were delivered in had changed about the same time the filing system at the Ministry was developed.
That was part of the reason she loved the book so much, well, that and it was from Ron. More than that, it showed Ron had really put thought into finding a gift that was both romantic and practical. It was worth so much more than a book of poetry would ever be. While she'd never really been one for Divination, Hermione did have to concede that something about prophecies that intrigued her. The history was an added bonus, but she liked the puzzle that came with the fulfillment of the prophecies. Some of them were completely symbolic, others were very literal, and a few were in-between.
At first she thought the level of symbolism depended on the Seer, but the more she read, the more she was inclined to believe that it depended on the subject of the prophecy. She noticed that the pattern seemed to hold true through the majority of the completed prophecies, and now that she had started the second half of the book on those still left open, as well as some of the leading Unspeakables' thoughts – anonymous, of course – on their interpretation, it seemed practical that the pattern would continue. She flipped another page and smiled at the first line of the prophecy. "The dragon's strength is the flame." A love prophecy. Symbolism then.
A little taxing his arse. Draco had barely been able to lift his fork to his mouth at supper from casting that damned mapping spell. That had caused the Mother Weasel to go into fits about his being malnourished – which he certainly wasn't, there was a difference between lanky and under fed, thank you – and continue to pile his plate with food, sometimes adding more as he was eating. She was much more volatile than her daughter from what he had seen though, and even if he would never admit it, Draco was too afraid to do anything other than belt up and continue to eat. No wonder the Weasleys were impoverished. They each ate more in one sitting than his family did in a week. The only thing that had helped him feel a tiny bit better was seeing both Shacklebolt and Moody visibly recoil each time she stalked by them, muttering not-so under her breath about 'working the poor dear to death'.
It really hadn't helped that every time Ginny saw her mother hovering over him with a serving tray she caught his eye and gave him an impish smile – almost a smirk, really. She was an entirely different issue in and of herself. He could not recall being so unfocused in his entire life – especially in the last two years. He couldn't put his finger on when it started, but now whenever she was around – and even when she wasn't – the only thing he could think about was her. The way she smiled because he stood when she entered or left the room, the way her eyes lit up when she smiled, other ways he could make her smile – or even angry – so he could see her eyes light up again.
It drove him absolutely crazy.
Sweet Salazar! Now was not the time to get soft over a girl. Over the Weaslette. He had never gotten soft over a girl before in his life. The ancestors – on both sides – were probably spinning in their graves at the very thought of it.
She wasn't even a proper girl, on top of that. Her fingernails were disgusting, and her hair was always a mess. Not to mention that she'd had a pimple on her nose for the last two days. She had a horrible temper and cursed like a sailor, and then there was the way she'd looked at him that night in the hallway that made his insides feel like they wanted to shrivel up and die. She was infuriatingly nice to him. Too nice to be up to anything remotely non-sneaky, in his opinion.
She steamrolled nearly everyone and did it so sweetly that they thanked her for it afterwards. On top of that, she flew like a banshee, and howled like one too, especially when she was yelling at her brothers. And if you could get past that, she hexed like a hellcat and was agile as a housecat, so you couldn't even retaliate properly. Worse yet, if you did manage to retaliate, you left feeling incredibly guilty and entirely to blame for the whole situation. She had the combined strengths of her brothers, brains to brawn and sense of humor – if you could call that humor – and she had each of them at her beck and call.
It was ridiculous.
Then, just when he'd convinced himself that she was really a boy they'd tossed in a dress to please the Mother Weasel, the bint would go all soft on him. Not girly, simpering or throwing a tantrum or boohooing herself to death over something silly. But soft, almost naïve, like she never in a million years would have believed he could be a hateful bugger. Then he'd start thinking about how soft she was, and then he was confused all over again, because that kind of duality in people without sinister motives made his head spin.
"Weasley, if you can conjure a proper Beater's bat, I'll let you bludgeon me to death," Draco said to the back of Ron's head as he entered the library.
"He's asleep, but if you'd be up for it later I'd be happy to relay the message," Hermione replied, smile tugging at the corner of her lips.
"Mudblood," he acknowledged her, wondering how, exactly, he missed all that hair when he entered to room.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Inbreed."
"I beg your pardon?" Draco involuntarily shot from the chair he'd sunken into.
Hermione shrugged, smile spread across her face. "Inbreed. You know, when your parents marry their cousins and so on, especially in cases where it occurs for several generations?"
"I'm aware of the definition. What I want to know is where you get off –"
"If you can call me Mudblood, which I am, then I am more than entitled to call you inbreed – which you are."
Draco scowled at her.
Hermione's voice softened. "It's not very fun being called something nasty over something you can't control, is it? Perhaps you should think about that before you open your mouth next time."
"Bint." Draco recoiled in horror and nearly clapped his hand over his mouth before regaining control of himself. His mother would have skinned him alive if she'd ever heard he spoke to any girl – regardless of parentage – that way. At any rate, it was no less horrifying that his mouth had just blurted that without consulting his brain on the matter at all.
"Tosser," Hermione retorted, yawning. "If you don't have anything nice to say, you really shouldn't say anything at all, Malfoy."
He assessed her smile and briefly considered the fact that had Granger not had the misfortune of being a Mudblood, she might very well have excelled in Slytherin.
"But then you might never speak, and life here would be very dull, don't you think?"
"I, you – What?" Draco couldn't decide which was scarier: the suggestion that she found him somewhat amiable or his realization that living with such nitwits had allowed the control he carefully honed over his tongue and expressions to begin slipping away.
"At least you shake things up around her." Hermione shrugged. "Despite what I would like to think about you, you are capable of intelligent conversation. …When you aren't being a git."
He didn't know what to say, though he was almost positive she'd just given him a backhanded compliment. As far as Draco was concerned, the world had officially ended. Ceased to exist as he knew it.
"Oh, don't look so surprised. You think I didn't know who was right on my heels in every subject at Hogwarts? Let's be honest, you're a bit more of a weed than you like to let on, and Ron doesn't exactly jump for joy when I want to talk about Arithmancy or Transfiguration."
A weed? She had just called him a bit of a weed? That was rich.
Hermione gave Draco a bemused half smile. Even if he didn't take to the idea of discussing things with her, it had been worth the proposition just to see his face contort. "He and Harry practically run for cover, and Ginny's smart, very smart, but she'd much rather talk about nearly anything other than school and application. It's not rocket science."
She was still seriously going on about this? Draco's mind reeled. "Rocket science?" What in Merlin's name was that?
"Oh, I could tell you all about Rocket science." Hermione paused, considering. "Well, maybe not all about it, but I could explain the basic principles and physics well enough."
Draco held up his hand. "Don't tell me. I'm sure it's something Muggles have cooked up, but that's entirely beside the point. Why would you think that – despite my, obviously, being an exceptional student – I would want to discuss those things at all? Much less with you?" He sneered for effect.
Hermione ruined it with an understated, innocent smile as she held up a book. "Because since you've been here, you've read every single advanced magical application book in the library exactly twice – and you made notes in the margins as well."
"And?" Draco drawled, bored.
"The notes you so conversationally added onto were mine." The smile turned into something smug, because they both knew there was nothing he could say that would ever begin to unwind the damning evidence she had against him.
So Draco resigned himself to holding intelligent discussions with the Mudblood, and he studiously ignored the inner Ravenclaw doing back flips at the thought of having someone to discuss advanced magical theory with. For the time being, he had enough issues to deal with.
Hermione was slow to begin the conversation she'd so been looking forward to, desperately trying to narrow down all the things she wanted to discuss, debate, and maybe even scheme over – as she was feeling particularly impish. She paused, choosing her next words carefully. "What do you know about Muggle genetics?"
"They're Muggle. What does that have to do with magical anything?"
Hermione arched an eyebrow and leaned in conspiratorially. "What if I said absolutely everything?" He looked intrigued, and she launched into explanation before he could change his mind. "I'm sure you're familiar with the study of Magical blood and bloodlines, but our studies are hideously out dated compared to the advances Muggles have made…"
[a/n]: Due to my teachers' attempts to kill me, there won't be another chapter posted to the queue this week. I'll have the next one up, provided this one has been validated, on Monday. I hope y'all enjoy! Feedback is love!
Ginny had been conned into helping her mum make dinner. It was meeting night though, so she figured the least she could do for her mum was be helpful and keep her whining to a minimum. She had all the time in the world to skin Ron and Harry later. In addition, this would have the upside to counter-acting her impressive guilt complex later in the evening when she told her mother to stuff it – though she generally didn't come right out and say that – about taking active part in the meeting.
Ron and Harry, though, would still suffer.
Tonight, she was making roast. When her mother had decided she was a good enough cook to take on the actual roast part of dinner, however, was totally beyond her. She reached for the mixing bowl on the top shelf of the cabinet, and as she stretched for it, Ginny couldn't help but recall the way Draco felt pressed right up behind her. She wished she'd had the nerve to lean back into him then. She could almost feel the hard plains of his body supporting her, his arm wrapping around her waist, those long, aristocratic fingers tipping her head to the side, and his lips nearing her own –
Her unthinking fingers tumbled the mixing bowl off the shelf. It crashed to the floor, shocking Ginny out of her daydream. Ginny's eyes widened and her fingers flew to her lips. Was that really what she wanted? Merlin have mercy. Her brothers would kill her. Well, Draco first, then her.
She caught her mother's eye then, as she looked up from the wreckage on the floor, but instead of a rebuke for not paying more attention to the domestic, womanly task at hand, all Ginny received was a knowing smile.
Molly hurriedly turned back to the sides she was working on, silently thanking the gods that they'd found someone who could put that blissful look on her daughter's face. Even if it was a sodding Malfoy. She frowned as she mashed the potatoes more forcefully than was probably necessary.
Poor Harry. She had always wanted Harry and Ginny to end up together, more because it had once been her daughter's wildest dream than anything else, but also because he'd never had a family and seemed to crave hers – it appealed to her maternal senses. At the same time, once the two were together, she'd winced at the poorly matched couple they made. They just didn't fit quite right, and they never would. Harry, bless his soul, could never really give Ginny what she needed – what she thrived on – because Harry would always be too caught up in Harry to realize that he wasn't giving it to her. And that wasn't to say he wouldn't try, but by the point he realized it, it would be far too late.
The Malfoy boy, well, she didn't know him well enough yet to get a solid feel for him, but still, even just the glimpses of the kind of person she saw him to be fit better than Harry did. If he could shake off that indifferent external attitude – at least among friends – and perhaps fill out a little more – he was skin and bones – well, then he might stand a chance. He had, after all, paid his mother enough attention that her lessons in manners had stuck.
"Mum, does this look right?” Ginny shoved the roast under Molly's nose.
"It looks fine. Now, pop it in the oven, and I'll show you how to make the gravy."
Molly couldn't help but smile as her daughter sighed heavily. Perhaps the Malfoy boy would stand a chance at keeping her in line. A vision of four year old Ginny, smiling and cajoling her eldest brothers into taking over her chores – and then pitching a roaring temper tantrum that had them hurrying to do them for her anyway, lest she turn someone other than Fred purple for a week – crossed her mind, and this time Molly sighed. Probably not.
Hermione leveled a glare at Harry from across the table. Really. He wasn't even trying. "No, Harry. He split his soul into seven pieces because seven is the most powerful number. He only wanted seven pieces, not seven Horcruxes; that would give him eight pieces of soul. That's why there are only six – not because his spirit and his reincarnated body count as two. The –" Hermione's hand waved as she grappled for the term. "The spirity part is in the body. Therefore, one seventh of his soul is in each Horcrux."
It was not a hard concept; Harry was just being difficult. It seemed that lately, Harry was always difficult.
"Honestly, Granger. The spirity part? And you should recheck your Arithmancy. There isn't a seventh in each Horcrux."
"Yes, there is. Seven parts – one seventh per part," Hermione retorted indignantly.
"No, Granger," Draco huffed. "You've forgotten the basics of Horcruxes."
Hermione gave him an exasperated look.
"Or perhaps you never learned it in the first place," he amended, sinking into the chair next to her and reaching for a piece of parchment and helping himself to a quill.
When he didn't continue immediately, Hermione could have screamed. "I know I'm just a Mudblood, Malfoy, but surely, since you know so much, you could enlighten me," she gritted out.
"Granger, we've been over this. Not a Mudblood, the Mudblood. None of the others offend me so terribly."
The ghost of a smile flitted across Hermione's lips. Why, that had almost been a compliment.
"Now look. By definition, every time you cast the Horcrux spell, it removes half of your soul and places it into an object. So, the first time the Dark Lord cast it, he had half left and half into the first object. The second time, he only had half of his soul, so the object got half of a half – a fourth for him and a fourth for the object. That plus the half in the first Horcrux equals one. Do you see? The third Horcrux would then get an eighth, the fourth a sixteenth, the fifth a thirty-second, and the sixth a sixty-fourth, leaving a sixty-fourth in him. There. Not all that difficult, was it?"
Far from Hermione hurriedly recalculating the Arithmancy figures she'd based off her one seventh per part theory, Harry silently seethed. Not only was he more or less being forced to tolerate Hermione's never ending calculations and lectures on the subject, he was apparently going to be able to look forward to sitting through them with the Ferret too. On top of that, Ron had abandoned him for Moody and Shacklebolt after the meeting and Remus was working on something with Ginny and Professor McGonagall.
"Of course! That's why the Horcruxes he made later were easier to destroy. Do you see, Harry?" Hermione shoved the parchment towards him.
Harry peered at it half-heartedly. Was he supposed to decipher those scribbles and abbreviations? He hadn't even taken Arithmancy, never mind Ancient Runes. "Not really, but I'll take your word for it."
"Harry!” Hermione scolded, "How are you ever going to defeat Voldemort if you don't understand what's going on?"
"With the power he knows not," Harry replied dryly. "Even with the new prophecy, I doubt it's Arithmancy."
"It could be!"
"Arithmancy is not a power, Granger," Draco cut in. "Even if it were, I doubt it's something that would be guarded by strength, and it's not something the Dark Lord knows not. It's merely something he's content to let others with more skill calculate for him. Of course, depending on who that other is, it could give your Order the advantage." Draco smirked. "Especially when I know he deliberately over calculates the Dark Lord's power potential and has neglected to mention the fact that there is not, indeed, a seventh of the Dark Lord's soul in each of the Horcruxes."
"Why should we believe you?" Harry sneered. "If you knew that information was true, you'd collect your reward for it from Voldemort in a heartbeat. So why would you keep that to yourself?"
Draco sneered back. Was Potter really that dense? No wonder the Mudblood looked ready to tear out her bushy hair. "I owe him much more than the Dark Lord could give me in return."
"Slytherins and their loyalty issues," Hermione grumbled. "Always to the highest bidder –"
"Who's his Arithmancer?” Harry demanded.
Draco heaved a sigh. Perhaps, though, if he offered this evidence, his friend's name would be cleared. On the other hand, his friend might well murder him for attempting to clear it. It was something he'd been warned at length not to do. However, the Black blood in his veins screamed at him that it was the way – that family always trumped safety. "Snape."
Harry virtually exploded at Draco's response. Draco, for one, thought it would have been very nice if Potter had literally exploded. Then he would have been spared the ranting, incoherent shouting. But, there it was. At some point during all the senseless noise grating on Draco's last nerve, Harry worked out the real reason Draco was there.
Draco, for his part, was confused before Potter was even finished, but then he supposed being a – what was Potter up to now, quadruple? – quadruple agent was confusing business.
"Are you quite through?” Draco asked when Harry seemed to have run out of steam. He took the resonating silence – and dirty glare – as a yes. "Good. Now that that's all out in the open, why don't we examine the evidence that you're completely off your rocker, Potter? If the Dark Lord realized that some of his Horcruxes were more valuable than others, do you think he'd leave them lying about where anyone – namely you – could find them?"
Hermione opened her mouth to protest. The Horcruxes were hardly left lying about. She snapped it shut abruptly when she realized that she was being ignored.
"We're Slytherin, not stupid. We make plans, contingency plans, and contingency plans for the contingency plans. Do you honestly think the Dark Lord is thick enough to knowingly make such large mistakes?"
Harry's mouth opened, but Draco cut him off. "It was rhetorical, Potter. Shut up and listen, for Circe's sake. Even you can't be that thick."
Harry scowled at Draco, and it only deepened when he realized Hermione's hand was quivering in her efforts to keep it from snatching up the nearest quill and taking down what Malfoy was nattering on about verbatim.
"He believes there's a seventh portion because that is what he has been told, and he considers himself far too powerful and skilled with Legillimancy to be lied to. And because he believes that, the Horcruxes are hidden equally well and guarded relatively the same, but not too heavily, because, after all, if you happen to find and destroy one, it's only a seventh and there are five others that could easily replace it. However, if he realized the difference of the power in each Horcrux, he would have the first on lockdown, the second only slightly less so, et cetera. For all the sixth one would be worth, he might hand it over to you just for grins, except that one's his pet snake and he seems partial to her."
Something in that explanation seemed to take with Potter, and the three stared silently at each other for a moment. "That's why the diary was so powerful then," Harry mused, looking to Hermione for affirmation. "It almost killed Ginny. It was sucking the soul out of her, becoming real. The ring, wand, and everything else didn't have as much soul – as much of his personality – they wouldn't have had the drive to succeed."
"The other objects didn't contain his direct memories, thoughts, either," Hermione pointed out.
Draco however, was still stuck on Ginny. A sudden protectiveness flooded his senses. "What?"
Ginny had been attacked by a Horcrux?
The conversation they'd had just after his arrival floated back to him, and it began to make sense. Harry wasn't talking about you. He was talking about me. 'And no, it doesn’t' matter how or why,' he said. …So don't talk about what you don't know.
He could not, however, make sense of the overwhelming urge to leap across the table and throttle The-Boy-Who-Ought-to-Have-Effing-Kicked-It-by-Now on her behalf. The thought of her eyes brimming with tears, even as she spat the words at him, was doing odd things to his sense of vengeance.
"Ginny was attacked by a Horcrux? But how on earth would that be her fault?” Draco wondered aloud, vengeance quashed – for the moment.
Harry welcomed the chance to take his frustrations out on Draco. "Don't pretend you don't know, Malfoy. Ignorance obviously isn't your strong suit. Your father gave her the diary, there's no way you couldn't have known."
"I… My father…" Draco's head reeled. Even his mother's lightning fast ability to sort information and ask the right questions to gain what she wanted to know would not have been able to keep up with a revelation this huge. Draco's first instinct was to protect his father, but, clearly, he didn't know as much about him as he thought he did. That there were still more horrific secrets about his father shouldn't have surprised him, but he never could seem to get used to the fact that his father was not the man Draco had built him up to be.
"When would my father have had the chance to give her anything? And why in Merlin's name would she be stupid enough to take it from him? Honestly!"
"She didn't take it from him; he slipped it into her book pile! He started a fight with Mr. Weasley just to get close to her. Geroff, Hermione!” Harry growled when Hermione began tugging his arm in attempt to get his attention.
Hermione harrumphed. If Harry wanted to behave in such a manner, he deserved what he was about to get.
"Thanks to your lot, she was possessed by Voldemort!” Harry screamed, pointing his finger wildly at Draco.
"That is enough!” Ginny finally made herself speak up. "It is not Draco's fault I was possessed by Voldemort, and it has never been your place to tell anyone about it. And I'll thank you to keep that in mind the next time you think someone needs to know. I am not a tool to be used in a petty argument! So the next time you feel the need to make someone else feel bad, Harry Potter, you leave me out of it!"
She wanted to scream, or cry, or perhaps some combination thereof would work nicely, but she managed to maintain her composure – or rather, what was left of it – as she turned on her heel and walked brusquely down the aisle she'd come from. She would not let them see her cry.
"Damn." Harry shot Draco a scorching look, as if the whole thing were the blond's fault, then took off after Ginny. "Ginny, Ginny wait!"
Ginny walked faster.
"Oh come on now, it's not that big of a deal!"
Hermione's hands flew to her face. "Oh, God, Harry you bloody, buggering pillock," she swore softly.
Draco arched an eyebrow at her. Really, he must be hearing things. Hermione Granger, swearing? He was losing it. Cracking up. Going barking mad. That was the only logical explanation.
"Please don't hex him," she quietly pled as Ginny whipped around.
Draco appraised the situation with poorly feigned disinterest. Judging by the expression on Ginny's face, Potter was not going to merely be hexed, he was going to die on the spot. Finally.
"Dear Merlin," Hermione said on an intake of breath. It appeared she had reached the same conclusion Draco had, and 'Please don't hex him' quickly turned into "Please don't use an Unforgivable."
"Not that big of a deal?” Ginny asked quietly, dangerously. "Not that big of a deal. You, you, you bloody, self-righteous, ignorant, sorry excuse for a human being!" Ginny snapped her mouth shut. She was so upset she couldn't even curse him out properly, and now frustrated with her lack of words to describe exactly what kind of foul creature he was to boot. She hoped the twins never heard about this – they'd never let her live it down. "I, I – Aarragh!"
Draco was surprised at how quickly he could begin to feel a tiny bit sorry for the Boy Who Lived, because Ginny had raised her wand back and looped it around behind her head, as if she was swishing her ponytail with it, and that was the beginning of the wand movements for that horrible bogey-thing she was so fond of. She could probably –
Oh yes, she could definitely do it nonverbally now. It appeared that she'd been capable of doing it nonverbally for some time now, actually. Either that, or she'd used her anger to give it more power, because it seemed much stronger than when she'd used it on him outside Umbridge's – stupid toad – office. And while both he and Granger watched in disgusted, fascinated horror as monstrous bogeys flew out of Potter's nose and attacked his face, Ginny fled.
"Well don't just stand there," Granger said, shoving at him. "Go after her!"
Draco shook his head to clear it. Yes. He had gone mad. Because Hermione Granger, illustrious, almost Head Girl of Hogwarts did not curse, and she definitely would not send him to comfort her best female friend – perhaps her only female friend – in her stead.
Draco looked blankly at her. "I beg your pardon?"
"Go after her. Someone has to stop her before she gets to the twins, or they'll kill Harry. We need Harry to save the world." The look she gave him as she spoke strongly suggested that she believed anyone who couldn't put that together on their own had to be somewhere around the Goyle range of intelligence.
"I highly doubt –"
"Look. You're wrong, and I'm insane to send a Malfoy to comfort anyone, let alone someone I actually like, but you certainly can't help Harry. The second I leave, you'll kill each other, and then we'll be stuck with Voldemort and a doubly upset Ginny. Besides, you aren't afraid to hex her, if it comes down to that, and I think if you can get her to tell you about the Diary, you'll find you have a lot more in common than you think. Now go. Hurry!" She gave him a shove down the aisle and no alternative.
He had almost reached the end of the row of books when a thought occurred to him. "How do you know I won't hurt her?"
Hermione snorted. "Please. You wouldn't hurt Ginny, not if you could help it."
Draco felt a bit naked. Now how had she been able to see that so easily? Furthermore, when, exactly, had that happened?
"Pushy bint," Draco muttered under his breath as he went.
When Draco had gone and the door had banged shut behind him, Hermione performed a Finite Incantum on Harry and pulled him up to a sitting position. When he attempted to stand, though, she roughly shoved him back down.
"You stay right there, Harry Potter," she ordered, leveling her own wand on him before sinking to a seat on the floor across the narrow aisle from him. "You and I have some things to discuss."
Harry couldn't help but feel a bit like Neville must have when Hermione turned her wand on him in their first year. Only, she wasn't apologizing to him for any curses she might yet send his way. Harry groaned.
"None of that," Hermione snapped. "This is more important than Arithmancy and methods and plans. This is about Ginny. Now you listen and listen well. I'm only going to say this once."
Harry looked at the floor.
"Look at me," she demanded, steeling herself against the puppy-dog eyes that would say he knew entirely well that he'd done wrong. "You. Are. Buggering. This. Up."
Harry looked surprised at her curse, but the surprise quickly morphed into anger. "Tell me something I don't know, Hermione."
"Fine. Ginny is the power the Dark Lord knows not. How about that?"
Harry looked at her dubiously; Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Harry, I love you like a brother, but sometime I absolutely want to kill you. No one except you could be stupider than Ron about liking somebody. Lord knows the world doesn't need two Ron Weasleys running around, so let me clue you in on something –"
"I think I might love her."
It was worse than she thought.
"You think you might love her?” Hermione asked incredulously. "Harry, you're a royal arse. I know you and Ginny have had this conversation already. If, after all this time, you still only think that you could love her – you don't even know you could – then it's not what you think it is. If you don't know what you want by now, then you need to let her go."
Hermione buried her face in her hands. "She has six older brothers. Six, Harry. Five of them – and I’m certain that even Percy could be convinced to jump into the fray if he knew the circumstances – currently want to do Voldemort a favor and rip you limb from limb because you hurt her – because you keep hurting her."
Harry dropped his eyes to the floor.
"She also has a dragon."
Harry's eyes snapped up to hers again, but he was wiser than to interrupt.
"Yes, Harry, a Dragon. And even though he doesn't know it, and I can't quite figure out why, he's wound 'round her pinky finger tighter than her brothers are. So you'd better figure out how you're going to fix this, make a plan, and stick to it."
Harry stared somberly at the wall above Hermione's head. "I don't want her to be the power."
That was it.
That was the straw that broke Hermione Granger's back, as well as the last vestiges of patience she contained. If an obtusely large and dense tome had been within reach, she would have thrown it at him. She supposed she could have spelled a suitable one to hurl itself through the air and at his head, but somehow that didn't seem nearly as satisfying. Then he looked back to her, and everything changed.
"You just don't get it, do you?" she asked, sighing heavily. "Harry, he marked her just like he marked you."
"But the prophecy –"
"Hang the prophecy! Don't you listen to anybody? Ever? All prophecies are self-fulfilled. It doesn't matter what you do or try to do, you end up making it happen. Prophesize – to see the future. The future, not a future. Not a future provided you follow a certain path. The future. Whether you like it or not, Ginny has a major part in things."
He still looked woefully lost, and Hermione tried, yet again, to explain. "Haven't you ever listened to her, Harry? I can hear it in everything she says. She's so passionate about ending the war, undoing the wrongs done to others. She trains every day, she takes her sixth and seventh year lessons from McGonagall and Remus. She talked Mad-Eye Moody into giving her dueling lessons!"
Harry's eyebrows shot up and disappeared under his fringe and his mouth dropped open.
"Oh, don't look so surprised. What did you think she did all day? Housework? Harry, even with all of that, she knows more. She knows things she shouldn't know. Things that not even Mad-Eye would teach her. I tried some of them myself, once. My wand just sort of shot dejected sparks."
Harry cocked his head to the side. Hermione, not being able to perform a spell?
"Some of them looked so difficult, I didn't dare attempt them. I suspect even the highest-ranking Death Eaters would even know of them, much less manage to attempt them. And she performs them flawlessly. Some of it's like, well, it's very similar to your Parselmouth, Harry. I'm telling you now, there is a reason she was possessed by the diary, a reason she's been fixated on you since she was ten, and a reason you care for each other. But there's more – so much more – to the puzzle too; I just haven't found the missing pieces yet."
[a/n]: Round 3 of tests are done. Good news: both my grades and I survived (mostly) in tact. Which means that the writing and posting can continue at the current rate. Woot! This story has been in my brain going on five years now, and as dear as it has become to me, it is time for it to be completed. I sat down and sketched out the ending (for the first time ever, I actually know how it's going to end!) Friday night (as reward for living through aforementioned Round 3). Please review - tell me what you think, what needs work, what you hate (maybe what you love?). As much as I want it to be done, it needs to be done well, it deserves that, at least.
The light in the room was bright and hard. Each of the candles seemed to have impossibly large flames on them, and they all danced with the movements of the girl's fiery hair as she whipped around, firing spells at what he imagined were invisible Harry Potters.
Draco could have sighed with relief. It had taken him nearly half an hour to find her. He'd had to comb through the entire house room by room when she wasn't in the room with the nonexistent doorway as he'd expected her to be. Finding that room alone had taken a good ten minutes, not to mention a few wrong turns into what were actually solid walls. Thankfully, no one else had been around, or he would have been forced to Avada Kedavra them. He was secretly relieved that she was not crying and did not appear to be sad. She appeared to be quite furious, and anger, at least, he thought he knew what to do with.
He stepped through the doorway and leaned against its frame, idly fingering the doorjamb as her words suddenly assailed his ears. So she had perfected the containing spell he'd shown her. It was a useful spell, one used at Hogwarts to contain most magic within the classrooms and sound within the common rooms, though at Hogwarts it had been worked into the very foundation of the building somehow.
"Miserable, know it all, bloody, buggering wanker!" Ginny screeched as she hurled a curse across the room. It rebounded off a tapestry, and she cast a complicated looking shield spell. He watched as the neon yellow tail of the curse shimmered around the edges of her shield, which pulsed emerald green where the curse dissipated against it.
Draco smirked. He had shown her that curse too. It was a Sixth year spell, the trio knew it as well, but he had taught it to her. She performed it flawlessly, and he took pride in her success with it.
"Self important, two-faced prat!"
She shot off another curse, and had Draco been any less observant, he wouldn't have been able to sidestep it as neatly as he had. He also would have failed to realize that he'd suddenly, quite unintentionally, provided her a worthy target.
"You forgot four-eyed freak of nature." He casually flicked away a hex from her wand as if it were a gnat.
She screeched something incoherent - and probably vulgar - at him, but he didn't have time to ponder it, as his eye caught the flames of the candles. The turning of the world seemed to slow as the flames leapt from their candles and swirled through the air towards him. Draco did the only rational thing he could come up with at the given moment.
He hit the deck.
The flames from the candles, now resembling something akin to a fiery lightning bolt, tore through the containing barrier she had spelled upon the doorway and zipped down the hall. Draco pushed himself up, intent on chewing the redhead up one side and down the other.
"Damn it! Accio!"
And he was back on the floor, just barely dodging being set aflame for the second time in as many seconds. When he'd re-steeled his nerves and thought it might be safe, or as close to safe as he could apparently expect to be when she was so brassed off, he rolled back up into a sitting position. "Now where the devil did you learn to do that?"
"Don't know. Is there something I can help you with, or will you be seeing yourself out now?"
The air crackled with pent up energy and her magic. She looked on the verge of exploding. She looked beautiful. Beautiful and full of life - and everything it contained. It nearly drove him to distraction.
It certainly seemed to drive the vast majority of sense out of his head. He didn't care. He suddenly wanted everything dancing behind those eyes directed at him. Anger, violence, happiness, laughter, maybe even hurt - though he didn't intend to intentionally put that in her eyes ever again - everything and anything except emptiness. He'd had enough of emptiness. He wanted to learn how to speak with his eyes like that. He envied it.
"Go on then, I dare you," he goaded, sneer firmly in place, when she didn't acknowledge him.
That was all it took. Ginny began hurling hexes at him so quickly he was certain she was starting the next curse nonverbally even as she finished saying the first one. They were simple, elementary curses and hexes, and he deflected them easily enough, impressed that even at lightning speed her aim was impeccable.
He intended only to defend himself, but before long, he was retaliating to her constant attacks. Ginny eventually did slow her rapid-fire hexes, but only so she could properly cast the more difficult ones. Neither noticed when the curses slid from mostly harmless to somewhat dangerous or from somewhat dangerous to possibly deadly. Nor did they notice when their battle changed from a venting of frustration to a battle of wits to fighting with their inner demons. Within minutes, they were waging a full, no holds barred war upon each other.
The curious thing was, they weren't fighting each other at all.
Draco dodged spell after spell and called out his own hexes and curses along the way, but all the while, he kept half an eye on the flames. If she didn't know how she'd managed to set them after him, there was no guarantee she wouldn't do it again, or that she could control it at all.
Ginny dove out of the way as a purple curse streaked towards her, tucked her head, and rolled neatly back onto her feet, shouting a curse that sounded too familiar for Draco's comfort.
But it was then that Draco saw his chance. "Acerbitas memorite!" he cried as she took the tiniest of moments to be proud of herself for - finally - executing that roll Tonks had shown her right.
The flames jumped above their candles, and Draco turned his attention to them. He forgot, totally, completely, and rather stupidly, about the curse she'd hurled his way not seconds before.
Pain short of nothing but the Cruciatus, and only by a little there, racked Draco's body, and he staggered backwards a good three or four steps in surprise as he vividly recalled the familiar sounding spell. Only Death Eaters knew that spell.
Ginny watched the effect of her curse in horror, entirely oblivious to the spell he had sent her way just before he was struck. She shrieked as it hit her and constricted around her heart, dropping to the floor as it started to take effect.
"I always wanted to be Ginny Weasley," Luna's voice reverberated in her head.
By the time Draco shook off the remnants of her curse, she was whimpering and shaking where she'd landed. He crossed the room slowly and dropped to a crouch before her, then reached out to touch her arm. Damn his stupidity. What had he been thinking, using that spell?
Ginny shrank away from his touch. "No more, please don't make me do it any more, Tom," she pled to Draco, staring at him with unseeing eyes.
Draco shot to his feet. "Stop it." He toed the back of her legs.
Yes, it was lame, and incredibly insensitive to boot, but it was all he had come up with given the current situation. Aside from that, the way she'd withdrawn from his touch had rattled him to the core. She'd never - not even when they were adversaries - pulled away from him.
"Please." She shivered again. Then she curled up into a ball and wrapped her arms tightly around her. The light from the candles and lamps in the room disappeared as neatly as if she had used a Putter-Outer.
If he hadn't known better, if he hadn't seen the flames of the candles rapidly shrink to nothing when she'd drawn her arms into her, he would have thought she'd tossed some of those miscreants' Peruvian Darkness Powder in the air just to throw him off.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Why did these sorts of things always happen to him? He hadn't known she would react that severely to a memory curse. All right, fine, a painful memory curse. Yes, there was the whole thing with Luna, but he didn't react that badly to the memory curse, and he'd been the one to carry the dead girl out of the Riddle House.
Draco started to pace. He couldn't just leave her - not in the darkness when he couldn't even get a Lumos off his wand. No, not in the darkness, and especially not alone in it. Sweet Salazar. There was no telling what they'd do to him if they found her alone like this. If he was there, at least he would have a chance to explain his half of the story.
Or at least, he liked to hope so.
When he turned the corner to begin his trek back towards her, he stubbed his toe on the couch. He cursed fluently in several different languages as he hopped about on one foot, babying the injured toe. Perfect. Now he sounded like the Weasel King - a well cultured Weasel King.
This, this was all her fault. He hadn't ever had issues about leaving someone alone in the dark before, especially if they would sooner hex him than look at him when the curse wore off.
"If she didn't go around acting like Mary fucking Sunshine all the damn time," he ranted, only to be cut off by the light returning to the room so quickly he was temporarily struck blind.
And in that split second he couldn't see, she swept his legs out from under him. He landed flat on his back with the wind knocked out of him, and his eyes were still shut from the blinding light when she threw herself on him and pushed her wand into his neck.
"What the Hell did you do to me!" she demanded, pushing her wand in a little harder for emphasis.
"How do you know Pervellous Accendium?" he countered between undignified wheezes.
"You are not in a good position to be a smart arse, Ferret."
It was a stupid move; she realized that before she'd even finished the comment. She should have put a Body Bind on him before running off at the mouth. Ginny felt him moving and twisting under her, but there was nothing she could do to stop what was coming.
Even if she had been capable of stopping it, Ginny wasn't entirely sure she would have. Because he'd done some kind of complicated turn underneath her and now they were both sitting, but she was held tight to him. It would have felt safe, and might have been sexy, if it weren't for the wand digging into the soft spot between her jawbone and neck muscle.
And damn it all if she didn't find that sexy too.
Knowing she'd been outmaneuvered, for the time being, Ginny resigned herself to the inevitable. "Truce?"
He removed his wand from her neck, but she was reluctant to scoot away from him. He was solid, real, and after her encounter - even if it was only in her mind - with Tom, she needed that. She needed him.
Ginny was surprised to find that it was not an entirely repulsive thought. In fact, she rather liked it. She could never need Harry. He always had entirely too much to deal with - not that that was entirely his fault - to have her need him as well. She wanted someone who could anchor her as much as she anchored him. To be able to need as much as she was needed.
Draco's wand arm moving to join his other arm loosely around her waist broke her out of her thoughts. She remembered her daydream from the kitchen then, and she did lean back into him this time. A wide smile stole across her face as his arms reflexively tightened a bit about her middle.
"I go first," Draco said.
He must have felt her shift in his arms, because the moment she started to open her mouth, he cut her off. "You called Uncle, I go first."
"I did not call Uncle," Ginny replied, indignant. "I suggested a truce."
"Big difference." Draco rolled his eyes. She started to move away from him, out from between his legs and away from his chest, and Draco panicked. He tightened his hold on her waist, once again purposely preventing her from moving, even as he readied himself to be assaulted for his reaction.
Ginny only dropped her hands down to his, though, and she gave them a tiny squeeze as she removed them from her waist. She scooted across the floor, and then turned to face him. "I just wanted to see your face." She gave a little shrug and one of those unsure smiles that seemed to have formed a noose around his heart.
"Go on, you wanted to go first." She bumped his knee with her own to prod him into responding.
"Err, right. Right." He shook his head as if it would shake his thoughts into order. "How do you know Pervellous Accendium?"
Crap. She was caught. An overwhelming feeling of panic seemed to fill her body at the thought of having to explain everything to him, and Ginny decided to bluff. "Everyone who's ever taken lessons from an Auror knows it." She was surprised to see Draco's face fall, just a tiny fraction, before he restored the careful indifference.
She lied to him. Surely she knew that he knew about the spell, why it was so unusual that she would know it. Why would she lie? Bold as brass, right to his face. However, he couldn't deny that she had gall.
"Don't lie. You aren't training with an Auror regularly, in the first place, and no, they don't in the second. Only Death Eaters know that spell."
Ginny squirmed at the tone of his voice. It wasn't accusatory, like Harry's would have been. Instead, it was disappointed. It shamed her.
"Or you're misinformed," she lashed out at him, anything to avoid having to explain what she'd done. "As per usual." She tried his sneer when his eyes flashed at the insult. She really rather liked the sneer, she decided as his eyes narrowed further upon realizing her expression.
"Or you're lying. But what could you be so secretive about? Is the Gryff Princess a spy?" he taunted. "Fancy having a go with the upper class? When you get past all the Muggle-loving and poverty, the Weasleys are as pure as the rest of us."
"As if I would be silly enough to put my family name in such a position," she brushed him off airily. "For all the talk of purity, you're as dirty as any Mudblood now. Most of your ilk have managed to breed the magic right out of themselves. Besides, no one in their right mind will ever trust the Malfoy name to power again."
Ginny couldn't contain her half smile at the look on his face. She'd successfully derailed the conversation. Never mind the aching feeling in her heart; she could deal with that later, as long as she didn't have to -
"A matter of opinion," Draco gritted out. "But that doesn't change the fact that only Death Eaters know that spell. The Dark Lord has made sure of that. Even then, most of those in the higher circle can't do it. So how do you pull it off? Let's pretend that you had stumbled across it on accident. How do you know the wand motions for it? How do you manage to perform it to its fullest extent?"
Ginny glared at him. Why couldn't he ever just let her win? Even just this once? "It's a long story. My turn."
"I don't think so. You haven't answered my question."
"I will, but I want you to answer mine first." If she could not derail the conversation, then she would stall it as long as possible. "What the hell did you do to me?"
"Acerbitas Memorite," he replied, decided to humor her.
"And that means?"
"Roughly, it translates painful by heart or from memory. In effect, it makes you relieve your worst memory." Draco gave her a doleful look, almost as if by way of apology.
"You bastard. What is wrong with you?" Ginny glared at him. As if having him pull her out of her nightmares wasn't bad enough. Once he knew she had them, he used them against her.
"I wouldn't have used it if I had a clue you'd ever had more than one bad day in your life," he snapped. "And who in the hell is Tom?"
Ginny ignored his question all together. "A clue? A clue? You've had dozens of clues! I told you myself - you don't know anything about me. Harry told you today in the library! So don't give me that crap."
"Well how was I to know it was that bad? What the fuck could have possibly happened to make you react to it that severely?"
"You mean other than the time my best friend sacrificed herself for me, and I watched Death Eaters drag her off to her death? You do realize this is going to be about someone other than you, right?"
"I asked, didn't I?" He chose to ignore the last slight.
"Fine. You remember when the Chamber of Secrets opened? Everyone thought it was Harry, then Hagrid, a few thought it was you - you were the Prince of Slytherin and all. They were all a million miles off."
"You're not saying it was you?" he asked, almost managing not to laugh at the absurdity of her implication. "That's ridiculous. How could you open the Chamber? You don't even have any blood ties to Slytherin."
"Would that it were blood ties to Slytherin. Would that it were," she said, more to herself than to him. She stared at the floor for a long while before finally meeting his eyes. "I didn't have to have blood ties to Slytherin. I had his heir, in the form of a diary that your father slipped into my book pile at Flourish and Blotts."
She was speaking so softly by the end of the sentence that Draco had to strain to hear her. He scooted closer, and when he didn't protest his father's guilt in the incident, she continued.
"I wrote in it all summer. When it wrote back, I was surprised. But it was nice, having someone to take me seriously for once. That's why I kept writing.
"I was so stupid!" she shouted, burying her face in her hands. "How many times had Da told us, 'If you can't see where it keeps its brain...'" she trailed off, blushing at her outburst.
"I wrote and wrote, and it sounds trite, I know, but I poured my stupid, twelve year old soul into that book. At first, it was fine - he was actually pleasant. And he was so studied and charming; I was flattered that he thought I was worth the attention. But the more I wrote, the more vengeance and hate filled his replies. Even his compliments were backhanded, come to think of it."
She paused, and Draco took a moment to think aloud. "So the diary was the Horcrux Potter was talking about it. The more you wrote, used it - needed it - the more power you gave it."
Ginny nodded sullenly.
Something clicked at her miserable nod, and Draco looked horrified. "The more power you gave it, the more power it had to hold over you."
"Yes," she whispered. "Soon I was sneaking around, knowing I was doing something I shouldn't be, but I couldn't make myself stop. I would write about it, and he would tell me that we all have urges we just can't resist. That I should tell him about them, and maybe he could help me. Of course, he was mocking me; it was him the whole time. After that, I would wake up and not be able to remember what had happened during the day. The last thing I would remember was eating breakfast, but I would find myself in the dorm room studying. Once I woke up in bed covered in red paint. I think I might have fainted when I saw it. I was sure it was blood."
"So he possessed you, took you down into the Chamber."
"There were a few other things between there, but yes. He possessed me, I opened the Chamber again, and when we were down there he..." Ginny trailed off, unable to find the right words.
Horrible thoughts instantly filled Draco's mind. Everyone knew how powerful blood magic was, and the strongest blood was that from the virgin. If the Dark Lord had found a way to utilize it, they could be dealing with a whole new kind of monster. "He didn't -"
Realization flashed across Ginny's face as she grasped onto his train of thought. "Oh! No! Not that. I just didn't know how to describe it. He came out of the diary, and he was there. Like a ghost, only in color. He was young and handsome, charismatic - so charismatic. I could see why people would be entranced by him. But he was so evil. I could see that too. It was in his eyes - even before he was ... solid." She gave an involuntary shiver. "He said a spell, and it was like he was pulling the life out of me. Like when you pull a thought for the Penseive."
"But what has that got to do with you knowing that spell?"
Ginny shrugged. "He created it. Before he made the diary a Horcrux, before he was even a Seventh year. He wanted to be able to cause pain without being tracked by the Ministry for using an Unforgivable." Her eyes widened at the thought. She still couldn't quite wrap her head around the idea that a boy younger than they were could have been so evil.
"Merlin," Draco said, rubbing his hands over his eyes then massaging his temples. "He could do that when he was sixteen then. Not even all the members in the High Circle can do it. Most of the ones who can don't manage it as well as you."
"Sorry," she interrupted.
He waved her apology off, still puzzling it together aloud. "So what is it that makes the difference? The Cruciatus hurts the same no matter the caster - so long as they're feeling particularly hateful. Even when they aren't, it's not how much the spell hurts that changes, it's how long it lasts. Hang on - you knew it because he knew it?"
"I know a lot of things I shouldn't. It's like whatever he knew before he made that Horcrux, I know. The things he learned later are a little different. Like a flash of déjà vu or something - even though he's not in my head anymore. When Harry destroyed the diary, all the life he'd stolen when shooting back into me. The best I can figure, it was such a violent recollection of my essence that it yanked some of his out along with it."
Draco was giving her an odd look.
"You can't tell anyone," Ginny said quickly. "No one else needs to know about me knowing more than I should. Hermione knows, and Harry too, but no one else - especially my mum - need know."
"All right then," Draco agreed. "No one else, but I get another question for my silence."
Ginny tried not to roll her eyes. Only a Malfoy would request that his silence be bought in the middle of such a heart baring conversation. "Fine."
"Who's Tom?" He had meant to ask again about the candles, but the only thing on his mind was Tom - whoever he was. And Draco needed to find that out so he could kill the sorry bastard for whatever he had had to do with the diary mess.
Ginny was too shocked even to scoff at Draco's question. She cocked her head to the side and studied him before coming to the conclusion that he really didn't know.
"Potter said that the diary was a Horcrux, so obviously that was Lord Voldemort's, but who's this Tom fellow, and what did he have to do with any of it?"
Draco frowned as she continued to stare at him. He didn't like being so utterly confused. Not at all. It destroyed his illusion that he knew everything, and that - on top of everything else - might have proved to be more than he could handle.
"Now look here -"
Ginny, meanwhile, had decided that showing him would be the best answer to his question. She picked up her wand, held it loosely in her hand, and concentrated. He watched her eyebrows knit together as the writing came out of the wand. "TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE"
Riddle? That was the house where they met. That was where Voldemort regained his body, but what -
She flicked her wrist, and the red letters hanging in the air slithered their way around, rearranging, shifting, just like they had in the Chamber when he'd come out of the diary and laughed in her face. He had done it when Harry was there too, when he had come to save her. It was a favorite trick of Tom's. Finally, they were still again. "I AM LORD VOLDEMORT."
Draco and Ginny stared silently at the letters for a long time before Ginny finally spoke. "His name wasn't always Voldemort, you know."
The anagram only brought more questions to Draco's mind. "But, but the Riddle house is a Muggle house. There aren't any pureblood Riddles."
[[a/n]]:: Sorry I am so late in getting chapter 13 up. I took Thanksgiving break off from everything - I did no homework (and am now panicking), no writing, no scholarly reading. Absolutely nothing other than cooking, stuffing myself on leftovers, watching movies, and knitting. It was awesome. It was much needed. It was enjoyed. As always, I hope you enjoy, and let me know what you think!
[[a/n]] the second:: The new chapter 13. It needed help. So I helped it. Or at least, I feel like I helped it. Thoughts?
The candles flickered gently, warming the room with a pleasant half-light as Draco looked around and scowled half-heartedly. He'd apparently slept on the floor. Again. Damn this horrible house, it was turning him into a, a – well, something common. He tried to move, before he found that his chest was pinned awkwardly to the wall, and was sufficiently surprised that he'd not immediately noticed her weight pressing against his chest. Draco rather thought he was losing his touch.
She burrowed her face deeper into his chest as he squirmed underneath her and moved her arm to rest her hand against his shoulder. Despite the ache in his back reminding him that he had slept sitting on the floor, Draco decided he'd never had a better night's sleep in his life. He was just closing his eyes again when the door of the room flew open and banged against the wall – mere centimeters from his head.
Draco started, and Ginny shot to life like a scalded cat. She was on her feet with her wand drawn before Draco really even had registered what was happening.
"Get up! Get up! There's been an attack on the Ministry!" the intruder shouted, barreling through the doorway at the same time. Ron looked around the room. "Ginny? The twins said… Ferret!"
He looked between them, horrified, then shook his head and shuddered before remembering that the emergency at hand outweighed Ginny spending time with Malfoy – but only barely. And no, he didn't really want to explore the possibilities of how they were spending that time, though on the bright side, they were fully clothed, if a little rumpled. "Hurry up, hurry up, they need reinforcements."
Draco struggled to find his feet; as it turned out, his entire left leg was asleep where Ginny's legs had been resting on it. Ron held out a hand, which Draco reluctantly took, and hauled the blond boy to his feet.
As Draco passed by her, Ginny reached for him. He allowed his hand to graze down her arm. He paused only at her hand, to give it the briefest of squeezes before letting it fall.
She bit her lip, but returned the nod he'd given her as he swept out the door. Once again all business, Ginny looked expectantly at Ron. "Well?" She tapped her foot.
Ron only looked at her.
"Is this an emergency or not? Let's go."
Ron reached for her, almost the same way she'd reached for Draco just moments before. "Gin –" He was aware that they were wasting precious time, but unable to make himself care. Family came first. It always had. "Are you sure?"
"Sure of what, Ron?" she asked, tilting her head to the side.
"I just – he – you –" He ran his free hand through his red hair, frustrated at his lack of words. She squeezed his hand, encouraging him, and he managed to find them. "He looks at you like I look at Hermione." Ron shrugged.
Ginny smiled widely, to his horror. "He does?"
Ron sighed. "Yes, he bloody well does." Someone had to be playing a cosmic sized joke on him, that was all there was to it. Not wanting to dwell on the weight of his own statement – or the fact that Ginny had not been horrified by it – he tugged at her hand. "We should go; they'll be waiting."
They were on the landing between the first and second stories when she suddenly stopped. "Ron."
He looked to her expectantly.
"Thanks." She threw her arms around him and squeezed with all her might. "Be careful," she whispered in his ear before pulling away.
"You too, Gin." They joined the rest of the Order members gathering in the dining room, listening intently to the orders relayed from Shacklebolt to Moody.
When Moody finished, Ginny filed towards the door with the rest of the Order. She'd nearly made it out when a hand snatched her arm.
"Oh no you don't, young lady." The hand jerked her bodily back into the room. "Some things I will tolerate, but this is not one of them."
"Mum! But what if –"
"They certainly don't need you out there with them. It'll be chaos as it is. The Ministry is already lost. Anybody with more than a stitch of sense knows that. Those boys are going to need good, hot food when they get in, and probably more than a little medical attention. You'll do as you're told this time."
"Mum, please –"
"I said no."
Molly knew, of course, that it was only the nearly unrestrained panic in her voice and the ferocious look in her eye that had quelled Ginny into unhappy submission, but Molly was simply grateful that for once, for once, she'd not been overruled. Ginny was her baby girl, and even if Molly was prepared to accept certain things – such as the fancying of the Malfoy boy or her daughter's well honed dueling ability, though she paid no attention to cooking or sewing – there were many lines she wasn't ready to cross yet at all. Watching her determined daughter march off into battle was one of them.
Draco watched as Ginny's mother pulled her back into the meeting room and allowed a small sigh of relief to pass his lips. The Dark Lord certainly knew Ginny had played host to his soul at a young age, and Draco knew that any Death Eater that brought her to him would receive rewards he couldn't even begin to imagine. She'd be swooped down upon the moment anyone noticed that flaming hair. A forceful clap on the back nearly sent him sprawling onto the floor as he followed the anxious herd of men into the next room.
"Not going to be distracted by visions of pretty girls while we're out there, are you Malfoy?” Moody asked, eyeing the boy. "You're better off here, if so. Once the Death Eaters see that pretty blond head of yours they'll have you in their sights. I imagine the return of deserters would bring plenty of rewards from your Dark Lord."
"He's not my Lord," Draco growled.
"Good to hear, boy. There's some sense in your head yet." Moody nodded at him once before moving on, but not before tossing some last advice over his shoulder. "You might want to consider a Glamour to hide that hair of yours then."
Draco growled. He certainly would not Glamour his hair, thank you. He had more self-respect than that. He wanted it known once and for all where he stood. Where he chose to stand. To hell with Switzerland. A Half-Blood making puppets of Pureblooded wizards was more than he was willing to ignore.
Ginny wrung her hands as she paced the kitchen. It'd been hours – fine, an hour, two tops – and they'd yet to hear anything from anyone. "Mum, why haven't they contacted us? Merlin, what if it was a hoax? A trap! What if –"
"Be quiet," Molly snapped. "No what ifs. What ifs will make you barmy. Barmy people are of no use. So just, just hush up."
The elder Weasley woman took a deep breath and fussed with the arrangement of bandages and potions on the table before her. She'd not meant to snap at her daughter, but it was more than she could handle, hearing Ginny voice the very thoughts running through her own brain.
She and Ginny had converted the kitchen into a makeshift hospital, as the Order had long ago decided against using St Mungo’s except in the most dire of circumstances to avoid making the hospital any more of a target than it already was. The food they'd finished preparing sat under warming charms in the dining room. They'd worked silently, fastidiously, together. This had been fine, excellent really, until everything was done and the only thing left to do was wait.
"Go and check the flames under that antiseptic potion. It needs to stay good and hot," Molly directed, more to give Ginny something to do than for any real concern over the health of the flames heating the potion. She'd been able to brew that potion in her sleep since the twins turned two. The flames were fine.
They came upon them suddenly, almost as quickly as they had swept out of Grimmauld Place, not long after Ginny had been given command over the hearth in the kitchen. In the doors they swept, pouring in in groups of three and four, supporting one another, carrying one another, as they pushed and shoved their way through the house. Nearly half of them passed through the kitchen, and Molly Weasley's carefully honed eye for spotting injuries to the dining room. The Order members from the first war, and many of the Aurors that had been added to the ranks moved and talked nonchalantly, as if it were just another day's work. Ginny supposed that for the Aurors, at least, it was.
Their robes were tattered and torn, many had scrapes that looked terrible, though Ginny knew that if they'd been as bad as they looked her mother would have hauled them to the side and set her to work severing the robes so the areas that needed attention could be Episkeyed or treated with some potion or another. Her hands were raw from the hot water and rags her mother had given her charge over, cleaning the wounds of the seemingly never ending line of next patients and slathering them in the fresh antiseptic potion, then sending them on to her mother so she could heal them and send them off to a room or couch to rest.
But Ginny's eyes never left the door.
She saw him first. A shining head of platinum coming heavily through the door, and she very nearly sloshed some of the scalding water she'd been using to tenderly clean the wounds of the wounded onto the current wounded's leg. But he was alive, and he appeared to be moving under his own steam, even if he was going about making his way to the kitchen slowly.
He bypassed her end of the kitchen completely, breaking through the line in front of her mother. It was not until that point that Ginny realized why he'd been moving so slowly. He heaved another body up onto the table as Molly sent off her current patient. Her mother leaned in to Draco, who whispered urgently into her ear, and though Ginny could see that her eyes held reservations, her mum nodded her assent and turned to the patient.
"Ginny, come quickly!"
It was not until they'd cleared the tattered remains of his robe and her mother set to work, tsking and muttering quietly under her breath at the severity of his wounds, that Ginny chanced a glance at Draco. He stared pointedly at her mother and the patient, scrutinizing every wave of the wand she made. Ginny could see he was concerned, no – worried, just from the look in his eyes. That was almost scary in itself, because if he'd forgotten to put up that mask that blocked her from reading his eyes, he must have been truly worried indeed.
"What did they do to him, did you see?” Molly asked.
She could tell well enough from many of the injuries, but he needed Skele-Gro for his left leg, which was oddly stretchy and rubbery, and a Blood Replenishing potion as well. The two could be mixed, but the Blood Replenishing potion was finicky and had a tendency to react with spell residue.
"Cruciatus, mostly from Bellatrix after she caught him deflecting a curse from Potter's back. There were several others though, I don't know. I didn't find him again until we'd managed to run most of them off."
"All right then. Go and fetch that bottle of Skele-Gro from the counter over there, and bring me a flask as well." When Draco had obediently gone to fetch the potion, Molly turned to her daughter. "Hold him steady, Ginny," she said quietly.
Ginny nodded and folded herself over the patient's torso, pinning him to the table. She watched in something akin to wide-eyed horror as her mother grasped his upper arm and wrenched it back into the socket. Ginny had the fleeting thought that it was good she had decided against a career in Healing.
"Vicious harpy," the patient groaned as Ginny delicately worked a sling around his arm and neck.
Ginny patted his hand in sympathy. "Be careful, or she'll hear you," she whispered conspiratorially. "And believe me, she won't be nearly as gentle if she hears you."
He must have said something back, but Ginny was too busy trying to cover her shock at the discovery of a Dark Mark on his wrist to listen.
"Pro- Professor Snape?"
Severus Snape sighed heavily. "What of it, girl?"
He scowled at her, expecting her to screech for Potter or her mother, or perhaps at Draco. Then he remembered who she was, a Weasley. The only girl Weasley, who had a host of obnoxious brothers and had shared her body with the essence of the Dark Lord for nearly a year. She wouldn't screech for help, she'd curse him into oblivion herself without hesitation. He couldn't help but feel faintly doomed.
Ginny only smiled cautiously at him. "You're safe here, Professor. Draco told me."
Damn that boy. Had he not told the fool to mind himself?
She patted his hand again. "Though I don't envy you a bit. Mum says you need Skele-Gro."
She bit back a giggle, taking pleasure in how her sassy reply agonized her former professor – simple, sweet retribution for his snide remarks about her and her potions in his classes. Professor Snape heaved himself up enough to look at his legs. She supposed he realized her mother was right, because he gave a defeated groan and sank back down on the table in a heap.
"And what of Potter?" he bit out a moment later, seeing that Molly and Draco were busy measuring out the Skele-Gro and quietly arguing about another potion on the table.
"What of him?” Ginny replied, arching a smooth red eyebrow at him in a manner he found very familiar.
Professor Snape looked to Draco, who'd finally been shushed by the formidable Mrs. Weasley.
"Drink up, Severus," she ordered, bustling his way with a flask full of, if he judged correctly, Skele-Gro mixed with a Blood Replenishing Potion. He pinched his nose and tipped his head back, taking the vile concoction like a shot.
Once satisfied that he would, in fact, keep the potion down, she continued speaking, "You'll stay on the couch in the meeting room until I tell you otherwise. Now, give me your wand."
He looked warily at her, but complied hastily when she snapped her fingers at him and fixed him with an or else type of look.
"Draco, you’ll need to stay with him until Moody gets back. I believe you, dear, but I don’t trust him – spy or not. Alastor will be the one making the final decision, in any case. Go on and send him a patronus that he's to report to you when he gets back.”
Snape clutched his rubbery left leg and screwed his face up. Ginny thought that had he not been so schooled in masking his reactions, he might well have allowed a squeak of pain to pass through his lips. Skele-Gro was nasty business.
Once Snape had been levitated off to the meeting room, Ginny turned back to the thankfully dwindling line of Order members that needed tending. Her brothers, Harry, and Hermione still had yet to come back, and Ginny was beginning to get a touch panicky about it. She'd been worried about them all, but seeing Draco had waylaid some of her fears. If he was all right, then surely they were. They'd been in far more scrapes than he had, and the Weasleys always had been a scrappy bunch, if she did say so herself.
Only, she had seen nearly everyone but them – even Moody had returned – and those that were coming in now all looked at her and her mother oddly. It felt like there was something no one was telling them. Surely, surely, if anyone knew anything, they would tell them. Right?
Ginny had just finished cleaning off the burns of her last patient and began to slather them with burn salve when her mother abruptly left the room. She thought she might have seen a whisp of a patronus dissolving where her mother had been, but then patient in front of her doubled over and became violently ill, and it was forgotten as Ginny hurriedly returned her attention to the matter at hand – or rather, foot.
Ginny shuddered. Healing was officially out.
Ron punched the living room wall. It was too late. They had found him too late.
They hadn’t even found him, Hermione had. He hated that. He hated more that the sound of her shrill scream still resounded in his head, and that that had terrified him more than the sight of Percy. He hated that he had always discounted his father as something of a soft man until he’d seen him at the Ministry and realized that “family first” was not just a motto of which Arthur Weasley spoke. He hated that he didn’t know if Fred and George were even alive – they’d sent no response to his patronus. He was furious that Harry had barely reacted – was still barely reacting, even if he had volunteered to send a patronus to Ginny. And he absolutely had no idea what to feel about the fact that he couldn’t seem to produce any tears, though he had some notion that he too should be crying.
Molly bit back a gasp as she dropped to her knees next to him, even as she banished the blood soaked shirt from him. “Don't worry, darling. Mum'll take care of you. It'll be all right. You'll be all right, love," she soothed, even as her brain flew into action cataloging his injuries and telling the panic threatening to overwhelm her to shut up.
"Molly –" Arthur started, his voice strained.
"He'll be fine," Molly interrupted. If Arthur voiced the possibility, she would be lost to the panic, and she had neither the time to be lost nor the wherewithal to recover.
She turned back to Percy. "You'll be fine," she told him solidly, as if she would make him fine by sheer force of will. As if he were a teenager contemplating disobeying her and needed to be reminded who was in charge.
There was everywhere and nowhere to begin helping him, and as Molly dug more and more supplies and potions out of the bottomless bag she’d brought from the kitchen, Ron felt the realization that this was a hopeless situation constrict around him. He punched the wall again. It didn’t loosen the knot.
The twins’ arrival went almost unnoticed, though Ron realized somewhere in his mind he had registered their pops of apparition. Fred and George were bloody too, though as far as Ron could tell, it was not their own blood, which would have been more disturbing if he bothered to think about it, but Percy’s predicament was foremost on his brain.
While their mother continued to work in vain, desperation bleeding into more and more of the murmured spells and thoughts she probably didn’t realize she was voicing, Hermione rose to her toes so she could whisper into Ron’s ear.
“Ron, where’s Ginny?”
Ron’s head shot up, and he looked around the room. Where was Ginny? “I don’t know. Harry sent her a summons. He said he did,” Ron whispered back. Truthfully, he probably could have shouted it and nobody would have so much as noticed him.
Hermione’s lip curled. Harry hadn’t sent a patronus to Ginny at all. She’d been with him the whole time. Ron must have realized the same thing, because she felt the tension flood his arms and his chest. “Now isn’t the time, Ron. I’ll get her.”
Hermione slipped quietly around the back of the pack and into the kitchen. She found Ginny sitting on the table, looking disgustedly around the room.
It looked like a battle had taken place in the kitchen. The place was a mess. There was blood on some of the chairs and cabinets still, and bright puddles of potions on the floor and counters. There was blood on her shirtsleeves, and she couldn’t get it off.
Hermione walked slowly to her, unsure of how to broach the situation. “Ginny,” Hermione greeted her, surprised to find there were tears brimming in her friend’s eyes. Thank goodness. Harry had sent her a summons.
“The rest of us are in the living room,” Hermione started cautiously.
“I just want to be alone right now, Hermione.” Ginny gave her a watery smile.
“I know, I know,” Hermione soothed. “It’ll be hard, Ginny. But I really think you should be in there with us. I… I don’t think he’s going to make it, and I know you’ll regret not being able to say goodbye.”
Ginny’s head snapped up. “What?”
“You didn’t get Harry’s patronus, did you?” Hermione asked, already knowing the answer.
“What patronus?” Ginny was on her feet, halfway to the door when the weight of Hermione’s words hit her. “Which one?”
“Nevermind. That doesn’t matter.”
Ginny made herself enter the room at a walk, and she had almost made it through the throng of red headed men unimpeded when Harry pulled her back, away from her brother, away from her family.
“Let go of me, Harry.” It was a quiet threat, and all things considered, Ginny felt she was being extremely generous leaving it at that.
“He’s going to die, Gin.”
She cringed at his use of the pet name, at the matter-of-factness in his voice. “He is my brother. And I don’t care – I’m not afraid of death.” She pulled against the grip he had on her arms, twisting away from him.
“He’s a mess,” Harry tried again.
Harry's tone was meant to soothe, but it set Ginny's nerves on fire. He thought he was protecting her, but she didn't want to be protected. She had never wanted it, and she had never asked for it either. As if that was not enough, he had made the decision that she was not strong enough to see her brother in such a condition for her. He didn’t even understand that it was a decision he had no right to make. If she had missed him – if he was gone before she got there – she would not be held accountable for her actions.
“Eat aconite, Harry,” Ginny growled quietly, yanking her arms out of his grasp.
It occurred to her, as she stared in horror at Percy, that she was afraid of death – she was very afraid of death, just not her own. But she didn’t have time for that now. Percy was her brother. He was her brother, however stupid and stubborn and proud he was, and she wouldn’t be put off by a little blood.
"Oh, Percy." She sank to her knees beside him, opposite her mother.
He groaned in response and she petted his chest, barely stifling the urge to scream when she found her hand covered in his blood.
Each breath Percy took sounded more haggard than the last. It seemed Molly had now realized the inevitable as well, because she had stopped casting the healing spells and dosing him with the blood replenishing potion. She was only casting pain relief spells now, and the thought that even her formidable mother had given up sent chills to Ginny’s very soul.
"Oh, Percy, it's all right darling. It's all right. Everything will be fine, you'll see."
And as quickly as it started, it ended. He had managed a smile at his mother's words and his eyes flitted closed.
Ron was the first to react, turning and putting his fist through the already abused wall, drawing it out only to give the hole a brother. It was like she was someone else, watching them, Ginny thought as Hermione turned to Ron and took hold of his arm, stopping a third hole from joining the other two in the plaster. He folded into her, and Ginny realized, perhaps for the first time, that waifish, petite Hermione was far stronger than Ginny ever gave her credit for. The twins still hadn’t moved, Fred’s smile hadn’t even had time to falter. Her father was moving now, dropping to his knees behind her mother.
There was a keening wail, starting the world to turn again, and Ginny didn't know if it came from her mother's lips or her own. She needed to escape. She was on her feet in an instant and took off at a dead run from her position next to Percy. She fought her way bodily through George, who'd been perceptive enough to preempt her, and then through Fred, who'd been perceptive enough to realize that George didn't stand a chance at stopping her.
The candles dimmed themselves as she flew past them down the hall. Ginny careened wildly around the corner in her haste to escape the overwhelming reality of her brother's death. She crashed into someone hurrying in the opposite direction, undoubtedly reacting to the cries of anguish he'd heard coming from the foyer.
She was startled when arms wrapped around her, stopping her mid-flight.
"Let me go," she wailed, beating on the solid chest interfering with her escape. She fought him, and fought him, and still he held her, preventing her from fleeing.
"Stop it," his voice commanded, soft in her ears, but a command all the same.
To her surprise, and his, she did.
But Draco did not quite know what to do when she inexplicably latched onto him. He released the grip he'd had on her waist, and stood there, arms out to the side while she burst into a fair imitation of a hosepipe. And surely, surely, he was mistaken and she had not just blown her nose on his shirt. He couldn't stop his lip curling in disgust, even as he carefully patted her back. Who knew, too hard, and she might erupt on him again. Where were those oafs she called brothers when she – or, though he wouldn't admit it to himself, he – really needed them?
"I… err… would you like me to find Fred and George for you?" he heard himself ask, almost dazedly.
She did funny things to him, such as made him want to be nice even after he'd been used as a handkerchief. Surprisingly, he found himself halfway at ease with that discovery.
She shook her head no into his shoulder.
"Do you want me to get someone else, your mum, maybe?" he tried, hopeful she would allow him to find her someone who had the first idea about what to do with her when she was in such a state.
Again, she shook her head no.
"What do you want me to do then?” Draco tried very hard, with varying degrees of success, not to huff at her. She was, obviously, upset, and while he'd decided that he did care, he was well aware that his comforting skills were rudimentary at best. He would do something to foul the whole thing up in a matter of moments, he was sure, and he rather liked being on speaking – and touching – terms with her.
She shrugged against him, burrowing her head further into the crook of his neck.
"So you want to just stand here and use me as your handkerchief in the middle of the hallway?"
He hadn't meant to sound quite so indignant, though he found the sound she'd made in reply interesting – a cross between a gut wrenching sob and a small laugh. He prepared himself for another round of slapping and fighting from her for his tone, for surely he'd messed up this comforting thing now, but she only clung to him tighter. He wrapped his arms around her waist again, lightly this time.
"Let's find somewhere a bit more private then, shall we?"
A bizarre feeling of pride overtook him when she nodded her agreement. He wasn't sure if it was because he had figured out – for the moment – what would most soothe her or if it was because he was the one that she chose for said soothing. But he didn't have time to dwell on it, because she pulled away from him the tiniest bit to allow herself to be guided down the hall. So he led her to the room with no doorway and settled her on the couch, issuing a firm "stay put" before retreating to gather reinforcements. Someone who knew what to do with a crying girl, actual handkerchiefs, and preferably, a clean shirt.
Percy's funeral was arranged hurriedly amidst the confusion that followed the Ministry of Magic Skirmish. Weasleys scattered every which way, making the necessary arrangements, and their confused coordination was nearly enough to give Draco an aneurism. However, even in his pre-aneuristic state, Draco was beginning to realize just how poor a job he'd done slotting the members of the redheaded family into their familial roles.
The first thing he discovered was that he was very wrong about their family structure. He'd always thought it was wildly backwards, with Molly Weasley at its helm. The morning following Percy's death, that perception – along with the belief that she was also the parent to be feared of the two – flew hastily out the window, right behind the stately owl that had delivered a letter to Mr. Weasley from the Minister minutes earlier.
"To the members of the Weasley family:
Please accept my sincerest condolences at the loss of your son. I experienced the many joys of working with Percival, and he and I developed a strong friendship over the years. He was perhaps the finest assistant a Minister could ask for, and would have been a fine Minister himself in time. I am truly saddened at this loss to the Wizarding World, but in light of recent events, hope you understand I will be unavailable at the time of his funeral.
Rufus J Scrimgeour
Minister for Magic
p.s. Arthur, take as long as you need. Your position at the Ministry will keep."
Draco winced as Mr. Weasley finished reading the letter aloud. The man was a shade of apocalyptic purple even Ron had never achieved. He clenched the note in his fist and visibly trembled with suppressed rage. The Weasley children were uncharacteristically still and silent. After chucking the unfortunate owl out the window, he took a deep breath and scrubbed his hands over his face.
When his hands fell away, the expression of wrath had faded, though the purple tinge had not. "I am going to the roof," he bit out, "and I do not wish to be disturbed."
His stride was clipped as he left the room.
Draco pondered over the uncharacteristic show of anger from Mr. Weasley for the better part of the morning. He privately thought that if Mr. Weasley had ever unleashed that authoritative voice at the Ministry, he would have had a much higher-ranking position. Of course, thinking over Mr. Weasley's reaction to the letter lead to thinking about what he knew his father's response to such a blatant snub would undoubtedly be. The snubber would have wished for a swift death by nightfall – if not noon – and his father would have denied him the pleasure gleefully.
Mr. Weasley, though, was different. The streak of rage was there, yes, but rather than acting on it, or even acknowledging it, he seemed to strain himself to keep it contained. Draco held no doubts – not after seeing him in action at the Ministry, fighting to get to his son's office – that once alone on the roof, Arthur Weasley had probably done some very serious damage to a few inanimate objects, much like he'd seen Ginny doing the night they'd dueled. Draco wondered if Mr. Weasley had unleashed his rage in the same way his father had, once upon a time, and after seeing the results it caused, had resolutely locked it deep inside in an act of sheer willpower.
Excepting, of course, in Flourish and Blotts just before his second year, when Mr. Weasley blacked his father's eye with a solid punch. But the more Draco figured, the more he supposed that Mr. Weasley could be forgiven for that, after all, his father tried the nerves of even Unicorns. Or at least, he would have, had any Unicorn ever consented to be within a hundred meter radius of him.
Draco met the eldest Weasley brother and his French wife, Fleur Delacour whom he recognized from the TriWizard Tournament his fourth year of Hogwarts, just after lunch. Bill Weasley doted on his 'baby sister' and spoiled her with exotic trinkets, and Fleur – who was not all that much older than Draco and Ginny herself – seemed to follow her husband's lead and coddle Ginny with an almost motherly pride. Ginny played her part well, pretending to eat it up with a spoon while that pretty smile danced across her face, but he could see it did not reach her eyes and knew that she secretly despised it on some level, however small.
On the other hand, he could also see that however much she disliked being babied, she adored her oldest brother. This was one aspect of familial relationships Draco understood. He despised his father the vast majority of the time, but at the same time, Lucius Malfoy, for all his faults, would always be his father. The very same person who taught him to read, to fly, to analyze situations quickly and meticulously to ensure he'd be the one to come out ahead. That particular skill, Draco knew, had saved his fair hide on more than one occasion.
He recognized the twinge of guilt that passed through him for what it was when he got his first glimpse of the scarring on Bill's face. Fenrir Greyback had certainly tried his damnedest to remove it completely, and he talked about finishing the job at almost every opportunity. The scars did not seem to disfigure Bill though; on the contrary, they seemed only to add another element to his appeal. As Bill shot a wolfish grin at his wife and swept his eyes plaintively over her body in the meeting room, Draco couldn't help but wonder what werewolf tendencies – if any – he possessed.
After dinner, nearly all of 'the children' – as Mrs. Weasley collectively referred to them, regardless of the fact that none of them were very much children, nor had they been for a very long time – moved their basic belongings from room to room, trying to find suitable sleeping arrangements to accommodate both their guests and Mrs. Wealsey's sense of decency. Granger muttered something about being tired of playing musical chairs under her breath as she passed his room with her overnight bag for the second time. Draco absently wondered why anyone would charm a chair to play music, and what that had to do with moving from place to place as he warily watched from the doorway. So far, he'd been the only one that hadn't yet had to move, let alone move repeatedly, and he didn't know how the Weasleys – biological or otherwise – would react to their mother's apparent favoritism.
In the end, Bill and Fleur took – albeit rather cautiously and only under extreme duress – the twin's room. Hermione moved in with Ginny, and the twins claimed Hermione's room across the hall from Ron and Harry. Draco was silently congratulating himself for winning over Molly Weasley's good graces when he was met with a very real dose of Weasley life.
"Oh, Charlie! You're finally here. Good goddess, is that a burn?"
Draco frowned upon hearing the greeting. How he'd forgotten about that Weasley brother, he wasn't quite sure. He was so intent on figuring how he'd missed the sixth and last Weasley brother in his calculations that he didn't see Ginny smile to herself at his rapid change of expression.
"Don't worry, darling. I'll patch it up for you in a bit. Come now; let's get your things settled."
Draco's heart fell to the pit of his stomach as he realized the only person who'd yet to gain a roommate in the house was himself. It seemed that the Dragon Trainer Ginny occasionally threatened him with was now a very real danger, as it appeared that he would soon be bunking in Draco's room.
He spent the time between Charlie's arrival and Mrs. Weasley's call of "Lights out, loves!" planning his escape from what he was certain would be a veritable Hell – especially as he realized the brotherly role that would most likely accompany the Romanian branch of the Weasley family. Bugger all.
He planned his escape from the Dragon Trainer down to the T, using nearly every ounce of Slytherin savvy he possessed to avoid the numerous Weasleys and other Order members that occupied the house. Severus Snape, for his part, only raised an amused eyebrow at his godson before allowing him entrance and conjuring a spare bed – with a few pokey springs in the middle as punishment for both the intrusion upon his privacy and the attempt to clear his name that Draco had been frequently warned against.
Severus could have screamed. The defective mattress he'd conjured for his godson was working more brilliantly than he could have planned, but then it also seemed that he had over-calculated his ability to sleep through the inherent squeakiness of a mattress with an imperfect spring or three. He was just reaching for his wand to either silence the mattress or curse the boy on it into oblivion – he hadn't quite decided which, yet – when Draco sat bolt upright in his bed.
There was an urgency in his voice that the former Potions Master noted with a hint of distaste upon his face. The scowl deepened as Draco scrambled out of the bed, nearly falling on the floor as he fought the bedding that ensnared his legs. It only got worse from there. Draco stumbled towards the door, stubbed his toe on the dresser in his haste, and hopped madly about on one foot, cursing a blue streak all the while before finally pulling the door closed behind him.
As Severus listened to Draco scrambling down the hall towards the object of his obviously not-yet-admitted affections – who was apparently in danger or distress, judging by the speed at which his once favored pupil was moving – Severus allowed a rare, secret smile to cross his face. He and Narcissa had succeeded. They had saved his soul from his father, from the Dark Lord.
Of course, Snape would much rather have not seen the boy so oafishly open with his affections for the Weasley girl, but then he also supposed one could not eat his cake and have it too. Aside from the horde of brothers and her penchant for causing trouble in his class and turning out near perfect potions nonetheless, he thought she was a good match for Draco.
She was a genuinely interesting individual. A conundrum in and of herself, and Draco always had had a taste for puzzles. She had a wicked streak sure to keep the meddling boy on his toes, but also an underlying compassion that was belied in her eyes. Something Draco could use a little more of, Severus thought. A reasonable head on her shoulders, but a spontaneity and zest for life that had somehow survived even the Dark Lord's attempts to quash it.
On a purely physical note, Severus had always thought the trademark Malfoy complexion could use some brightening up, even if brightening it with her genes did run the risk of producing freckled, pink haired Malfoys. In his humble opinion, that was a far cry better than the dark children with upturned noses that would have ruled the Malfoy home had Lucius had his way.
Draco thundered down the stairs, taking the entire last flight two at a time. He couldn't grasp any reason as to why he was so worried; he just knew that he was. Nor did he know how he knew she was in the midst of a horrible nightmare; just that she was, and it was imperative he get there quickly.
Hermione was banging on the door to the room he should have been occupying with one fist and reaching for her wand to blast the damned thing out of her way when he rounded the corner. She instantly pounced on him, grabbing him by the shirtsleeve and hauling him bodily into the room she shared with Ginny.
"I don't know how to make it stop. I tried everything I could think of. She's going to hurt herself if we can't get it stopped. She's burning up as it is!" Hermione wrung the edge of the old Chuddly Cannons' t-shirt she was wearing in her hands. "Why didn't anyone tell me? I could have looked for explanations, researched methods to –"
Granger's voice faded to the edge of his consciousness as Draco studied Ginny. He frowned as she alternately pushed the comforter away from her, and then pulled it back up to her chin, shrinking down into it like a child hiding from a Boggart under the bed. She was not screaming though, and he wasn't sure if that was because she'd silenced herself before she'd gone to bed or her nightmare was so far beyond frightening that it was impossible for her to voice her fears.
He also didn't plan on standing around to find out.
He nearly leapt into the bed with her, smoothly pushing the covers down and out of his way as he moved. She fought against his hold on her, but he only held her tighter, murmuring the soothing noises he'd learned worked best in her ear while her wild hair tickled his nose.
It was only when she stopped fighting against his embrace that she was able to shake herself out of the nightmare she'd been trapped in.
Draco did not need to watch her face to know when the peace washed over her. He could feel it. The fiery heat ebbed out of her and into him, warming his bones – and his heart. She always woke moments after the thermal exchange, sometimes badly shaken and startled by his presence, other times immediately accepting it and snuggling into his chest, holding onto him as if she'd be swept away if she dared to loosen her grip. He liked those times best. Sometimes she cried at the terrors she saw in her sleep, sometimes they talked, and sometimes there were no words, just quiet, and they lost themselves in the soothing presence of the other.
Ginny opened her eyes, but immediately shut them against the lights that assailed them as she snuggled into Draco. She smiled into his shoulder.
He came for her. She had worried that he wouldn't, or that one of her brothers – any of them other than Fred and George – wouldn't have allowed him to. Even then, though, she was almost certain that they wouldn't stop him. She could always tell when he got there, because when he touched her skin she didn't feel quite so feverish, frantic. His cool personality and ever-present level headedness seeped into her, helped her find her way out of the terrible dreams that plagued her.
It took her a moment to realize that unlike the many other nights she'd woken this way, this time she had not been alone, and she had not thought to silence herself beforehand. Her cheeks flushed as her eyes once again opened and she strained her neck to peek over Draco's shoulder. She resisted the urge to flinch, hide her face in Draco's chest, when she saw Hermione watching them carefully, fingertips covering her mouth.
Ginny allowed herself a cautious optimism at Hermione's reaction; she expected something more along the lines of a "Ginny, how could you?" and the clawing out of eyes, specifically the pretty grey ones she'd grown so attracted to.
Hermione could have safely said that she'd never felt so out of sorts in her entire life. Why hadn't Ginny told her about the dreams? She could have researched, studied, done something to help ease her friend's mind. And Malfoy – of course, she had the suspicion that there was some type of connection between him and Ginny, that was why she ran to his room first, well, that and his room was also the closest – but she never would have thought it to be as deep as it was. She wondered if they realized that the change in their magic was palpable – it pulsed in the air – when they were together like this.
Hermione smiled to herself at the almost-irony. She always had been certain that allowing herself the indulgence of researching soul mates qualified as a Lavender Brown level of foolishness. Now it seemed that her research, however school-girlish, would have worth after all. She backed slowly out of the room, smiling widely to herself. Some days, she positively loved being right.
Just as she was pulling the door closed behind her, intent on a midnight visit to the library and leaving Ginny and Draco to gather their wits and find their footing, a calloused hand clapped onto her shoulder. Hermione jumped, but managed to suppress the scream that would bring everyone running to her aid, and then after Draco.
"What is my roommate –" Charlie's lip curled at the word. "Doing in there, with Ginny?"
Hermione thought he was being very calm, especially given that he was a Weasley and she'd woken him in the middle of the night by beating on his door and then promptly forgotten about him the moment she saw it was Draco thundering down the stairs.
"Well," Hermione stalled, "it's, umm, it's like this."
Charlie only raised an eyebrow when she didn't elaborate, but his body language, even in combination with his nonchalant facial expressions, compelled Hermione into spilling her guts. Everything came out – what she felt between Draco and Ginny, what she'd discovered about soul mates in Hogwarts, and how she couldn't put her finger on the exact reason she thought it was so important.
By the end of it all, Charlie looked very much overwhelmed by her onslaught of information. He held up his hand to stop her. "I don't care. But he's not sleeping there. Not as long as I'm here."
When some of the information Hermione had thrown at him began to seep in, he frowned at her. "Haven't you told anyone else about this? Why did you go for him, and not me – or the twins?"
Hermione dug her toes into the rug. "No. I didn't know Ginny was having nightmares, though I should have guessed. She stopped putting the wards around her room not long after he got here. I thought he might have something to do with it." Hermione noted that Charlie, while not yet murderous like she thought Ron would be, did not look very pleased at that news.
"I don't care. Just –" He ran a rough hand through his shaggy red hair. "Just make sure he comes out before anyone else wakes up."
They buried Percy in a grove at the Burrow. The funeral was a modest, tasteful affair. Draco was surprised to find himself included in the small group in attendance, though he suspected his inclusion had more to do with the twins', and now Granger's, recognition that nothing short of a Stunning Spell seemed to calm Ginny down more quickly than his presence. It was something he might have gloated to Potter about if he hadn't the suspicion that his mother would return from her grave solely to take it out of his hide if he did.
After the short services concluded, the few other Order members not in the Weasley family returned to Grimmauld Place. Draco found himself grudgingly complying with Ginny's request that he stay – more out of fear of her bursting into tears again than anything else. The next thing he knew, he was being led around the Burrow by the arm, trying exceedingly hard not to catch Ginny's enthusiasm towards her home.
There wasn't much to the Burrow, not really. It was small and tidy, though a thick layer of dust had settled over most of the surfaces since the Weasleys had semi-permanently moved into the Black family house. Ginny assured him that the tidiness in each of the rooms was only a temporary status, and it amused him that she seemed so irked by it. Malfoy Manor was clean to the extreme at all times and had been as long as he could remember.
A tour of what he'd always considered his home would have taken hours to complete, but there were only a few places of interest to be found at the Burrow. Ginny pulled him up a number of flights of rickety stairs to the attic so he could meet the ghoul, who had, as well as Draco could tell, been quite lonely since the Weasley's relocated. Then down into what Draco recognized at once to be the former home of the twins – a room covered in odd colored spatters from potions gone awry, where a hint of the same acrid smell he associated with his current room at Grimmauld Place lingered in the air. Finally, they climbed down another flight of stairs and then entered the pinkest room he'd ever laid eyes on. It was quite frightening, actually, especially when he considered that the sheer amount of pink in this one room made Pansy Parkinson's entire wing of her familial home pale in comparison.
Ginny laughed at his expression. "It's not really as bad as all that, is it?"
"Oh, no," Draco reassured her. "No, it's –"
There were no words. The room was painted floor to ceiling in what could only be termed as Gastro Resarcio Potion pink.
"Lovely?" he tried nevertheless.
"It's awful!” Ginny said between laughs. "I mean, it's so, so pink. I know Mum was excited to have a girl, but honestly, this definitely falls into the overboard category, don't you think?"
Since he was failing abysmally at coming up with tactful responses, Draco decided to simply hold his tongue this go round.
"Just say yes, Draco. I'm not going to disagree."
"Yes. And it clashes horribly with your hair."
Ginny couldn't help but smile at his frankness. "I'd better not take you through Ron's room then, you'd go into conniptions."
She moved to the window, smile still on her face, trailing her fingers across the foot of the bed, pausing only to pet the stuffed green dragon with Hematite eyes stationed at its corner as she passed by.
He followed her unconsciously, drawn to her like an object to an Accio, until he stood just behind her. Gathering his nerve, he rested his hand on her waist, smiling as she moved it, linked her own fingers with his, and leaned back into him. It was different from anything he'd ever done before. It was frightening, a bit, made him feel reckless, but in a good way. That was new. The desire to be tender and careful at the same time he felt bold and reckless was new to him too. He decided that he liked it.
They stared out the window for a while before she spoke. "Thank you." She squeezed his hand.
"For what?" he inquired, turning her to face him as he spoke.
Ginny shrugged, and the small self-conscious smile flitted across her face. "For making me laugh."
"Oh." His heart swelled. She lit it up, him up, when she said things like that. Her small show of appreciation made him feel invincible, much more than the Malfoy name and fortunes, his conquests of some of the girls at Hogwarts, and his 'important mission' from the Dark Lord ever had.
Lightning fast, Ginny steeled her nerve, rose to her tiptoes, and placed a kiss on what should have been his cheek. Draco, however, had just turned his head to reply properly to her thanks. She got the corner of his mouth instead, and for the life of her, she couldn't decide whether she was glad it happened that way or not.
She definitely liked the way his light grey eyes seemed to darken, and she liked the expressions that flitted across his face. She was pleased with herself for recognizing them, because they were only miniscule changes to the way he held his lips and eyebrows. She wondered how often she'd overlooked those tiny tells in the past.
The tightening of his fingers around her hand told her that though it had surprised him, her misplaced kiss had not been unwelcome, but his lack of other reaction was unnerving. Wasn't he supposed to be a Slytherin? Didn't they plan, evaluate, make contingencies, and implement on the fly? So why was he still just standing there? Why wasn't he reeling away in disgust or sweeping her off her feet?
Of course, the second option would be preferable, but Ginny rather thought that any kind of reaction she didn't have to scour his body to find, and then attempt to decipher, would be welcome. Trying to answer those questions with no input at all from him was more challenging than the animagus lessons they'd been having with McGonagall.
Charlie frowned as he watched them from the doorway. He hadn't meant to spy on them, not really, but once he'd happened upon them, he couldn't seem to look away – especially with Hermione's words still bouncing through his brain. So, rather than leave them to themselves during what was obviously a private moment, Charlie took the opportunity to observe them, somewhat glad for the excuse to give in to his brotherly urge to not leave his ba – younger – sister with a boy that had that look in his eyes. He knew from personal experience what that look meant, and he did not like it applied towards Ginny at all.
Charlie knew he was a simple person. He recognized the fact that the deeper meanings of things often escaped him, and he didn't spend his every waking moment wondering why this or that didn't happen to him or what the things that did happen meant. He lived life as it came, and he was okay that it was the only way he knew how to be. That did not mean, however, that he was stupid.
Charlie Weasley had long ago learned to be a keen observer. It was a habit that came to him naturally – one that he'd put to good use during his Hogwart's Seeking career – and it was also something that had been sharpened and honed to a fine art by his profession. He remembered his first year at the dragon Reserves, he hadn't even been allowed to Evanesco dragon dung until his supervisors were certain he could tell each individual dragon apart, as well as what it likely thinking by the way it flared its nostrils or ducked it's head. He'd had much, much longer to observe his younger sister.
The same that he and Bill had naturally bonded from the go, Ron was and always had been Ginny's companion, her someone to share secrets with when everyone else would laugh at the nonsense of them. Ron was the brother she trusted most. He'd been the only one of the lot to go after her when she'd been taken to the Chamber – never mind the fact that his ditching her during her first year had partially caused her to delve deeper into that damned diary's compliments and flattery. Charlie knew that she would never forget that, even if Ron sometimes seemed to forget that once, she'd been his favorite playmate and only best friend.
Her relationship with Percy was harder for him to pin down. He'd always been exacting of her, and everyone else, when they were growing up, and Ginny had always been entirely too fanciful and rebellious for Percy's tastes. Nevertheless, Percy had always been the one to find her when she was hiding, from the monsters, and later, from the world. They had had a relationship – and a close one – however strained it had become.
She liked the way that Bill treated her, like a fairy tale princess, even after her first year. It helped her realize that she was not damaged goods, no matter the amount of innocence she had lost. Even still, she tired of being stuck in the role of damsel in distress and darling younger sister, because once she had made that realization, she learned that she was much more than just a princess.
The twins seemed to be the only ones consistently around who recognized her for who she was, acknowledging that she was not, in fact, little Ginny with skinned knees and pigtails anymore. That she was instead Ginny Weasley, force to be reckoned with, heart of gold and biting wit. That she was not a perfect porcelain doll and resented being left out for that very misconception with a thousand suns. She enjoyed a good laugh – and a brilliantly planned prank, did not like to be coddled, was occasionally bitchy, and had a temper that put their mother's to shame – though she wouldn't deliberately hurt anything other than a bug if her life depended on it. More than that though, Ginny tried to see the good in everyone – even if that did mean she tried so hard to see it that she overlooked the bad entirely.
Charlie suddenly felt that perhaps the twins were not the only ones that could see all those things anymore. His knees shook a bit at the thought, because while Ginny might not have been his baby sister any longer, she was still his younger sister.
His hand rapped sharply against the doorframe, almost of its own accord. The elder brother in him danced with glee when the Malfoy boy jumped a good six inches in the air and away from Ginny. The dancing died – or at least slowed – when Ginny caught Charlie's eye. The look she gave him keenly reminded him of the look he'd received from the temperamental Welsh Green at the reserve when he'd been discovered monitoring the eggs in her nest.
"Everyone's getting ready to head out down in the kitchen," Charlie said. "We almost left without you before I realized you two were missing. Thought it might be best to find you before we got back to Grimmauld Place and Mum noticed. You know she'd bring the roof down and have the Aurors out before any of us would have had time to blink."
It was a true enough description of how Draco envisioned Mrs. Weasley's discovery of two missing children would go, but it seemed unnecessary. Draco resisted the urge to smirk. Charlie Weasley, tough older brother and Dragon Trainer extraordinaire, was babbling on like a fool in attempt to keep Ginny from skinning him.
"Right. We're on the way then," Draco said.
Charlie stepped to the side to allow him through the narrow doorway. "Tell Mum that Gin and I will be down in a minute."
Draco frowned at the dismissal, but quickly counted himself lucky to escape from Charlie – for the time being. "Sure." He caught Ginny's eye one last time, and the corner of his lips rose into a half-smile without his consent before he saw himself out.
"Charlie," Ginny started, voice laced with warning.
"Ginny," Charlie mocked her.
"Don't be an arse."
"Can't help it, comes naturally." Charlie smiled winningly at her.
"That it does. Must be a male Weasley thing, as I don't seem to have that problem." Ginny frowned. "I take that back; I think it's a male thing in general."
"See, growing up with six older brothers has taught you something after all," Charlie teased her.
Ginny pondered his statement for a moment. "I suppose there were some benefits, but not many. Definitely not enough to outweigh having to share a bathroom with all of you."
They fell quiet for a moment, and she wrapped her arms around herself, even as she smiled wryly at Charlie. "Aren't they waiting for us?" she asked, attempting to waylay what she was sure was the real reason Charlie had interrupted.
"They are, but they'll keep. We'll come up with something to tell them – like you lost your shoe under the bed, or you couldn't find Smog."
"Scorch," Ginny corrected as she scooped up the dragon Charlie had given her what seemed like so long ago. She cradled it close to her chest in a movement from years of habit, and Charlie smiled as the tension seemed to leave her face.
He'd given it to her the summer after her horrifying first year at Hogwarts. Charlie remembered it almost as if it were yesterday. As soon as he'd received word about what had happened, he'd lit out of the Dragon Reserves like a bat out of hell, Smog haphazardly stuffed into the rucksack he'd thrown together. He'd had to read the letter twice – to make certain that he hadn't hallucinated the first time through, and he cursed Errol for taking nearly two weeks to deliver the letter as he flew to the nearest Apparation Point. He arrived at the Burrow in the middle of the night, and her screams assaulted his ears the moment he stepped onto the back porch.
The entire family was up, sitting around the kitchen table, uncharacteristically silent and haggard looking. Ron was pale and drawn and fidgeted in the silence. The twins had paper and quills in front of them, furiously scribbling some plan or another out, and Percy had brought a book from his room down with him. His father paced the kitchen anxiously and had nearly hexed Charlie's socks off when he'd burst through the kitchen door.
Only his mother had been missing from the scene; she was the one trying to shake Ginny from the grips of her nightmare. The screaming had stopped by the time he'd reached her room, and he passed through the doorway to find her in their Mum's arms, trembling from the after effects of her nightmare. He softly touched his mother's arm, and she looked the tiniest bit relieved as he reached for his sister, simultaneously digging into his rucksack for the gift he'd brought her.
He'd been surprised when the plush green dragon had calmed her considerably right away. The entire family had been surprised when her nightmares almost immediately began to lessen.
Charlie smiled at the familiar gesture and felt, not for the first time, a hint of pride that it was his gift that had first eased her dreams.
"Charlie? Charlie," Ginny interrupted. When he looked at her, she smiled faintly at him. "Luna would have said that the Nargles had gotten you, though I don't know how, there certainly isn't any mistletoe around." She petted the dragon absently, studying the shelves on her wall and the delicate writing desk that had once belonged to her mother. "What did you want to talk about?"
Hermione's theories from the night before again flooded his mind. Ginny always had shown much more interest in his career than any of his other siblings. He'd always thought she'd been curious, after all, who could claim that dragons weren't fascinating? He never once thought it might be something much, much more important than that.
Charlie fiddled with his hands. There were so many things he wanted to say, but none of them would come. "Being taken under a dragon's wing is a funny thing, you know. It's a lot warmer than you'd think," he finally said instead.
She seemed to know what he meant. "It is, isn't it?" she replied softly, almost hopefully.
He noticed she held her stuffed dragon just a bit tighter against her as she followed him out the door of her childhood haven and down the stairs to meet up with the rest.
A few notes:
Firstly, if you're still reading, or if you've just stumbled on and read the whole thing, I want to say a quick thank you. I know my posting has been erratic as of late, and I don't know how much better it's going to get. It looks like this semester is shaping up to be another doozy.
Secondly, I finally sat down and reworked chapter 13. If you've already read it, there are no major plot changes, but I think it's much better than it was (even if it is still a bit melodramatic) and would appreciate any thoughts/ideas/critiques you have to offer. (Actually, that last bit goes for the whole story, but I'm particularly interested in chapter 13 right now. Reviews are love.)
Thirdly, I owe credit where credit is due:
"It's a funny thing, being taken under a dragon's wing. It's a lot warmer than you'd think." -- This quote was lifted directly from Gangs of New York. It was too perfect to resist.
Scorch was taken from a Beanie Baby dragon.
Ginny and Percy's relationship was heavily inspired by In the House of the Quick and the Hungry. It's a wonderful little fic, even if it is H/G. I'm not sure if there's a copy of it available on HPFF, but it is still posted on other sites. I highly recommend giving it a read.
Ginny scowled at the wall. The first Weasley had been added to its number of fallen heroes, and she would be damned if any more would if she had to drag Harry to Voldemort by the ears. Of course, she also knew that she couldn't very well do that, because Harry wasn't ready and he would fall, and then where would they be?
"Rocks and hard places," she muttered, disgusted.
She turned abruptly from the wall and forced herself not to look back over her shoulder at it as she strode from the room. The final meeting regarding the locket Horcrux was due to begin shortly, and she had to get there early enough to argue with her mother about staying for it so they wouldn't interrupt everything.
It was due to be a long battle. Molly Weasley had wanted very little to do with the war in the first place, and now that they were so firmly entrenched in it, she resisted the idea of Ginny being involved in even the smallest way with every fiber of her being.
Draco released the Snitch then snatched it, only a short distance from where it had been freed. His blond hair flopped into his eyes as he loosed it again. Severus Snape's eye twitched.
"Would you desist?" he hissed after the golden ball had been released and snatched twice more.
Draco complied, sitting up straight on the spare bed – now pokey-spring free – in his Professor's room. "How long?" he asked at last.
"I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific."
"How long have you been a spy for the Order?"
There was only a small pause while Severus studied his once favored pupil. He had grown up well, and by the looks of things, he was starting to grow into a good man – or at the very least – a man that thought for himself. "I was Dumbledore's spy for the last of the Dark Lord's first reign, and I have been loyal to him – him and only a few others – since that moment."
Draco nodded silently. He was stuck on the 'only a few others'. His mother, he knew, had forced Snape into an Unbreakable Vow during his Sixth year. He wondered if she was the only other, and if her death had set Snape free from that loyal obligation he surely felt. He released the Snitch again, still deep in thought, only to jerk his singed fingers back and glare at his former Potions Master.
"I recall asking you desist."
"I don't recall you specifying a time frame."
Snape remained silent, but looked pointedly at the clock. "I believe you're going to be late," he said silkily.
Draco followed Snape's gaze, noted that he had more than enough time to spare, and then returned his eyes to Severus. "Indeed."
He rose gracefully from the bed. He saw the Snitch flutter its wings in front of Severus's nose, and his hand darted out to capture the fluttering ball. His former Head of House narrowed his dark eyes, and Draco gave him a cheeky smirk as he exited the room. Draco Malfoy could tell where he was not wanted, thank you very much.
The second ear-shattering row between Ginny and Mrs. Weasley had culminated in a deafening silence, with Ginny sitting securely in a seat at the table; ankles locked around the chair's legs should her mother attempt to bodily remove her throughout the meeting's remainder. The map of Malfoy Manor had been finished, and the final plans for attack had been laid.
Hermione's head was spinning, and she thought she might very well go mad, because heaven forbid there should ever be a time or place where she could get away from everyone else for just enough time to think. Remus and Kingsley Shacklebolt had intruded upon her sanctuary of books, and Hermione felt incredibly out of sorts as she took a seat at the desk in the living room and stared blankly at the cover of one of the many books she'd brought with her.
Even Ron was smothering her, and he was merely sitting across the room from her, looking for all the world like a kicked puppy.
There was something missing. Something she was overlooking. It was on the tip of her tongue, yet no amount of reading or thinking seemed to help her realize it. She had even gone on a cursing rant about it. Her mother's hair would have curled – of course, her mother had lovely, straight, tame hair – at some of the words that had left her mouth in the past half hour alone. Not being able to find the answer was seriously starting to get to her. All she was missing was one tiny piece, and she was certain that piece was the keystone to figuring the whole mess out.
Hermione slammed the book she'd taken to thumbing almost desperately through closed. It was not in a book. Of course what she was looking for wasn't in a book. That would have made the whole ordeal entirely too easy.
"I give up!" Hermione let her head fall on top of the book she'd slammed with a thunk.
"Give up on what?” Ron cautiously asked from the couch he'd been banished to after Hermione had declared that she couldn't stand his hovering when she was trying – apparently unsuccessfully – to think.
Hermione gestured violently at the piles of research she'd covered the surface of the desk with. "This is useless! I don't even know what I'm looking for!"
Her voice sounded tremble-y, and Ron hurried to her side. He might have the emotional range of a teaspoon, but he certainly knew enough to realize that the tremble in her voice had not been caused by anything good. She stood abruptly from her chair and turned, only to collide with his shoulder. Ron braced himself for her shouting, but when she flung her arms around his neck instead, he recovered from his shock enough to pull her closer.
Draco eyed his roommate warily. As of yet, he'd not been hexed in his sleep, but when on was dealing with Weasleys…
Well, it was best not to take chances if they could be avoided. In fact, he would have continued to bunk with Severus had he not been worried Ginny would have another nightmare. So here he was, decidedly taking yet another chance – according to his calendar, tonight made number thirteen – all for the sake of Ginny Weasley.
And that was what made all the difference. Some of the decisions he'd made in the past three months had been reckless – marching off to join the Ministry of Magic skirmish without a Glamour, seeking out the safety of the Order of the Phoenix – but they'd been for his own sake. Throwing himself into bed with Ginny in order to stop her nightmares, daring to share the room with her older brother just so he could continue to throw himself into her bed, those were reckless decisions that did not hold his best interests at heart, but instead the best interests of someone else. He was sure that if he looked at that damned map, he would see the catacombs beneath Malfoy Manor self-destructing.
Draco tossed in his bed, desperately tired but still unable to remove his eyes from the ever-looming Charlie Weasley.
Charlie felt the younger boy's eyes on him, and bit back a smile at the thought that the boy was privately terrified of him. "I'm much more likely to hex you while you're awake, you know," he said conversationally. "It's a Gryffindor thing," he added when the blond only blinked at him.
"And I would be more likely to hex someone in their sleep because I'm a Slytherin?"
Charlie raised an amused eyebrow.
"It was rhetorical."
"Of all the houses to choose, Slytherin wouldn't have been the one I'd use to make that point."
"And why not?"
"Your house doesn't have the best reputation for fair play to be going on with, does it?"
Draco nodded. That was a fair point, from an outsider's perspective. Slytherins played fair – those that played the game, anyway. They just played by a different set of rules. "It's the ambition thing that throws you off, isn't it?"
Charlie scoffed. "That and the detail that Slytherins make up the vast majority of Death Eaters."
Draco raised his chin defiantly, but when he spoke, his voice was calm. "But it was a Gryffindor that made the biggest betrayal of them all. Peter Pettigrew is the one that delivered the Potters to the Dark Lord's feet." When Charlie could not, or at least, did not immediately reply, Draco continued. "Being a Slytherin is not what it once was, certainly. But nobody told the Hat."
"Beg your pardon?"
"Nobody told the Sorting Hat that Tom Riddle changed Slytherin's reputation. The Hat still sorts on the characteristics Salazar Slytherin deemed most important."
When Charlie still didn't seem to be catching on, Draco huffed. "Look, you can't believe all Slytherins are inherently evil. They make up roughly a fourth of the student body at Hogwarts. One fourth of all the Wizards and Witches in Great Britain are not evil. We are cunning and sly, yes, but those traits run in your bloodline as well. Before Voldemort, Slytherin was seen as the house of the ambitious, the future of the Wizarding World – its government, economy, what have you. The entire Gladrags Corporation, for instance was started by one man with one store – a Slytherin. Professors Slughorn, Snape, Sinastra, teachers at the best known Wizarding School in Europe – Slytherins. We've made up too many Ministers of Magic to count and more than a few of the Headmasters of Hogwarts as well. The point is, we understand human relations and what makes them tick, even if we do use that knowledge to further ourselves. For the most part, that in itself is not a horrible quality to be going on with. It all depends on how you use it."
Draco shrugged carelessly. "I'd be much more worried about a Ravenclaw, if I were you. They're all cool logic and overstuffed brains. They pack around the nastiest curses you can find in books – or even think up – and they have no understanding of moderation or subtlety."
"Go to sleep. And wake me if Ginny wakes you." Charlie was flummoxed. Ravenclaws? Well, he had dated that one Ravenclaw bird when he was in Hogwarts. She had been brutal. Never lied, not once, but there had been many times when he wished she would have – that, or just kept her mouth shut altogether.
Come to think of it, the reason he'd broken it off with her was because she was so worried with gaining knowledge that she didn't care where it came from or take the time to understand what it was meant to be used for. She'd once discovered a severing spell in her potions book that no one else their age had even heard of. If her aim weren't so poor, Charlie would have been missing his left arm, if not more, seeing as how the damned thing had neatly sliced through the sapling beside him. All just because she wanted to see if she could cast the damned thing. Maybe the brat had a point after all.
"Nox." Charlie frowned as he doused the light. It took several hours for him to settle into an uneasy sleep.
"You really are a silly little thing, aren't you?" the boy said, materializing out of the nothingness in the dank recess far below the foundation of Hogwarts.
"But you promised," she whispered, fighting back tears. She'd tried to do the right thing. She'd started the mess, and he told her that if she went down to the Chamber for him this one last time, he would spare the others. It would be over, and no one else would ever be hurt.
"Tom, you promised me," Ginny pled.
His laugh, cold and callous and empty, echoed off the walls and reverberated around the room. His laugh scared her most of all.
"But Ginny, why would I stop here? Who on Earth would stop here? With all the knowledge I've ever possessed, and I'll once again have my youth… The possibilities are endless."
"Please don't, you don't have to. I'll explain everything. I'll tell Dumbledore that you were separated from your body and you're just trying to get back into it – to live the life you never got to. He'll help. Dumbledore knows everything, I'm sure he'll…" Ginny trailed off as his eyes pierced her.
"I'm afraid, dear Ginevra, that you won't get the chance."
"Tom? I don't understand, Tom." Ginny fought the urge to shut her eyes as he once again stared into them. He was not real. He came out of a book. He couldn't really be real.
"I assure you that I am quite real, pet." He stroked her hair.
She wished he wouldn't call her loving nicknames like her family used. She thought he didn't mean them in a very loving way at all. He used them cruelly. Mockingly, like when the twins reenacted the morning she'd come downstairs to find Harry Potter at the table with Ron.
It wasn't very nice.
"Why? I did what you asked. You said you wouldn't hurt anyone else, that you didn't mean to hurt anyone at all. If you didn't mean it, I'm sure I could explain, and Dumbledore –"
The glare he shot her at the Headmaster's name froze her tongue.
"You didn't understand very well at all, did you Ginny? You won't be leaving the Chamber. You pledged to help me, and help me you will.” He paused and gave her a terrifying smile. "Unfortunately, in order to regain my body, you will have to sacrifice yours."
Ginny gulped. This was entirely her fault, and now she would pay for it. "But the others, they'll be okay? You won't hurt them?"
"They'll be safe. For now."
He said the last part airily, and for all that Ginny was a First Year, she could see quite clearly that he'd never intended to let the others alone. She thought she could fix the mess she'd created on her own and no one would be the wiser, but it appeared that she'd thought quite wrong.
"You promised!" she insisted, stamping her foot.
"I have promised many things."
"I won't!" Ginny had no idea where the courage came from. She only knew that if she allowed him to continue, the terror she'd unleashed from the blasted diary, however accidentally, wouldn't ever stop. He wouldn't ever stop.
"I won't do it. Not unless you swear it. A wizard's oath. An – an Unbreakable Vow!" She wasn't quite sure where she'd come up with that. She'd certainly never heard of one, but the name itself seemed pretty damning. Her hands were on her hips now. That was how Mummy scolded them, and maybe if she could do the same thing she would make him behave. "I don't have to help you."
Again, the laughter. It bounced from wall to ceiling to wall in the vast cavern, growing in volume with each bounce until she was forced to clap her hands over her ears. Then he was there, beside her, gripping her wrists and pulling her hands away. "Silly Ginny, don't you know I'm inside you? You don't have to consent. I can make you.” He smiled winningly, gently, and then pecked her lips with a kiss.
Her insides felt like they were ripping apart as her own magic battled his inside of her. She almost managed to push him out when her eleven year-old body gave out. As he clawed his way back inside, Ginny screamed.
She couldn't think, she couldn't breathe. She was burning up. The covers strangled her. The bed shifted, the covers' attack curtailed. Then the coolness washed over her, quelled the fire inside for the time being, and Ginny clung to him. He pressed tender kisses to her forehead, then her eyelids. His lips tenderly traced the trails the tears had left on her cheeks. Finally, finally, they brushed against her own.
His attentions were tentative at first, but quickly became bolder, more passionate, when she responded. As the kiss faded, softened into something less frenzied and more drawn out, Ginny sighed, feeling, for the first time in a long while, safely content in the night.
The room was entirely too tense as Ginny, Ron, and Hermione waited for Professor McGonagall to arrive. They were also waiting on Draco and Harry, to be fair, but Ginny was anticipating her former professor's arrival much more than either of the boys. As final preparation for the Locket Excursion, her first foray into activity in general and the entire Order's first undertaking of a planned strike, they had been given a grueling review on Patronuses, as well as intensely studying Animagics for the past several weeks.
Today would be their finals, so to speak, and Ginny always had hated tests. They made her nervous and jittery, and McGonagall had told them up front that if they did not meet her standards, she would see that they were yanked out of this mission by the seat of their pants – as well as any other missions in the near future.
"Your move, Gin," Ron said.
Ginny studied the chessboard keenly. Ron must have been more nervous than he was letting on too. "Checkmate!"
Her queen slid across the board and took far too much pleasure in smashing Ron's king to bits, though in all fairness, it had been quite a while since she'd been given the opportunity. Needing some sort of release to the ever-building feeling of apprehension, Ginny capitalized on the moment.
"I win! I win!" she shouted, leaping from her chair and beginning the signature chess victory dance she'd delighted in when she was a tiny thing.
"What is that?” Draco asked, entering the room to find Ginny gyrating wildly around the couch, even going as far to whoop with glee every so often.
Ron snorted his disgust. "That is what she calls her victory dance." He shut his eyes as if to save them from the sight. "She beat me at chess."
"Miss Weasley! Good heavens!"
Ginny froze mid-gyration where she stood on the back of the couch, and a look of horror flitted across her face, which was fast on its way to turning beet red. "Sorry, Professor."
Minerva McGonagall merely shook her head as she walked past. The children had clearly been kept cooped up for entirely too long. "Is everyone here? We don't have long, and we need to finish this up properly."
"Harry's on his way, Remus needed to speak with him," Hermione explained, looking up from her book of prophecies for the first time since Ron and Ginny had begun their game of chess. "What on earth are you doing, Ginny?"
Ginny's blush deepened, and she hopped nimbly down from the back of the couch she'd been celebrating on.
Hermione smiled as she noticed that Ginny had unconsciously taken the hand Draco had offered to assist her, and that neither had yet let go.
McGonagall's lips pursed as she frowned. "Well, we'll just start with Patronuses then. Those are the most important, and we already know Mr. Potter can handle his."
Draco scowled. She was focusing on the Patronus charm specifically for him. Everyone knew it. She may as well have said it outright. Granted, Ginny had trouble since Percy's death, but before then her Patronus always began to take shape, if it didn't quite make it all the way. He was the only one who had yet to make anything remotely corporeal appear.
"Remember, Patronuses are how we communicate with each other. If something should happen, Merlin forbid, Apparate yourself to safety and send a Patronus to Remus or me to let us know that you are unharmed. These are invaluable tools of communication. Their message cannot be forced out of them, nor can they be eavesdropped upon, by anyone who seeks to do you harm. It is vital that you are able to conjure one." McGonagall fixed both Draco and Ginny with her teacher's look as she repeated the exact same message she had given the first day she'd started working with them.
Ron's terrier romped about the room, and Granger's blasted otter was rolling and tumbling after it when Ginny produced her very first corporeal Patronus. The memory of the previous night's kiss with Draco licked across her thoughts, and it seemed like the animal sprung from her wand of its own accord.
All of them, Ron and Hermione's Patronuses included, stopped to stare at the misty creature before them. It snarled, sniffed, and then stood on its hind legs – mouth open in a silent roar. Ginny beamed.
"Well done, Miss Weasley. It appears you've produced a… a very large bear."
The bear snarled again, looked around the room, and then turned to face Ginny. She appeared to arch an eyebrow at her owner – if such things were possible – as if to say, 'There's something here you can't handle on your own?' Ginny giggled. Of course her Patronus was wickedly sarcastic.
Draco's own Patronus followed in short succession, just as Ginny's faded out of existence. Everyone turned to stare at him, and the miniature dragon – though it wasn't small by any means – circling around him. A misty fireball soared across the room at nothing in particular, and Ginny burst out laughing.
"A Chinese Fireball? Really? You just couldn't stand for me to have the best Patronus, could you?” She laughed and giggled some more, and it proved to be contagious. Soon, even Professor McGonagall's lips began twitching in amusement.
Draco watched his dragon circle lazily around Ginny, then move to nuzzle against her neck, and it occurred to him that the 'memory' that allowed him to make a corporeal Patronus was the image of her grinning at her gigantic she-bear, and then turning to share a softer, private smile with him. It shocked him, and his dragon gave him a baleful look as it dissolved as quickly as it had formed.
Harry stormed in the door then, and Professor McGonagall quickly rounded on him, lips once again pursed in disapproval. "Mr. Potter, you are late."
"Sorry, Professor." He didn't sound very repentant, and McGonagall sniffed affectedly at him.
"Yes. Well, do hurry up. We're moving on to our Animagus training. It looks to be a very promising lesson, from the start of things."
Ron was unable to stifle a groan. He had been the most excited about becoming an Animagus, but his excitement had dwindled drastically when he realized that the majority of their training was in theory, rather than practical. "No more theory. We've been doing theory for forever."
"Eight weeks is hardly forever, Mr. Weasley."
Ron blanched. He had not intended Professor McGonagall to hear his grumbling.
"Most Animagi require at least sixteen weeks of intensive training in theory and several more of supervised practical training before attempting to transform."
"Yes, Miss Weasley, today you will attempt your transformations. I would usually not allow this by any means; however, these are very… trying times. This is to be used in emergency situations only, such as if you are not able to Apparate to safety, or –" McGonagall visibly swallowed. "Or if you are attacked by that fiend Greyback. But let us get one thing clear before we proceed any further. We are, obviously, not going to be registering at the Ministry of Magic today. However, the moment this war is over, I expect to find you all in my self-updating copy of Registered Animagi in the Magical Community. If I do not, harbor no illusions that I will not track you down and drag you before the Wizengamot by the ears myself." She smiled pleasantly at them. "Now then, remember to center yourself and allow the change to take over, don't fight it."
She demonstrated one last time, turning into the familiar, spectacle-marked tabby and leaping into Ginny's arms. Ginny scratched behind the cat's ears, and Professor McGonagall purred. She freed herself from Ginny's arms and transformed back, wry grin fixed across her face as she rolled her shoulders. She was getting too old – even in feline form – to be leaping about.
"Miss Granger, I do believe we'll start with you."
Naturally, Hermione got the hang of it quickly, in only three attempts. She was currently engaging in very un-Hermione like behavior, preening in front of a mirror – undoubtedly admiring her red fur. She turned on her stool and yipped at them, her large, pointed ears turning every direction, and her bushy tail quivered in excitement.
"I'm a fox!" she exclaimed upon turning back.
"Granger, believe me when I say that is the only time anyone will ever refer to you as a fox."
Hermione crinkled her nose at Draco. Since he'd moved into Grimmauld Place, she'd discovered that she could give as well as she got, something that surprised her immensely at first. "As if I would want a ferret thinking about me like that."
"But she certainly doesn't mind a weasel thinking that way," Draco stage whispered to Ginny.
Ginny snorted, despite the indirect insult.
Hermione rolled her eyes, desperately ignoring the blush she could feel tingeing her cheeks. "Well then, Mr. High and Mighty, let's see you do it."
"Fine." He stepped calmly in front of the floor length mirror McGonagall conjured for them, and took several deep breaths, concentrating on his center – whatever that was. He was shocked when he felt as if he were sliding, melting, being pulled into another shape. It wasn't the entirely unpleasant sensation he'd been expecting at all. Draco chanced a glance at the mirror.
Bugger all. He was a cow. A cow. Or rather, a bull, but bovine nonetheless. At least he was a handsome cow – with pale hair over black skin and a muscular build. And he had horns. Horns were a plus.
The meager sentiments didn't last very long, because everyone was laughing at him. Even Ginny was covering a smile with her hands. He snorted and pawed at the floor irritably. Ron was positively guffawing, and Draco hoped Weasley was something horribly wimpy as he changed back into his human form.
McGonagall prodded Ron forward when no one stepped up to go next.
"Can't be worse than his," Ron said with a shrug and a snort. It took him the better part of five tries, but finally he too felt the slipping sensation of transformation. Ron, much like Draco, was not a happy camper when he looked in the mirror. Not in the least.
"How now, Weaslebee? You are how you eat, it seems." Draco sneered.
Ron was indignant when he returned to human form, despite the fact that Hermione was fussing over him. "Don't be upset, Ron. Professor McGonagall told us that our forms would reflect our personalities."
"Thank you, Hermione. That was ever so helpful. I'm immensely relieved that you find it fitting I should turn into a pig."
Professor McGonagall tried to suppress a smile. She had known the moment she came upon Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger fighting at the top of their lungs in a corridor during their first year that they would someday end up together. Why, Molly and Arthur had been the same way.
"Oh, come off it." Hermione was surprised at her sharpness, but he was deliberately being thick. "You are not a pig. You're a boar. Boars are very noble creatures. They're renowned throughout Celtic history as symbols of courage and strong warriors. In Middle Eastern cultures, they're thought to chase away evil. You should be proud to be a boar."
"Easy for you to say," Ron grumbled. "You get to be a fox."
Only Harry and Ginny were left to transform. Harry attempted to step back to clear the way for Ginny, but she shoved him in front of the mirror in a fit of panic. No one seemed to notice except for Draco, who arched an eyebrow at her – and, of course, Harry, who stumbled forward before finding his feet. She tried to ignore Draco's unspoken question by watching Harry fumble his first attempt at transforming.
His hand skated down her arm, and when he gave her hand a tiny squeeze, Ginny met his eye. She shook her head at his questioning look. The rustle of feathers caught their attention, and the unspoken question was suspended, for the time being.
Harry eyed himself in the mirror, cocking his head first one way and then the other before taking off to make a quick lap of the room. He alighted on Ginny's shoulder, nuzzling into her cheek as Hedwig often did his, and allowed her to stroke him before taking flight again.
He would have fallen from the air like a stone if Draco had his way.
"He's a hawk," Hermione said.
"He's an eagle," Draco corrected absently.
"Tomato, tomahto, Malfoy."
"No, not really. You said it yourself, Granger. The symbolism is everything."
Hermione didn't have an argument for that.
When Harry had been coaxed into changing back from the apparent freedom his bird form allowed him, everyone turned to Ginny expectantly.
Ginny blanched. "Um, you know, I don't think I have what it takes to be an Animagus. Thank you anyway, Professor."
"Really, Miss Weasley. Don't be ridiculous."
Minerva had been about to add that if bumbling Peter Pettigrew could be coaxed through animagus transformation by Black, Potter and Lupin – Sixth Years, albeit extraordinarily gifted Sixth Years – then surely a witch as gifted as she was capable of it, but she bit her sentence short at the expression on Ginny's face. She knew she could do it. She was just terrified of what she would turn up as. Minerva didn't think she could blame her for that particular fear, not after the ordeal she'd been put through in her first year.
"We'll give you a moment to collect yourself, but then you are transforming. Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, come with me."
She gave Ginny a meaningful look as she ushered Ron and Hermione out of the room ahead of her, and Ginny suddenly felt very indebted to her professor. McGonagall had set her up to transform in private – or as private as she could arrange without raising the suspicion of the others. It was masterful, really. The twins could stand to learn a few things from her.
"And leaving the three of us in the same room together accounts for wise on what part?"
"Don't be snarky, Draco," Ginny scolded. "Besides, Professor McGonagall left you with me. She knows I could whip either or both of you any day of the week."
"Fat talk from someone who's too chicken to be an Animagus."
Ginny scowled at Draco. The majority of the time, they got on quite well, and she would even go as far as to call him sensitive-ish. Now, she merely wanted to sock him. Her eyes slid to his pouty lips. On the other hand, perhaps there were other, more effective means of shutting him up. She hadn't considered that possibility before. Now that idea had merit.
"Oh, come on now, Gin. You know you can do it," Harry coaxed, reaching out to pet her shoulder.
"Don't be a ninny, Harry. Of course I can do it," Ginny snapped, sidestepping him. She wasn't feeling particularly cuddly, and even if she were, Harry was not the person she wanted to cuddle her.
"If you know you can do it, what's the hold up?" Draco tapped his foot impatiently.
"Suck a lemon, Draco."
The unfortunate thing about Weasleys was that they were normally much more expressive, vocally and physically, than Ginny was currently being. Which was why it took Draco so long to translate the dirty look she was giving him into "The hold up is that I'm terrified, you great, insensitive nincompoop".
Draco sneered at her, but found the look wiped from his face when she sneered back.
"He does have a point," Harry helpfully pointed out, breaking the silent conversation between Draco and Ginny.
Ginny gave Harry a withering glare. Why was everyone incapable of letting a dead dog lie?
"Fine. Just – Fine. What if I'm some sort of horrible monster? I had that, that creep in my head for the better part of a year. You know that I know things I shouldn't. Who's to say that I won't adopt some horrible Animagus form of his?"
"Animagus forms reflect personality," Harry parroted.
"Yes. Thank you for that enlightening bit of information, Harry. He is a part of my personality. I'm probably going to turn into an asp, and if I do, I'm coming after you first."
"If that's what you're worried about, change now, while it's just us," Draco reasoned.
"Right. Because it's better if I turn into a monster and just kill the two of you?"
Draco shrugged. "Why not? Besides, we'll be expecting a monster, being more in tune with your true personality and all."
Ginny smiled at his attempt to soothe her bristled fur. How he knew when to pipe up with the sarcasm, and – most of the time – when to hold it back, she wasn't quite sure.
"Sure, we'll stun you before you can hurt us, then leave you alone to transform back," Harry helpfully pitched in.
Ginny sighed and looked between the two boys, weighing her options carefully. If she was something horrible, she would rather Ron and Hermione not know and Professor McGonagall as well. Ron would be shocked and appalled and upset that he was appalled and would somehow find a way to blame himself for the whole thing for not being protective enough of his baby sister. Then he would shadow her every move for weeks, until she was forced to hex him. Hermione would analyze, analyze, then analyze some more just to be safe, and then she'd want to talk the whole thing to death. And, well, Ginny would just rather not have Professor McGonagall think ill of her in any situation. Aside from that, McGonagall had given her the opportunity, and if she returned before Ginny had transformed, Ginny had no doubts that she would not be so kind as to offer her another chance.
"Besides, Gin," Harry continued, "Voldemort has a direct connection to my mind." He tapped his scar for emphasis. "And I wasn't anything horrible. I was an eagle."
"Yes, well, you're also the one that's supposed to destroy him, so I think it's a given that you would be something good." Ginny resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She was not a nitwit, thank you very much, and she certainly didn't need Harry – of all people – to break it down for her. He hadn't even realized that calling her Gin made her feel like she needed to clobber him.
"Quit belly-aching and let's get going if we're going to do this before everyone gets back."
Ginny turned to Harry. "Don't tell Hermione, but I think Draco's a bull just because he's bull headed," she said conversationally.
"Very funny. If you're a snake, I'm going to make a pair of boots out of you."
Draco made a show of polishing his nails on his sweater and examining them. "I do try. So are you going to do this or what?"
"Fine. But I warned you. And I've changed my mind. If I'm an asp, I'm going after you first."
Draco clutched his heart. "Woman, you wound me."
"Yeah, yeah. You say you can change, now let's see it."
"Lay off her, Malfoy," Harry said.
"Stuff a sock in it, Potter. She's trying to transform."
"With no help from you."
"Harry," Ginny tried to interrupt.
"Bite me, Potter."
"Draco," she tried again.
"In your dreams."
"That's original. Did Weaslebee help you come up with that one?"
"Hey!” Ginny cried, her efforts to diffuse the situation forgotten at the insult to her – for once – innocent brother.
"I like how you didn't deny it."
Draco inspected his polished fingernails. "I'm sure you do, Potter."
Harry and Draco looked at each other, looked at Ginny, and then began pointing and shouting at each other.
Ginny rolled her eyes. Third Years. All boys stopped maturing when they reached Third Year. It was the only plausible explanation. The boys were wand to wand when she managed to make herself heard again. "All right! The next person to so much as utter a sound gets a Bat Bogey, and that's a promise!"
"Sorry," they chorused, not sounding very sorry at all.
"I'm sure. Now be quiet so I can think. And get your wands ready." Ginny studied them for a moment before, wisely, choosing to elaborate. "And if you use them on each other, I will come up with somewhere far more inventive for the Bogies to come out of and alter the spell accordingly."
Both boys flinched.
"Now then. Let me think. Get centered. Whatever that's supposed to mean."
Harry and Draco each gave Ginny a nod, and while she took deep breaths and attempted to find the elusive center, they eyed each other warily. So absorbed in their eyeing were they, in fact, that they were completely taken by surprise when a deep, rumbling purr filled the room. Where Ginny Weasley had stood not moments before sat a full-grown lioness.
Draco scoffed. "Who else would it be?" He reached to pat her on the head, and she swatted at him with a heavy paw. "Hey! Watch it."
She fixed Draco with a pointed look. Honestly. And they thought they were going to protect her – and themselves – if she'd been some type of nasty creature.
"Where'd Ginny go?” Ron asked around the stack of books McGonagall and Hermione had appointed him to carry back to the tapestry room.
"I'm sure she's getting her nerves about her somewhere quiet," Hermione replied.
"Yeah, well, it's a good thing Mum doesn't know she's getting Animagus lessons too. She'd have kittens."
Ginny growled, and all three of the returning group whipped around to see where the noise came from.
"Oh, Ginny, you're gorgeous."
Ginny tried another purr at the compliment, deciding she liked the way it felt to make the rumbling sound deep in her throat.
"Miss Weasley! You should have waited for me before attempting your first transformation," Professor McGonagall scolded.
Ginny was worried that she had misinterpreted the woman's meaningful look until McGonagall gave her a sly wink, assuring her that the scolding was purely for appearance sake. Ginny slunk over to her professor then, head hung low. The glint in her eye, had anyone else taken time to look, however, suggested she wasn't sorry in the least.
"Yes, well, I suppose that can be forgiven. Well done."
A smile flitted across Professor McGonagall's face, and she clapped her hands together. "Now then, let me show you what a good ear rub feels like. No more of that pinching business you think I enjoy. There's nothing more relaxing when it's done properly, I assure you."
"Psst. Draco," Charlie hissed from the doorway.
Draco sat up enough so Charlie could see him.
“Breakfast in fifteen."
The disheveled blond nodded solemnly, and Charlie backed out of the room, pulling the door softly to.
Draco moved slowly, carefully dislodging himself from the tangle of Ginny's arms. Last night had been a particularly bad one. It had taken her ages to recognize his presence, and longer still for him to calm her enough so she could get some rest. The last thing he intended to do was wake her now.
He was partially successful in his attempts. She did not wake until he was nearly finished dressing – he had started laying out his clothing for the next day in her room shortly after Charlie had not murdered Draco upon finding him leaping into Ginny’s bed, it was easier for everyone involved and minimized the risk of him being discovered leaving her room in pajamas. But even then she stayed still, enjoying the discoveries her quiet voyeurism uncovered. It was a rare pleasure to see him so unguarded, to be able to read his expressions and emotions as he quietly dressed himself. When he finished tying his shoes though, Ginny found herself inexplicably worried that he would leave her without saying goodbye.
He had never been so callous, but she was unable to shake the notion that it was important today, of all days. So she feigned waking, alerting him to her attentions.
He smiled softly at her. "Hey."
She reached for the alarm on her dresser. When her fingers brushed over the wooden bird, it untucked its head from its wing and whispered groggily, "Four thirty a.m. Much too early."
"Bill said the wards would come down best at dawn, remember?” Draco asked, perching on the side of the bed.
He leaned in close and brushed an errant hair out of her face before capturing her lips in a kiss. "I have to go, they're waiting on me."
He kissed her once more before making his departure.
"Draco –" she called as he opened the door.
"Be careful, okay?"
He gave her a reassuring smile. "I will. We'll be done before you're even up."
She returned the smile before curling back into the covers and snuggling into her pillow.
Draco looked over his shoulder once more before he left, and he could not contain his smile. He had once feared that he was doomed to a life his parents dictated for him, but it seemed now that everything he would have chosen for himself was within his grasp. It was refreshing, to be able to look towards the future with optimism.
It was funny, he mused as he tiptoed down the stairs, how things had changed. True enough, he would never be chummy with Potter, or even Weasley, though he now tolerated them with a studied politeness and could even manage to respect Ron's ability to strategize and analyze predicted scenarios on occasion. Granger, while still an infuriating know-it-all, did, actually, know it all, and her sometimes-scary quest for knowledge led her to ask questions of even him about the few things she did not know, or could not wrap her bushy head around.
How funny that it was these people he would now call friends. How odd that he would have friends at all, really.
If there was one thing he had neglected to mention that night when discussing the finer points of the Slytherin psyche with Charlie, it was that Slytherins were solitary creatures, and mostly made that way by their own design. Oh, they interacted well enough, but none of that was more than a show.
Slytherins were bound only by loyalties. Crabbe and Goyle had not been friends, nor would they ever be. They were bodyguards, drawn to Draco because of the opportunities his name could bestow upon them in return for their unflagging loyalty. Pansy was never a friend, or a romantic interest, for that matter; she was only the option for his future – a stable home and heirs in return for solidifying her family tree and increasing the influence of her family. Blaise was perhaps the closest thing to a friend he'd ever found in a classmate. And even their relationship was not a friendship but an association, for in Slytherin territory, the only person who could be trusted was oneself.
This friend business was uncharted territory for him.
Terrifying as it may have been to entrust his life to these people, it was a decision that Draco was glad he had made. What a nice bit of poetic justice. These people – Blood Traitors and Mudbloods – had ensured that the Malfoy line would continue, when Purebloods would have seen it fail. Not only that, but they had offered him a way to return the Malfoy name to the grandeur it once held. A way to redeem it, reestablish the principles and promise that his father and grandfather had seen done away. And for all they offered him, expecting so very little in return, Draco was glad to surpass their expectations of him.
But then, he always had liked shocking people.
"See you finally deigned to join us, Malfoy."
"Manners, Bill," Fleur chided as she dished food onto a plate for Draco. "Eat. You will need your strength."
"Draco," Charlie acknowledged, inclining his head towards the chair nearest him.
"How's this going to work, exactly?” Draco asked as he sat.
"Nervous?” Bill goaded.
Draco bit his tongue. Bill's coolness towards him was not a surprise. Draco hardly thought it fair to expect that of him, given what had happened Sixth Year. But he didn't know how to go about making amends either, so in lieu of other ideas, Draco decided to improvise and see if some opportunity arose. In the meantime, however, he did want answers.
"Well, we're only about to rip down all the wards that have been on Malfoy Manor for the last couple centuries. I'd rather not be homeless when this is all said and done."
"You're homeless now."
"Bill!” Fleur hissed, brandishing a spoon at him.
Draco waved it off as nonchalantly as he could manage. "I own a home. I've just been forced out of it. But you haven't answered my question."
Bill cracked a wry grin. Perhaps Charlie was right. He could see why Charlie took a shine to the boy, at any rate. The brat behaved like one of Charlie's beloved dragons. Maybe Draco Malfoy was not a bad sort after all. Maybe he was just a cornered kid trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Draco grimaced as Bill's grin revealed an enlarged canine.
"Relax, Malfoy. Your house will stand. I'd even say that once we get the right wards in place, it'll be better than before. No doubt your father put some kind of dark magic over it. The very magic of manors such as yours usually revolts against hostile takeovers from the rightful owner. Saw it all the time in Egypt, especially down in the crypts. If the only thing we manage to do is undo what your father did, we'll be golden, and the Death Eaters currently occupying your home won't know what hit them. A few of them might have an idea, some of the older names with their own estates. But estate magic is a breed all its own, and it's an old, oft forgotten, art."
"How forgotten? Will they know right off it's me, or will we have the week we planned for the attack before they put two and two together and come after us?"
Charlie chuckled. "Let's just say that it's forgotten enough to make Bill a very comfortable living, shall we?"
Draco nodded and inhaled deeply. "It's time then. Let's go."
They landed softly in a cluster of evergreens a kilometer South of Malfoy Manor.
"Splinch yourself, Malfoy?"
Draco's lip curled. "No."
"Then lead the way. It's not like we've got all day."
Draco shouldered his pack and began picking his way through the undergrowth. His stomach began to swirl as they passed a set of boulders. The manor would be visible once they rounded the next bend.
They splashed through a creek, and then Draco stopped. A stone wall ran as far as the eye could see in either direction, and Malfoy Manor sat on top of a hill half a kilometer or so inside the stone wall.
Draco wiped his palms on his pants and swallowed. "This is home."
Charlie tossed him a flask of water, and they sat on a nearby log while Bill, careful not to actually touch the boundary of the Malfoy estate, studied the wall. He paced and studied, stepped away and then towards the wall again, all the while sweeping his eyes over the wall and the manor it enclosed.
Finally satisfied, Bill joined them. "Late seventeenth to early eighteenth century, I'd say. We'll start with any recent modifications to the wards; we'll have to peel those off first. Then we'll get into the heart of things. Shouldn't be too bad, actually, but there will be booby traps. Some of those wards can't be changed."
"You can tell all that from the architecture?"
Bill looked disdainfully at Draco. "Architecture reflects time period. History reveals the prevailing concerns of that time period, and anthropology the common beliefs, ethics, and daily lives of its people."
"I see. It's an art then."
"I'd say more a science."
Draco shook his head. "Science is objective. This is abstract. You have to get into the ward's head, for lack of terminology. It's a different part of the brain."
"It is," Draco insisted. "Ask Hermione."
Charlie laughed, and even Bill cracked a smile.
"Right then. Let's see what we've got, shall we?"
"Where will you start?"
Bill grinned. "Oh no, I can't change the wards. I'm here for guidance. You're the Malfoy. The estate knows you. If I try to touch them they'll shred me. It's your estate; you're the only one who can be doing any changing."
"And if the estate doesn't recognize me?"
"You probably wouldn't have lived through the end of this war anyway." Charlie shrugged.
"Well then. Thanks for the heads up."
"No problem. Ready?"
Draco wiped his palms on his pants again, then grabbed his wand. "Yes."
"Relax," Bill insisted, at last taking pity on the blond boy. Ginny would have a fit if she found they'd harassed her friend so, and princess or not, she was as bad as their mother when she was in a tiff. "We have to go over some basics first."
Draco's shoulders dropped. Thank Merlin.
"First of all, are you one hundred percent absolutely certain that you are the Malfoy? That the property will recognize you as the heir, its master?"
"My parents are dead."
"You know that for sure?"
Draco's grip on his wand tightened. "My father killed my mother in front of me. I killed him. My parents are dead."
Bill was careful not to react to Draco's revelation. Inside, however, he felt his heart pull. Oh, it was mushy he knew, Charlie constantly gave him hell about his "mushiness.” But to be forced to kill his own father… Bill rather thought it was a miracle Draco Malfoy was capable of any type of normal emotions at all. His brain, however, prickled uneasily. Patricide. The estate might not accept him.
Surely the magic would be able to tell true patricide from a kill-or-be-killed situation. It should have recoiled against Lucius the moment he attempted to kill his heir. Nonetheless, they would have to tread carefully.
Hermione was once again in the library, curled into the chair she had deemed most comfortable, enjoying the peace of her sanctuary. She had always been a morning person, and while she wasn’t particularly fond of being booted – however politely – from her bedroom at quarter of three nearly every morning, she did relish the quiet in those pre-dawn hours. Perhaps what she was most fond of was that she did not have to bow to seniority for use of her library.
The end table next to her held an array of magical theory books, but this morning Hermione had followed instinct through the shelves Dobby had restored to pristine conditions. House Elves were truly amazing creatures. The book she selected that morning was an ancient thing on estate magic. What she was looking for, she wasn’t quite certain, but this book was not as precise as she had hoped to find, though it was giving her a nice, generalized version of estate warding procedure and theory.
Hermione stilled after turning a page. Something was off.
No, not off. Something was plain not right.
Hermione shook her head and closed her eyes, trying to visualize the last concept she had read in accordance with the others. Instead, Malfoy Manor came into focus. Hermione’s eyes shot open and she shook her head again. It must have been a combination of her nerves over today’s procedure – it was the only way any of them could come up with to get that damned locket – and her urge to retire back to her room to finish her night’s sleep.
But she had work to finish first, and Hermione Granger had never gone to bed with homework unfinished. She would simply try again. What had she been reading? Oh, right, layering. The layering was important, to the point it could determine the “persona” of the wards. Layering aligned the values the estate holder held most dear, and so the estate would know which preceded what.
Malfoy Manor stubbornly came into focus again, but this time Hermione was prepared for it. If her thoughts insisted on taking her there, then she would simply utilize it to her benefit.
Something was not right.
Hermione narrowed her scope. There, it was right there. The security had been breached; the property believed it was under threat. The wards pulsed angry crimson.
Her eyes shot open involuntarily, and Hermione forced them closed again. She had to see. That was what was not right. The estate was angry. Why was it angry? Did they know?
“Don’t touch it!” she mentally called to the trio outside the far corner of the property.
But they did not hear her, nor did they see the pulsing warning signs of the wards. They were not welcome.
The sky was all but clear from of the last traces of the orange and purple dawn, and the leaves of the trees surrounding them seemed to quiver in anticipation. The blond approached the wards, and reached to touch them. The look on his face turned to abject terror and the taller of the two redheaded men grabbed for him too late. The wards… they had… they had dismantled him.
Hermione shot from her chair and out of the library. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t right!
“Ginny! Ginny, get up!” she shouted, up ending the side of the mattress nearest the door.
Ginny shot up from the floor wand in hand. “Hermione! What –“
“Shoes! You need shoes!”
“I need –“
“It’s not right! You’ve got to go. Now. It’s not right!”
“What - Oh God, the wards? It’s the wards.”
“You’ve got to go. I’ll find Snape and Remus. You have to stop them. We won’t get there in time.” Hermione looked out the window. The sky was lightening, but it wasn’t bright with blue yet. “Hurry!”
Ginny slammed her feet into worn trainers, placed her wand along her temple, and apparated. She did not know their location, had not been provided the coordinates. She did not try for Malfoy Manor either, that would be death, for if the wards did not shred her, the Death Eaters would. So she cleared her mind, took a deep breath, and called up Draco’s image. She felt the magic filling her, almost overwhelmingly so. When twisting her wand, she had given her magic only one firm command.
To Draco. Now.
Draco felt ridiculously out of sorts. All of Bill’s information was bouncing uselessly through his brain. He approached the gate on the South Wall – the far wall – cautiously. It felt unhappy. Or maybe he felt unhappy. He wasn’t sure. Draco gave a wry grin. Perhaps the Manor is as unhappy to see me as I am to see it.
He took a breath and called the wards with the incantation Bill taught him. The wards seemed resentful. But then again, he was too. The wards did not reveal themselves as Bill had said they would – there were no pulsing or shimmering indications of enchantments. Draco reached to touch them. Perhaps if they recognized him, they would behave properly.
He stepped nearer to the gate, arms extended.
They were warm. Why were they warm? He needed to get closer so he could understand.
Just as Draco prepared to step forward once more and touch the gate, infiltrate the wards, he was yanked off his feet. He fell, tumbling backwards down the slope that led to the back entrance of the grounds. As he fell, he was aware of a body sliding and rolling with him, on top of him, beside him, underneath him. As they came to a stop at the foot of the hill, the hand that had latched onto his wrist loosened its grip.
“Well. That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
Draco blinked. “Ginny?”
“Sorry. I might have been a little too unspecific when I apparated.” Her brows knitted together as she contemplated. “Strike that. I think it was the other way around. Maybe I was too specific when I told it to take me to you now.”
“Ginny, what are you doing here?”
“The wards. They aren’t right.”
“What do you mean, ‘They aren’t right’?”
“I mean precisely that. They’re off, somehow. Couldn’t you feel it? I could feel it. So could Hermione, but that’s neither here nor there. And you were going to touch them.”
“I was – Well yeah. They’re my wards. They should –“
“Behave?” A smile quirked Ginny’s lips as he rolled onto his side, propping himself on his elbow so he could see her – certify that she was, in fact, in one piece.
“You shouldn’t have –“
“Saved your sorry arse?” An eyebrow quirked to match her smile.
“How did you even get the coordinates? And my arse didn’t need saving.”
“Yet. I told you, I didn’t have the coordinates. Hermione said I had to get here, so I just apparated.” She shrugged.
“You just apparated.”
“That’s what I –“
“You just apparated without coordinates? To a location you’ve never been, surrounded by wards that are – apparently – ‘not right’?” He looked at her doubtfully.
“Well, it was an emergency. Hermione up-ended my bed. She said I had to go. So I went.”
“Well, that explains the pajamas. But how?”
Ginny huffed at him. “I told you. I apparated. I thought, ‘To Draco’ and twisted my wand. What else was I supposed to do?”
“Do you hurtle through space at that velocity every time you apparate? If so, we might need to come up with alternate means of transportation for you in the future.”
Ginny gave him a sheepish smile. “Well, I did add a pretty forceful ‘Now.’ on the end.”
Draco did not see. He had never heard of such a thing. She had not apparated to a designated place; she had apparated to a designated person. In addition, she had managed not to splinch herself with him. He was stymied.
The bushes around them crashed and rustled as her brothers careened through, wands drawn. They stopped short of trampling them – just barely – and stared curiously at the pair sprawled on the ground.
Charlie was the first to recover. “Bit of a rough landing there, eh Gin?”
“I’ve had better,” she admitted, laughter bubbling in her voice.
Bill only looked back and forth between them, and his countenance darkened as he began to realize the connection between them.
“Up you get,” Charlie insisted, extending a hand to Draco. He smiled to himself as Draco turned and reached for Ginny once he stood.
Once standing, Ginny turned to Bill. “There’s a problem with the wards.”
“I’m aware of that. It’s why we’re here.”
“No, Bill. There is a problem with the wards.” When he narrowed his eyes at her – a trait that was, apparently, inherited from one Molly Weasley, Ginny’s lip rose in a sneer.
“Fine, I’ll play. Ginny, dear sister, since you have specialized in curse breaking and estate magic for the better part of your life and are oh-so knowledgeable on the subject, what is wrong with the wards?”
Draco and Charlie exchanged wary glances. This could get ugly.
“They don’t like him.”
Draco’s eyebrow rose. Clever girl.
“Scintillating observation, sister, but can you blame them?” Bill quipped nastily.
Charlie’s jaw dropped. Oh, Bill. Stupid, stupid, arrogant Bill. Ginny had always tended to play favorites with them, but surely he did not hold himself in such high esteem as to think he still held that position. He hadn’t been her favorite since she was three.
“I’m serious,” Ginny said quietly. “They don’t like him – don’t want him.”
“Ah, but so am I. I’ll ask again. Can you –“
Bill’s question was cut short, and Charlie turned away – because what had happened was revolting, hilarious, and looked painful, and he was unsure whether he’d be treated to the same fate if he dared to snigger.
“Bloody buggering fuck!” Bill swore, once he’d managed to call the vicious bogeys off. “Merlin’s godforsaken underpants! What was that for?”
“Don’t be a bint, Ginny. It doesn’t suit your vindictive –“
Ginny watched, amused, as bubbles frothed from Bill’s mouth. “Brother, Mum would not approve of such a tone directed at her baby girl.” Her eyes narrowed, and the false pleasant overtures of her voice disappeared. “But then, she wouldn’t approve of how careless you were with your charge either. You will be nice, even if it kills you. Otherwise you can go home now and explain all of this to Mum.”
An evil grin appeared on Ginny’s face. “And to Fleur, who has enough manners to either die of shame or kill you for shaming her. And I saw her at the TriWizard Tournament. If I were you, Brother, I’d be ready for the latter.”
Ginny was terrifying, even when clad in her ridiculous pajamas.
People worried about the twins, but Ginny was by far the more dangerous. She was scarier than Mum, even. Perhaps what made her so disconcertingly terrifying was that she played the game far better than she rightly ought to know how, and she did so unconsciously, pulling and puffing her magic without giving second thought. Even Draco did not, perhaps could not, summon his magic so inconspicuously.
The thing about magic, about the game, Charlie had learned, was that everyone – even Muggleborns – played it. While he was tracking a restless, nesting dragon through Romania, Charlie found it painfully obvious in the mixed communities where he often set up camp. Hell, even Muggles played the game, though to a much lesser extent and completely obliviously. The difference was, Purebloods trained in the game.
Hell, the game was why there were Purebloods. While it was certainly true that centuries of inbreeding had weakened many of the families’ magic, it was no less true that intimate knowledge of their magic had been enough, until recent years, to edge out competition. And that was not accounting for the fact that those who knew breeding well enough to do it properly – since they looked at their offspring as the equivalent of livestock, or perhaps the much more fashionable racehorse – still managed to better their offspring, even when breeding with those that were not so knowledgeable in their genetic endeavors.
Without the training, though, all subtlety was lost, and with it went the impression of power. Charlie had observed the leaders of those communities very closely, and what distinguished them was the sudden shock of being allowed to sense their magic – how much of it there actually was, how powerful it could be, and how well controlled it was by the wizard.
Part of what made Ginny so dangerous, Charlie thought, was how well honed her control over her magic was. Very few people realized she was more than little Ginny Weasley because she did not allow them to see the extent of her magic. Then, someone – more often than not one of her siblings – would have her brassed off and she would summon it quietly to herself, which was not unusual, everyone – Muggles too, even if their magic was available only in amounts minuscule enough to only make it impossible to say they possessed no magic - called their magic to comfort themselves. Finally, when pushed just one step too far, she would unveil that power. Not to say she unleashed it; that was only to be borne in the most dire of circumstances – trained in the game or not, there was an innate knowledge of that rule. But she would reveal it, crackling and intense, and there was no way beforehand to know just how much of it there was.
It was like Muggle fathers with their guns. Charlie had gone on a date with a Muggle girl once, and when he had arrived, her father greeted him at the door. At the time, he seemed harmless enough. While waiting on his daughter to make her way downstairs, he had invited Charlie into the family room. Once there, he had sat deeply in his chair, picked up a long barreled gun of some make or another, and polished it intently. When he heard his daughter on the staircase, he had calmly inserted a shell into the chamber and cocked the gun. Charlie was not in grave peril at the moment, but he was suddenly well aware of the man’s capabilities should he perceive injury to his daughter’s delicate persona.
The only difference was Ginny did not have a shotgun. She had a bazooka.
The hairs on Hermione’s arms stood on end as she crashed through the underbrush overgrowing the trail that led to Malfoy Manor. The two men, hot on her heels, careened wildly around it as they tried to keep pace with her. She stumbled on a massive root and fell to her knees as the back end of the estate came into view. Her heart dropped. None of the group were anywhere to be seen. She had been too late, and worse, she had sent Ginny to witness the massacre.
Hermione Granger was at a loss. She had failed spectacularly and sacrificed two of her few friends in her efforts.
Just as she was nearing tears, a hard hand clamped onto her shoulder. “Do not be stupid, Miss Granger. It does not become you.”
“They’re not gone. They are simply not here.”
The slick silk words roused Hermione’s temper. “I hardly think –“
“Well, yes. I would say that explains it.” Severus felt her magic bristle at his dismissal of her. “Use that overstuffed head of yours and think. If the wards had taken them there would be residue. It would have knocked you off your feet ten meters from here.”
“I hadn’t –“
“Of course not. Now get up. Use your infernal Gryffindor logic and find them before they do manage to kill themselves.”
“Severus, Hermione! I’ve found them.”
Hermione half-scowled at Severus Snape before begrudgingly allowing him to pull her to her feet. He returned her scowl with a snarl, and they continued as if nothing at all had happened. As they moved towards the disembodied voice of Remus, Hermione could not help but feel as if her world had returned to order.
The scene they walked in on left no doubt in Hermione’s mind that the world was as it should be. Bill Weasley was glaring daggers at Ginny, who stood over him in Molly Weasley stance, calmly telling him exactly into which orifices he could shove his complaints. Draco and Charlie stood off to the side, carefully observing the stand-off, both looking alternately embarrassed and half-afraid to laugh at Bill’s predicament.
“And I was foolish enough to believe I had escaped the displeasures of teaching.”
Draco sobered immediately, standing up straight and elbowing Charlie into attention as well.
“Miss Weasley, while I admire your creativity and thoroughness, we do not have all day to assess your brother’s many idiocies. Please do hurry it up.”
Ginny flushed red to the roots of her hair. “Sorry, Professor – Severus – Snape? Oh bother, what would you have me call you?”
“I’d rather prefer you not call me at all, but if you must, I suppose Severus would be acceptable. Certainly preferable to anything you’re likely to come up with on your own.”
Remus caught her eye and winked, and Ginny gathered that she had been given as close to a compliment as she was ever likely to hear from her former professor. The world was rapidly spinning out of order, as far as she was concerned.
“Seeing as the wards have not yet been removed, perhaps one of you could enlighten us as to why Miss Granger was so inclined to imitate a vengeful harpy and chase us out of our beds this morning? I presume it was not for an overwhelming desire to gallop through the woods.”
“The wards –“ Ginny began.
“Perhaps someone with more expertise,” Snape interrupted her.
“Thank you.” Bill stood, brushing debris from his robes as he moved. “The wards do not appear to recognize Malfoy as the heir. It may have to do with his father’s death.”
Snape turned sharply to Draco. “They have found you wanting.”
“It appears so.”
“Then you must prove yourself. You are the Malfoy.”
“I don’t know what –“
“I think that you do, Draco. It’s time you took your place. Make them see. Make them submit. But we’ll not – I’ll not – play this game any longer. Weigh the options, make a decision, and assert yourself – whatever it is you decide. Use whatever methods you see fit, I will back you. But mark my words, there will be no more of this playing the ends against the middle nonsense. Your mother would not have stood for it, and I will not do her the injustice of standing for it in her stead.”
The Gryffindors, all except Ginny, had averted their eyes when Severus Snape had rounded upon his pupil. The Weasleys and Hermione, albeit indirectly, had all experienced their fair share of public critique from Molly, and they well knew Draco’s discomfort. It was also a self-defense mechanism, because if caught staring, it was very likely that their mother would come after them next. Remus, though not schooled in Molly Weasley’s version of etiquette in this particular scenario, had faced similar – if not more embarrassing – confrontations, and he too sympathized with Draco.
Ginny, however, did not look away, and she was not entirely sure she could have if she wanted to. Snape’s pointed instruction, though addressed to Draco, seemed to be direction for her as well. When Severus looked at her immediately following his council, Ginny knew she was correct. He was as much offering her advice as he was Draco, and it was advice she should heed if she planned to continue their fledgling relationship. She tipped her head in the barest of acknowledgement, and Severus returned it.
While she may not have seen – or have ever seen – eye to eye with the man, he was knowledgeable, and whatever his feelings for her he was willing to lay aside for the sake of Draco. Ginny was encouraged; she knew that if they planned to continue their relationship, there was much she would have to learn about his world. Draco would have much to learn about her world as well, but there were a plethora of people he could turn to for advice about the Weasley way. Ginny was glad she would have someone to answer her questions as well.
“I suggest we all take a few minutes to ourselves before we give this another go,” Remus said, breaking the awkward silence threatening to overwhelm the group. “Let’s meet back here in, say, ten minutes?”
They sat on a log near the stream, secluded from the others by a dense thicket. He studied the flowing stream intently, wearing a frown Ginny associated with him puzzling things out in his head. But Ginny needed answers before she made any decisions of her own. She plucked at the sleeves of the shirt Hermione had transfigured her pajama top into. “What did Severus mean, playing the ends against the middle? Am I a means to your end?”
Draco sighed. He had known the question was coming, and he had been trying to sort out his answer since Remus suggested the break. He meant to speak up before she asked, but he wasn’t at all sure how to start the conversation.
“Well, am I?”
“No. You’re a fringe benefit.”
Ginny bumped him with her shoulder. “I’m being serious.”
“So am I.”
“Can we please cut the cryptic Slytherin crap for today? Just the next ten minutes, even?”
Ginny frowned back.
“You are actually going to need words for this. Otherwise, I’ll have to admit that Bill was just a warm up.”
“I see. So when asking nicely fails to work, you slide into brute force.”
Ginny shrugged. “Any means…”
“And that brings us back around to the topic at hand, doesn’t it?”
“Yep. Clever, huh?”
“By my watch, we have four minutes before they come to find us.”
“So you’re going to stall? Charming, Draco.”
“Actually, I was going to suggest direct answers with suspended sentencing until explanation, which would occur at some point in the near future.”
“Directly after dinner, and that will be acceptable.”
“All right then. Am I being played against the middle?”
Ginny glared at him.
“Don’t look at me like that.”
“Begging your pardon, but did you think I was going to be overjoyed?”
“You wanted truth on the spot. I know I’m witty and charming, but this needs a little more time to be phrased delicately.”
“You forgot modest, as well. But if I were you, I would expand on that, quickly.”
“So much for our bargain.”
"That was before you implied you had ulterior motives in dating me.”
“You are very useful.”
“Fine. Yes, but also no. You’re being played, but I’m doing my best to keep you out of the game.”
“So if I specified by saying, ‘Are you playing me against the middle?’ the answer would be?”
“Good. Or at least, better.” Ginny sighed. “You’re right. We are going to need more time to discuss this.”
“Things are so mucked up right now, I doubt an eternity would be enough time to figure it out.”
“Well, we’re just going to have to think on our feet then, aren’t we? ‘Cause we definitely need to figure this out sooner rather than later.”
Draco smiled crookedly.
“But what about me, us? Am I the means to your end?”
“Draco, Ginny? Where are you guys? Remus says it’s time to get started!”
“We’re on the way!” Ginny called, turning to roll her eyes at Draco. “I swear, if I ever had ten minutes of privacy in my life, I would die of shock. Do you know I even take a shower in under ten minutes? Isn’t that ridiculous?”
“Incredibly,” Draco agreed, eyeing Ginny appreciatively.
“Oh, shut up.” Ginny swatted his shoulder. “We’d better go before they send Bill in after us. He holds a grudge, you know. Best to watch out for him in the near future.”
They had just cleared the edge of the thicket when the overwhelming urge to give her some kind of answer – put her at some sort of ease, even if only temporary – overtook him. He grabbed her hand, stalling her progress toward the group and turning her back to him. She looked at their hands, then him, questioningly. Then the look softened, and Draco’s heart did that funny swelling thing that made him uneasy – when this was all said and done he might need to see a healer about that, because his heart had never done that until the past month or so and it was unquestionably unnatural. And he had to tell her the honest to Merlin truth right then or it was surely going to explode in protest.
“You are not the means to my end.”
“It’s okay Draco, we can finish later –“
“No, you don’t understand.”
“Draco, they’re waiting on us – on you.”
Ginny started at his sharp words. “Draco –“
He took a deep breath, trying desperately to calm himself before he really did muck the whole thing up and even an eternity would not fix it. He tugged her closer to him and looked her in the eye. “You are not a means to my end. You are the end.”
It took a moment for his words to dawn on her, and when they did, no force of nature – including the presence of overprotective Weasley brothers – could have stopped her overjoyed reaction.
Bill Weasley, upon seeing his baby sister leap upon a Malfoy and give him the snog of his life, calmly turned to Severus Snape and asked to be Obliviated. Severus would have obliged, only that would mean he would have no one he tentatively trusted to Obliviate him. As such, he thought it only fair that they both suffer.
If worse came to worst, he had it on good authority that the Weasley twins, ingenious oafs that they were, had a stash of Ogden’s that Molly Weasley, as of yet, had been unable to find and destroy. Thankfully, he had dedicated his life to teaching, which was not at all very different than being a double agent. Finding secrets was one of his many specialties. If he was feeling charitable, he might even invite Bill to join him. He had endured worse things than the company of this particular Weasley before.
The way the world had turned on its head, Severus thought that he might, perhaps, even enjoy it.
Draco approached the Manor for the second time that day, though now he approached with a sense of duty rather than desperation. His palms were still clammier than he would have liked, but frankly, he no longer gave a damn about how the Manor felt about him. The resentment was gone, replaced by a quiet, steadying strength pulsing from some previously unrealized fount within his core.
He did not use the incantation Bill had given him this time – he had no need for it. His focus was crystalline, and he demanded the wards’ appearance silently.
The hairs on Ginny’s arms stood on end when the wards appeared. Sparkling lines of lime, lemon, tangerine, and raspberry appeared before them, dangerous and lethal in their beauty. Despite their beauty, the magic that radiated from the wards was slippery and cruel. The intricate lacework of spells moved in sinister, serpentine waves about the perimeter of the property, and Ginny was repulsed by the dark taint oozing from the perversion of such magic – from twisting the intent and purpose of the spells from safeguarding loved ones to radiating prejudice and hate.
Draco plucked at the strands of the wards, categorizing them by date and purpose, and the wards recoiled from him. Then their twisting circulations seemed to focus on him, and Ginny suddenly had the image of a snake preparing to strike. No sooner than the thought licked across her mind than she was by his side.
The Manor’s magic coiled tighter, focusing more intently on the two people threatening it.
The wards struck at them, pressing the boundaries of their reach. Draco pulled Ginny behind him, even as her magic took a defiant swipe at the malevolent wards – a reminder that she had claws. The wards hissed; Draco’s magic snarled at them. Her magic pressed against his, puffed in warning, the arched back of a cat. His magic barred the wards from her, and Draco was the tiniest bit relieved that though disgruntled with him, the wards had recognized him and seen fit not to harm him. Or at least, they had for the moment.
Charlie, Hermione, and Remus watched the display in wonder, but Bill and Severus eyed each other – and the wards – warily. This was not normal. This was so far removed from normal that Bill was unsure whether he even knew what was going on, much less how to correct it. From Severus’s alarmed expression, he didn’t know either.
Hermione, though unversed in the art of estate magic, had gathered enough from the violent exhibition thus far to realize that what was going on was not expected, at the least. The way Bill and Snape were exchanging apprehensive looks, Hermione guessed that this was not a good development at all. She wondered if the wards were just that buggered or if it was the fact that Ginny’s magic was so firmly entwined with Draco’s that was causing all the mayhem.
As the wards entertained an uneasy truce with Draco and Ginny, Bill began his assessment. He was both amazed at the detail that had gone into the weaving of the wards and sickened at the manipulation of the spells to suit the dark agenda of Lucius Malfoy. Unfortunately, it looked as if this was not going to be a quick fix of removing a layer of warding or two. This was going to take time. Before they could fix anything, they were going to have to remind the wards of their original purpose, of their duty and true obligation. In other words, rather than simply teaching the estate what was allowed, they were first going to have to undo years of conditioning the estate to lash out.
The problem was, he had no idea how to go about accomplishing that.
Bill was flummoxed, and Snape was no help either. So Draco remained at the property’s boundary, wards affronted but obediently displayed. Because Draco stayed, Ginny stayed, and ever-helpful Hermione had thoughtfully conjured mildly comfortable, albeit hideous, chairs for them. His magic was fraying, and he was tiring, holding the wards and the shield he had drawn around Ginny. She could feel him fading, and she refused to release his hand while her magic fretted, trying to reenergize him even as she tried to bring him some comfort.
When he could no longer hold both the shield and the wards, he attempted to push her away from him, but she wouldn’t have it. Fool that he was, he could not deny her to be by his side. He could not deny himself either. Though he now tended to his duty, he was a selfish creature by nature, and nurture had not seen fit to intervene.
It didn’t matter really, because she could be quite terrifying when she set her mind to it, and she wouldn’t have gone anyway.
So Draco held the wards while Bill and Snape and everyone else wracked their brains attempting to contrive some solution or another. Ginny held Draco. Her magic licked around his, tangling and twirling with it, and he began probing the momentarily reserved wards to see how they were handling the entanglement of their magic. He could sense no reaction, deliberate or inadvertent.
Her magic felt entirely different than his – than the manor’s. It was utterly feline, slinky and sassy as it purred and rubbed against him and the wards. And when it brushed against the wards – intentionally, if he knew Ginny at all – it growled softly, then returned to purring. An invitation to know her, because she had the fleeting sensation that something softened about the wards when her magic tangled with Draco’s, with the tiny warning that her magic was bigger than the manor knew, should it not behave appropriately.
Draco almost started when the wards began probing. Slithering cautiously around the pair, flicking forked tongues to taste their magic, the wards curiously examined them. Ginny tensed as one of the blue streamers met her magic. Draco held his breath as the tendril recoiled quickly; it seemed shocked that her magic had allowed it to touch her. Then it sent another brilliant blue stream slithering warily towards her.
As far as she could figure, turn about was fair play, so Ginny sent her own probes toward the manor. With all the curiosity of a cat, they crept cautiously towards the wards. They met the second blue streamer halfway and touched noses with it.
Draco wasn’t quite sure what had happened, only that a moment ago everything had been fine and now it wasn’t.
Ginny’s magic leapt away from the manor’s. Then it sprang back towards it to whollop the probe soundly about its head, and finally it hurtled back towards Ginny. Ginny looked both bewildered and short of breath as she soothed her startled magic, and she failed entirely to notice that in the wake of her magic’s panicked assault on the manor’s probe, Draco had thrown a shield of protective magic over her.
Severus and Bill, however, were encouraged when the manor’s rebuttal showered and scattered off the armor of Draco’s magic. If it wasn’t yet recognizing him as Master, the manor had, apparently, recognized him as a Malfoy.
His magic tangled with hers, searching for any wounds the manor may have inflicted and smoothing its bristled fur. The wards of the manor hissed menacingly, and Draco’s magic snarled back. The stand off between Draco and the manor had truly begun.
“What was all that about?”
“It – It called me a blood-traitor.” She gave him a bewildered look. “And then insisted that Weasley gold diggers must be put in their place.”
His magic seethed. “I beg your pardon?”
“Don’t you know me well enough by now to know that if I was going to make something up it would be far more fantastic than that?”
Draco smiled at her, despite the rush of anger swirling his magic. “Fair point.”
Draco felt rather than saw the manor’s wards again swirling around them. He looked at Ginny out of the corner of his eye, and he could not contain his lips’ effort to rise into a smirk. “Now what?”
“Aren’t you supposed to defend my honor or something?”
“My dear, I’m afraid you have me confused with someone noble.”
Ginny turned away from the manor, and she leaned into Draco. His Adam’s apple bobbed as her lips brushed against his ear. “The thing is, I don’t. I know exactly who you are – and you are honorable.” She pulled away enough to smile at him. “Even if you are a git.”
She pressed her lips to his and squeezed his hand. “You can do this. You need to do this. But I don’t think I’m helping anymore – it doesn’t like me, and it’s going to take it out on you if I stay. So I’m going to wait with the others. If you need me, all you have to do is say so.”
As she retreated from him, the manor sent one last malevolent streamer after her. She sensed it, and as she whirled to face the assailant her magic crackled with such force that it blew her hair away from her face, giving the image that she was engulfed within a firestorm.
Draco had also seen the manor’s attack, and as she turned to face it, he was momentarily struck by her beauty and the beauty of her ire. His own magic welled then, at the thought of the unwarranted assault on what was his. And without thinking, his hand darted out to grab the streamer by the middle – the seeker after the snitch. The magic struggled against him, but he held fast, and at last it was meek and mild in his hands.
Bill saw the solution at the same moment Severus did. As Draco meant to release the magic back to the manor, Snape grabbed his shoulder. Bill steered his sister away, what was to happen… Well, he had seen greater wizards than Draco Malfoy quelled in their attempts to master their estate. And this estate in particular was drenched in far darker magic.
“Take it, Draco. Take it now.”
Draco’s eyes flashed, and he saw then what his friend, mentor, had seen. The manor would not give over by rights – something within it had twisted and snapped, turned against itself and its creator, the Master. He would have to take the manor by force and justify his commands by his mettle and his magic. He was going to have to reclaim his land in the same manner the first Malfoy had taken it.
He couldn’t help the sardonic curve of his lips. To the victor go the spoils, and Draco would have his ancestral home restored. He grabbed hold of the ward’s streamer with his other hand and gave it a sharp yank.
The wards rattled in ancient warning.
Bill pulled Ginny behind the magical bunker he, Charlie, Remus, and Hermione were constructing. As Draco began wresting the knotted wards apart her heart began to pound, and she suddenly found herself reminded that it was not so easy to be brave when it was not her safety at question. She attempted to coerce Bill into commentating, but he would have none of it, shushing her and patting her on the head like she was a tot before sending her back over to Hermione.
Ginny’s lip curled into a sneer.
Hermione was kind enough to explain what Bill had already told them when he issued the order for the creation of their bunker, but it was nothing that Ginny would not have been able to work out on her own. Hermione, though she watched with keen eyes, did not know what any of the struggle between Draco and the manor was about, nor which things were good and which were bad. So she held Ginny’s hand and prayed as she watched.
Remus too studied the struggle with a keen eye. He had inherited his father’s land, but this was foreign to him. The wards on his family’s small bit of land were welcoming, embracing and innocent. They always had been. And the only time he could recall sensing their distress were the times since he taught at Hogwarts that Severus had been unable to deliver his Wolfsbane. Even then, the wards had protected both him and the land. They neither allowed anyone in, nor allowed him out, and they kept him from the actual house as well. He could see, in some of the laceworked spells, those same protective measures, but the way they were twined with the other spells was wrong, and somehow, that seemed to make all the difference.
Ginny watched Draco systematically dismantle the wards. He was nearing the heart of the thing now, and the resentment and anger of the Manor radiated in waves around their bunker. It had been a harrowing process, and Ginny had nearly cried out on more than one occasion as the Manor attacked him with brilliant streamers of color. He caught them deftly, wrenching them away from the Manor, his own magic dismembering the energy and redirecting it, so that each conquered attack from the manor became a tiny victory for him.
But each victory had a cost as well, and while Draco’s magic was incredibly efficient at absorbing the energy stripped from the Manor, Ginny could see him beginning to fade. Thrice now, the Manor’s slivers of magic had nearly managed to coil around him, and thrice Ginny had shoved her fist into her mouth to keep herself from letting out a bloodcurdling scream. The only reason she had managed to stop herself was because she knew what would happen if he was distracted. If she was the cause, she would be unable to bear it.
The tiny piece of her soul Tom Riddle had so gleefully bruised reminded her exactly how much was at stake – and not just for the Order. And Ginny could rationalize staying behind the bunker no longer. She had tried to escape the confines of the bunker twice. She had failed twice, curtailed by Bill’s strong arms on both attempts.
As Draco began hauling the last of the additional wards away from the original wards, tugging them through the twists and turns they had been laced and knotted to the original wards with, the Manor shuddered. Ginny turned to Hermione, to see if she too had seen the vibration of the Manor’s magic, but Hermione’s eyes looked distant.
Ginny turned back to the Manor and was immediately seized at the sight. The Manor was angry. Angry and desperate. Draco had cornered it, and the Manor knew it. It was dangerous, and it had a plan.
The magic in the air was palpable, heavy and oppressing. Then, abruptly, it was gone. Ginny knew what was to happen the minute the magic lifted. It was what she would do, were she the Manor – if she could not win, she would make sure she took every last one of her opposition out on her way down.
Hermione shoved her, not inconspicuously, though she whispered urgently in Ginny’s ear. “Now, Ginny. Go!”
Ginny leapt over the wall of their magic trench. Bill was over after her even before her feet found purchase on the ground, and Ginny prepared herself to be waylaid once again. But it never came.
Hermione had put him in a body bind before he could reach her, and levitated him serenely back across the barrier.
However, Hermione had not seen Charlie leaping into the fray. His hand closed around her wrist while he beseeched her – rather, demanded her – return to the safety of the bunker.
Ginny dragged him forward as she struggled towards Draco. Realizing she would never make it with Charlie’s deadweight, she extended her hand towards him, as if to push him away. “Sorry, Charlie,” she offered as she banished him away from her, to the safety of the magical bunker.
Both brothers were nearly over the wall again when she made her move on the offensive. Without looking back, she flung her arm towards their foxhole and sealed the barrier. There was no turning back for her now.
Draco fell to his knees as the last of the additional wards twisted free. His magic absorbed it, but he was spent.
“Finish it, Draco. You must finish it now,” Severus urged. The fear bled through his voice. The Manor, now that it was free of all but the original magic, was malevolent. It perceived desecration, and if he did not act before the Manor, they would have no need to worry about Harry Potter, the Dark Lord, or even anything as trivial as what Molly Weasley would do to Bill, Lupin, and Moody if she found out what they had planned for Draco. Even if Draco did think they deserved Molly’s best.
Draco sensed the Manor recoiling, and with a vague feeling of helplessness, he realized that he would not be able to stop its backlash. He had nothing left to give. He smiled at Severus. “Thank you.”
What the former potions master was going to say, Draco would never know. He raised his hand, and with the last of his reserves and a move borrowed from Ginny, banished his mentor and friend to safety. This battle was not Severus’s to lose. He only hoped that Severus would reappear behind the bunker as a whole. He would hate to have his parting gesture ruined by leaving Severus without a leg or nose – though either of those would be preferable to damage to Severus’s talented hands. Draco could not imagine attempting to make even the simplest brew one handed.
At any rate, his last gesture was a noble one, and with the wards in shambles, any one of the Order could claim the Manor to their advantage. While it was not the stunning victory he’d hoped for, it would be enough. His vows would be fulfilled, and he would go out in a blaze of heroic – though perhaps unsung – glory. For the first time in a long time, Draco felt content with the Malfoy name.
[[a/n]]:: Thank you all for reading! As the end of the semester is looming, I am going to need to take some time off. Grades come first, and if I have to repeat ecology, I will not be held accountable for my actions. As this is the last of the pre-written material, it might take me a few days to get the next chapter finished up. Especially considering I haven't so much as looked at it since February. I hope everybody else has a lovely month, and I see you all around the later part of May!
Draco cringed. His newly realized sense of honor sagged in defeat at the thought that he hadn’t sought a way to shield Ginny from witnessing his massacre.
That was a shame. He’d thought he’d done quite well with it, for someone who was never taught such a thing, up until just that moment. As it was, he could at least take comfort in the fact that he was dying for something, rather than because he would not make a stand one way or the other. She would forgive him that. At the least, she would understand it. His heart swelled. She had to, that was one of the things he loved about her.
The manor’s onslaught surged against him. He fought it, managing to hold out for a few moments before it overtook him.
Ginny felt rather than saw Draco’s magic give way to the force of the wrathful Manor. Her chest constricted tightly, and she thought she might very well faint. And then the erratic, as of late, Gryffindor within her gave a mighty roar, sending quivers all through her blood.
He was hers.
The shield was around him before she realized she’d decided she could do something about the vengeful manor after all.
Magic showered off the shield, and the manor shrieked with rage.
Draco cracked an eye open. Dying hadn’t been nearly as unpleasant as he thought it would be, though he had rather hoped the afterlife would offer some new scenery. And then the force of the magic hit him. If the magic in the air was palpable before, it was a two ton brick resting atop his chest now.
He opened his other eye cautiously. He blinked – once, twice. Perhaps he had died. Or someone let the Weasley twins detonate their entire supply of fireworks in one go. The world surrounding him shimmered gold in every direction, and the streamers of magic clashing outside of his protective shell refracted against the gold, creating blinding mini explosions of color.
The shell enclosing him pulsed with energy. It covered him with warmth and laughter and fire. It could only belong to Ginny, her essence resonated through every pulse of the shield. It was then that Draco began to put two and two together – the clashing magic belonged to Ginny and the manor. She had managed to shield him somehow, though by rights her magic shouldn’t have protected him from the manor’s attack. But then, she also managed to apparate to people rather than places, so who was he to judge?
And the manor placed the cost of desecration on her instead of him.
Draco leapt to his feet. He wasn’t going to stand for that, not now. He had started this battle, and – for once – he would finish it. Moreover, she didn’t have the slightest clue what she was doing – the kind of twisted logic the dark magic worked upon the manor she faced. To be fair, he didn’t exactly know what he was doing either, but he at least knew the manor, how it would react. But all of that nonsense was beside the point. She was going to get herself killed, and damn it, that was not what he was over here dying for.
Draco smirked. Cheeky bint couldn’t even let him die properly.
A thought – mad, impertinent, and utterly unconventional – flitted through his mind. The manor should not have had a problem shredding the magic of her shield. It was ancient and powerful, like that of a younger Stonehenge or Avalon. That it had not suggested two things: it was still bound to the Malfoy and her magic was somehow entwined with his. And if her magic was wound so tightly with his that the manor had considered her a Malfoy… why couldn’t he draw from her magic like he drew from the manor?
Draco quickly found that it wasn’t quite the same – where he could unwind the magic from the manor and use it to replenish his, Ginny’s magic staunchly refused to be unwound. It hissed and yowled menacingly when he attempted to incorporate it the same way he had the manor’s. Draco quickly drew the conclusion that it was a necessary distinction – if he could utilize her essence the way he had the manor, it would be akin to draining her magic from her. Betrayal and blasphemy in one fell swoop.
He prodded the shield a bit more forcefully. He had to do something before the manor struck. He couldn’t just leave her. He poked the streamers shielding him defiantly.
“Help her, not me,” he harangued it.
The shield twitched, and Draco understood.
A wave of his arm transformed the golden shell into quivers upon quivers of arrows, and a jerk of his head sent them flying relentlessly into the heart of the manor’s remaining wards.
The arrows, though they couldn’t actually take the wards down, had the desired effect. The manor once again turned its attentions to him.
Ginny threw another shimmering shield around Draco, and once the Manor’s rebuttal showered off her shield, he gathered her magic to him. He thought for a moment, then smiled as he sent a golden firestorm towards the manor.
Charlie Weasley rubbed his eyes, blinked twice, and then pressed his fists roughly into his eyes again. Maybe it was the explosions of magic that were making him see things.
“Say Remus, can you tell me what Ginny’s looking like out there?”
Remus looked at Charlie. He had assumed that it was the angle he was standing at and the speed Ginny must have been hurling curses at that made her arms appear so unnatural. It was as if there were too many of them.
“I would say she’s holding her own,” Remus replied carefully.
It was truthful too; Ginny hurled her magic quickly in what seemed multiple directions at once. A shield over Draco, a Reducto to the Manor, another enchantment over Draco, an extra burst of violence back to the manor, on and on in an endless loop. If she did not have her way in the end, Remus was going to be mightily surprised.
“I can see that. What I’m trying to ask is: why does she have too many arms?”
“Ah. I see,” Remus stalled. He was well versed in dealing with Weasleys, but Molly had told him on numerous occasions how Charlie’s nickname had once been “Stormy Charlie” because he had a talent in his youth for making thunderclouds look welcoming. He was doing a marvelous impersonation of a storm head now, actually. “I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the angle? She is having to cast rather quickly.”
It might have been a plausible explanation, had Draco, who was dead ahead, had not had the same appearance as Ginny.
Hermione laughed. Charlie looked at her reproachfully.
“I told you so.”
It took a moment for her words to dawn, but when they did, Charlie’s eyebrows slammed together in a manner that put Hermione in mind of a thunderclap.
Ginny chanced a glance at Draco before casting yet another spell towards the manor. She had not the foggiest idea how they were managing to do what they were doing, nor how they had reconciled their actions so acutely with one another. But they had, and somehow, against all theory she’d ever studied in her entire life, they were drawing power from each other and the manor both. Soon it would be over, and all they had to do until then was manage not to get themselves killed.
Draco had figured the give and take of their magic first, and when he transformed her shield into spells she hadn’t quite known what to think. It felt funny. As if they had a direct link to one another, and she supposed, as she hurled yet another blasting curse towards the heart of the wards, that through the magic, they were linked. She could feel his movements, knew his actions before she saw him enact them, all through the magic.
If she had the time, she would have been worried. The only other person who had been able to use her magic had been Tom, but that was different – felt different, even – it hurt when Tom had used her. With Draco though, her magic felt boundless, and it bubbled readily within her, eager to do their bidding. She could feel the same eagerness from his magic, though it felt tired and heavy compared to hers.
At last, Draco managed to gather the few remaining wards. He held the reins of the house in his hands, and the manor bucked and jerked furiously against his hold. He pulled them to his breast anyway, and when at last he was sure he could move without upsetting the balance, his magic reached to reattach them to the grounds. From the manor, the center of the estate, to the edges of Malfoy land in each cardinal direction, Draco carefully spun his magic down the length of the wrenching wards and tied them to the boundaries. Once the foundation had been relaid, Draco took a deep breath and let go. The world condensed to a pinpoint as the manor strained against the new tethers.
Bill prayed to every deity he could name that the new wards would hold. If the magic managed to rip free, Draco – and now Ginny – would be killed in the backlash. If they were lucky. If they were unlucky, they would face a much more gruesome death at the whim of the magic no longer controlled by the wards. Severus had stopped breathing; he gripped the top of the bunker-wall tightly. Hermione, Charlie, and Remus stood transfixed as the Manor and the Malfoy land drew into itself, shrinking into the distance.
Then, rubber band like, it snapped back to its correct dimensions in one last bid for freedom against the restraint of the wards.
Bill sat down heavily. Hermione, Charlie, and Remus managed to take their eyes off the manor to exchange bewildered looks. Severus exhaled.
The manor trembled, and Ginny, unable to stand its distress any longer, sent streamers of her own magic toward the house while Draco continued to rebuild the wards. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so bold, laying wards was a tremulous time in any circumstances – Bill certainly would have objected, but the Manor seemed to soak in the gentle radiations she sent towards it.
When she closed her eyes, searching to find the magic she had sent to comfort to distressed land, she was surprised to find it flowing easily between the manor, Draco, and herself. When she pushed deeper, she could feel Draco’s magic and the manor’s own brand of magic circulating in her too. And Ginny’s heart released itself from the knot it had snarled into as she leapt over the wall of the bunker.