Chapter 14 : A Blaise From The Past
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Disclaimer: Someday I shall rule the world… not today, though, I’m tired!
Author's Notes: Information regarding the actual Staphylococcus bacteria is taken from Yahoo!Education. Yay for online encyclopedias ^_^ The bacteria presented here is all fictional.
Thus far, no one seem to guess correctly who Harry is. This chapter should make it clearer.
Of course, if you want to be added to the mailing, don't forget to leave your email in the comment =D
Cakes and lounge couches to the wonderful Jen for her help.
Ever since Ginny Weasley could remember, she always had her older brother, Ron, by her side. He was the one to retrieve her when she wandered off to follow a tiny yellow kitty in the middle of Diagon Alley’s Christmas hysteria, before her Mother could notice that she was gone and punish her into the next millennia. He was also the one to pound that Muggle boy into the ground when the git pushed her off a swing during one of their visits to Ottery St. Catchpole’s marketplace. Of course, he was also the one who got overly protective and insufferably overbearing when Ginny was old enough to be interested in boys, and took it upon himself to personally interrogate each and every bloke that ever showed any signs of interest in her - “talking the fear of older brothers into them”, as he often referred to his chats with them.
But he was always there and he was always strong and always knew what to do. And if he didn’t, he could always pretend well enough so she’d feel calm and know that nothing bad could happen to her on the dark and bustling streets as long as he was there, crushing her small hand within his own with reassuring strength.
That is why when Ron was escorted by two bulky Medi-Wizards out of Hermione’s room at St. Mungo’s Hospital, she felt her stomach lurch painfully. He was screaming and thrashing, trying to get free from the Medi-Wizards’ vice grip. His face flashing furious red, not only from the indignation, but also from the obvious streaks of helpless tears running down his face. He was outnumbered, though, and they easily discarded him in the middle of the hallway in front of over half a dozen relatives. He spun around in righteous outrage, willing to continue his battle against them, but at that exact moment a slamming door greeted him. Ron immediately launched at the door, kicking and pounding, shouting and demanding to be let back in.
Ginny was the first one by his side; unintentionally avoiding the comforting hug Aunt Eloise was about to offer her a moment earlier. She reached his side, one hand instinctively resting on his arm in a practiced attempt to restrain him. “Ron! Ron, what's wrong? Why did they shut you out? Ron, stop pounding the door for Merlin’s sake, and just tell me what’s wrong! What happened to Hermione?”
When he seemed to pay her no attention, Ginny grabbed a fistful of his robes and yanked him away from the door, forcing him to face her. “Ron, what is wrong?”
“I don’t know!” he burst at last, punching the door with his free hand. “I don’t know, they won’t tell me! All I saw was blood. There was not supposed to be so much blood and she passed out. She passed out, Gin! She wasn't suppose to pass out! Something’s wrong! And they won’t tell me what!” He uttered a primitive growl at the door, bringing his forehead to the door’s surface with a defeated thud. “They won’t tell me…”
Swallowing back the rising lump in her throat, Ginny tightened her grip on her brother’s arm and gently guided him to the nearest seat. “It is all right, Ron. Everything is going to be just fine. Healer Kurren is the best Delivery Witch in the hospital and she knows what she’s doing, really. They will fix everything, I promise you.”
For a moment Ginny admonished how calm and reassuring her voice was, when her own stomach had wrenched painfully at the sound of his words. But she couldn’t afford herself to waver or to sound unsure, because her brother’s mental stability - not to mention the hospital doors - depended on that.
Ron nodded slowly, suddenly feeling exhausted and drained. “I know, I just want--”
“I know. And you will see her. And she will be fine. As will the baby…”
He nodded again, forcing himself to believe the comforting words. Raking trembling fingers over his face, he swiped away the beads of cold sweat and rested his hand over his mouth. But something snapped inside and a ragged intake of air turned into a sob, which he tried to smother by biting his fist. The shudder in his shoulders indicated that he could not hold it in for much longer and Ginny’s eyes grew slightly in alarm, realizing he was about to cry.
Snapping her eyes away, she searched the gathered crowd for one of her other brothers, unable to let him crumble in front of everyone. Finally spotting George in the corner, she motioned to him franticly with her hand, hurrying him over. “George! George, George, George! Take him out. He needs some fresh air, now!”
George, instantly took in Ron’s disheveled appearance, threw Ginny a curt nod, and quickly led Ron out of the hallway, away from the uncomfortable gaze of other Weasley members.
Ginny drew a shaky breath. Her hands raked her hair, and she threw a wary glance at the closed door in front of her. From what Ron was able to recap, things weren’t as planned in there and everything was going dismally wrong.
Despite Ginny’s encouraging words, she couldn’t help but recall the expression on Healer Kurren’s face when she first greeted the frantic family several hours ago. She seemed to pause momentarily at the sight of all the blood seeping through the fabric of Hermione’s skirt, before swiftly regaining her composure and shouting instructions to the flabbergasted Medi-Witches.
Ginny was no expert in pregnancy issues, but she was pretty sure that there was never suppose to be so much blood, nor the levels of pain Hermione appeared to be enduring. And by the almost stunned expression on Healer Kurren’s face, she was probably right.
Stifling a frustrated groan, Ginny cradled her head in her hands, taking deep shuddering breaths. This evening has gone from pleasant to dire in a matter of hours - one moment everything is perfectly fine and the next, her surroundings were crumbling apart and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. Well, she was beginning to despise the constant vicissitudes of her life.
It seemed she wasn’t the only one who had been taking the situation close to heart, and all the abrupt changes in her family’s mannerism was enough to further unsettle her. Her parents seemed to have switch roles and while Molly was pacing the halls agitatedly, Arthur was sitting rigidly in one of the hospital seats down the row, twisting a tattered looking handkerchief in his hands. Aunt Eloise, who always used to huddle closer to Uncle Henry in stressful situations, now stood away from the awkwardly shifting wizard, hands shoved deep in the pockets of her cloak and her eyes burning holes in the locked door. Bill, who was usually the one to joke about and try to lighten a tense atmosphere, was now leaning again the opposite wall, arms folded across his chest and face drawn into a grim expression. George was disturbingly quiet and willing to cooperate and Ron was too close to breaking down mere minutes ago.
To her utter surprise, the only steady thing this evening in her immediate surrounding had been the only person she never thought would get close to even being considered her immediate surroundings.
Draco had remained aloof and detached throughout the upsetting events, and for the first time since Ginny reencountered him, she was grateful for the fact that he couldn’t care less. His unchanging calm behavior and smooth expression were probably one of the main reasons she hadn’t broken down yet. Somewhat begrudgingly, Ginny had to admit she was unreservedly thankful for the fact that he didn’t leave after Hermione has been admitted, but instead stayed with the family, even if at some distance.
Ginny glanced up and noticed him leaning against the wall further down the hallway, hands casually resting in his trouser pockets and eyes drawn up to the bright light coming from the shining crystal bubbles, clusters of which were spread along the hallway’s ceiling. He seemed isolated and radiant under the callous white glow, and for a moment she lingered at the sight. She could feel something web slowly inside of her, cocooning at the pit of her stomach and resigning into an overdue hibernation.
Snapping out of her reverie, Ginny turned towards the door to see a female Healer closing it behind her, scanning the hallway for Ron. For a moment she appeared too young to be wearing the lime-green robes, she was at least a head shorter than Ginny and seemed small amidst the anxious redheads.
“He stepped out for a mi--”
“What is it? How is she? Can I see her?” A frantic Ron barreled past Ginny towards the olive-skinned Healer, hoping to get any scrapes of information regarding his wife.
“Mr. Weasley, calm down,” the Healer instructed firmly, her voice smothering any further implorations. “My name is Ahri Kurren and I’ve been assisting your wife. Now, why don’t you take a seat--“
“I don’t want to take a seat, I need to know what’s with Hermione!”
“--so I can explain to you what is happening to your wife,” Healer Kurren finished tightly, motioning to him at the nearest chairs.
She no longer seemed small and too young, Ginny mused to herself, standing up and walking over to the rest of present family members crowded around the Healer.
A flash of indignation passed Ron’s eyes and Ginny noticed him clenching his fists agitatedly, but he nodded curtly nonetheless and made his way over to the chair, taking a rigid seat and staring at her expectantly.
Healer Kurren seemed to take a moment to drag a deep breath before sitting down beside him and turning to face the whole family. “There have been some complications--“
Ginny felt her stomach sink and for a moment she wasn’t sure whether her legs would hold her up. Gripping onto Bill, who immediately braced a supporting arm around her, steadying her somewhat, she glanced down at Ron. All the scarlet hues of indignation and tears on his face faded instantly, being replaced by sick white pallor. His lips parted slightly, losing all color as well, and seemed to say something, but no a sound came out. A small terrified whimper escaped Molly’s mouth and she buried her face into Arthur’s chest, gripping onto her retrieved handkerchief.
“It appears to be that Mrs. Granger-Weasley had some complications with the Staphylococcus Magi Navitas bacteria,” Healer Kurren continued though the reactions. “This bacteria is usually harmless and resides in the stomachs of every witch or wizard. It feeds off our magical energy and remains mostly in slumber, causing no damage to our bodies.”
“What--what does that has to do with Hermione?” Ron’s voice was shaky and rasping, and he appeared extremely haggard with his pale skin and dark smudges under his eyes.
“I say usually, because in some cases, very atypical cases, the bacteria migrates to the impregnated uterus to feed off the fetus’ magical energy. The pregnancy goes as usual, as neither the mother nor the Healers are able to detect Staphylococcus Magi Navitas once it has settled inside the uterus.” Healer Kurren paused, glancing at Ron with guarded expression. “Until the waters break, that is, because then the bacteria, sensing the fetus’ departure, begins attacking the sack in order to keep latching on its energy.”
Ron drew a shuddering breath, gripping onto the chair’s armrest for some balance. “So that's what’s happening to Hermione and the baby? They’re being attacked by some parasite? Well, why can’t you kill it? What--what’s stopping you from just charming the thing off?”
Ron was becoming desperate. Ginny could see the hopelessness etching on his face, his knuckles snow-white from the exertion of gripping the armchair beside him, his red eyes unfocussed and glacial, and his speech just barely over a tired frantic whisper.
The Healer exhaled sharply, apparently awaiting this exact respond. “Because the cluster--“
“Cluster?” Bill echoes silently, his brows furrowing in hazy confusion.
“Yes, the parasitic cells typically occur in irregular clusters on the uterus’ sides. Unfortunately, it appears in this case the clusters have nestled on the sack itself and it is impossible to remove it without causing any harm to the child.”
Ron bit his lip violently at the sound of his mother’s renewed tears.
“Why haven’t the Healers inspected her for this Staffi-whatever before? If this is such a serious condition, they should’ve--“
“The last case of Staphylococcus Magi Navitas migration was documented back in the Middle Ages,” Healer Kurren reasoned, her voice reflecting her own distress. “It was assumed to be caused by continuous use of unclean drinking water, and deemed impossible to happen in the Modern days.”
“Obviously not so impossible,” George grumbled.
“All right!” Ron cut the nonessential talk and turned to face the Healer again. “What can be done?”
Healer Kurren looked back at Ron evenly, clenching her jaws, and Ginny knew she could reply ‘I don’t know’ and it wouldn’t have been that far from the truth.
“There are… two possible options,” Kurren said instead, visibly bracing herself. “The first one is to wait until the bacteria dries out without the amniotic fluid, as it surely will. We could minimize the blood loss and provide your wife with the necessary Painless Draughts, but…” she took a deep breath, shaking her head. “Mr. Weasley, your wife already has lost too much blood while we were trying to understand what exactly was wrong with her. The bacteria feeds off the her energy and I’m afraid she might be overly exhausted and unable to deliver when the time comes.”
Ron nodded solemnly, bringing his hands together and beginning to wring them hopelessly. Everything was tumbling from bad to worse and Ginny could see that he wouldn’t handle it much longer.
“What’s the other option?”
“The other option,” Kurren inhaled deeply again, her face showing that the second option wasn’t any better and in fact was more dubious. “The other option is a part of the complementary medicine one of St. Mungo’s Healers has been working on. It is yet to be tested on wizards and is highly unorthodox, but…” the Healer’s voice trailed off, a shaky hand swiping away beads of sweat on her forehead. “But the risks are somewhat lower.”
“Complimentary medicine? Wait. Wasn’t it complimentary medicine when they tried to stitch Dad up like a stuffed turkey?” George asked incredulously.
“What? What good can stitching the poor girl up would do?” Molly bristled, more tears brimming her splotchy eyes.
“No.” Healer Kurren exhaled unevenly, her breath resembling an odd puff of laughter. “Not exactly stitching her up. See, complimentary medicine means using Muggle treatments along with ours to reach the best possible outcome. In this case, we are talking about the Caesarean Operation.”
Aunt Eloise was the first the break the fallen silence. “You mean 'C' section? Where they cut the woman open to get the baby out?”
“Cut her open?” All Weasleys, except the startled Aunt Eloise, bellowed simultaneously.
Healer Kurren visibly cringed at the sound of redheaded chorus. “I can assure you the procedure is quite harmless and well monitored. Muggles have been doing it successfully for decades, and with simple spells, we can make it painless and quick, and minimize any possible scars.”
All eyes were drawn to Ron, who was staring at the floor, meshing and twisting his fists anxiously. They understood that the decision was solely his, so all kept their mostly outraged opinions to themselves. Ginny herself couldn’t bring herself to even form an opinion on the matter and instead clung closer to Bill, who was breathing raggedly and almost shaking.
“What is the downside of this marvelous method?” Ron questioned quietly in a bitter tone.
“Unfortunately,” the Healer exhaled softly. “I’m afraid Healer Pye, the resident Muggle Healer, is away from the hospital on family holiday and I will have to be the one performing it. Of course, once again, there is absolutely nothing to worry about, as at any moment of the procedure we will be able to pull back and heal everything instantly,” she assured them, her eyes sympathizing. “The decision is yours and if you prefer to wait, that is what we shall do.”
Ginny watched Ron closely, seeing the slumped posture, the fidgeting hands and the morbid air about him. He never was the optimistic one and she could just see the dismal pictures of pain and gore running through his disheartened mind. Disentangling herself from Bill’s protective grip, Ginny kneeled in front of him and took his restless hands within her own, looking up into the hidden brimming eyes.
“Ron?” she whispered to him softly, calling him out of the hopeless pit he plunged himself into. “Ron, listen to me. Snap out of your black visions and listen to Healer Kurren. Everything is going to be all right, you hear me? Don’t you even dare thinking about something horrible, you understand? Ron?”
“I can’t lose her, Gin,” came the barely audible whisper that no one beside her heard.
Squeezing his hands reassuringly, she watched him glance up and nod at the Healer, giving his consent for the Muggle procedure. Returning the curt nod, Healer Kurren left the huddled family to prepare for the operation.
Amidst the reassuring pats on the back and the kind words of encouragement that filled the family circle as the decision was made, no one noticed Draco Malfoy talking to the Healer and then slipping out of the hallway.
The words seemed odd and out of place to her. Ginny never thought there would ever be a day when she’d be sitting at a table across from Draco Malfoy and thanking him from the bottom of her heart. But here she was, at a small table in the visitors’ Tea Room on the fifth floor of St. Mungo’s Hospital, and there he was, as composed and as untouchable as ever, surprise leaving his delicate teacup frozen just in front of his lips. Apparently he wasn’t expecting her to say that.
But what else was she suppose to say to him after he somehow managed to make sure Healer Pye would arrive just in time for Hermione’s operation. Of course, he didn’t take the credit for this miraculous arrival and neither did Healer Pye mention anything regarding the reason for his unexpected appearance. But who else would have the power and the audacity to cut a man’s family vacation short and bring him to the hospital in matter of mere hours, if not a Malfoy?
So she followed him when he left the Weasleys, bidding his farewells while thanking Molly for her generous invitation and wishing Ron all the joys of fatherhood with a rather undecided expression, before making his way to the elevators down the hallway. She made it just before the elevator doors slid closed, which earned her an odd glance from the corner of Draco’s eyes. She said nothing, feeling uncomfortable talking in an elevator, and remained silent when he pressed the button for the fifth floor - the Tea Room.
And now they were sitting in complete silence, awkwardness heavily shrouding their table, and to her utter horror she found herself staring at his face. It seemed too pale and too perfectly shaped to be human. But his mouth was just a tad too wide for his face and there was a deeply shorn line leading from one of his nostrils to the left side of his mouth, perpetuated by years of mirthless sneers, and those prevented him from looking like an impossibly statuesque being.
“What ever for?” he asked uninterestedly, finally finishing his paused sip.
Ginny frowned. Could it be that she was wrong and it really wasn’t him who got the Healer to come to the Hospital? Could it just be a coincidence that Draco slipped away and came back just a little before Healer Pye arrived?
“The Healer, Augustus Pye, I thought it was your doing.”
He arched single brow, conveying surprise. “Why on earth would you think so, Weasley?”
“Really, why would I?” Ginny frowned again, looking into her teacup in mild disappointment. She'd hoped.
Draco glanced down at her and picked up his teacup to hide the smirk tugging at the side of his lips, but the action drew Ginny’s attention up and she noticed the gesture, a smile growing on her lips.
“You did, didn’t you?”
“Please! Don’t even entertain such preposterous thoughts, Weasley,” he rolled his eyes in alleged irritation, but there was a subtle shift in his exterior.
She realized that he really did and the thought brought a wider smile onto her face. Shaking her head slightly, she took a sip of her tea. “Do you think you could stop calling me by my last name?”
Draco narrowed his eyes subtly, casting her a guarded glance. “I didn’t think you would appreciate me referring to you as ‘you’.”
“Why can’t you call me Ginny?”
“Your first name? I don’t know. You might start thinking I’m actually interested in this acquaintance continuing.”
“Maybe,” he replied after a long pause.
“Well then, call me Ginny. Come now, try it out…”
He stared at her apprehensively and opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out of it. He closed it, looking away for a moment and when he turned back to face her, the trademark smirk was crowning his features. “I can’t bring myself to say it, I fear my tongue will fall off.”
Ginny threw him a reprimanding glare. “Infantile.”
“At your service…”
“Oh, original!” She rolled her eyes.
“Ironic.” She smirked noting the already fading neon red atop of his head.
“This’ll fade,” he countered evenly.
She smiled at him impishly, stifling a cackle. “Or so you think.”
That seemed to phase through his façade as he froze, staring at her through bleakly horrified eyes. Quickly grasping a loose lock, he noted the fading color with a sigh of relief and shot her a venomous glare. “Brat.”
Ginny couldn’t help the burst of laughter at the visible cringe he didn’t bother to hide and the precious memories of Draco Malfoy’s short-lived appearance as the Amazing Bouncing Ferret in her third year.
Which earned her a halfhearted scoff and an absent headshake. “And she calls me infantile… do you know how uncomfortable it is to be hexed into an animal and back? Very.”
“Thank Merlin I’ll never have the pleasure,” she managed to utter midst the giggling.
He rolled his eyes impatiently and said nothing else, staring out of the window and waiting for her to calm down. When she finally did, she didn’t open her mouth to say anything and didn’t press the name issue, so they lapsed into an odd kind of contented silence for a while.
“Thank you.” Ginny broke the quiet, her eyes fixated on a distant storm cloud and her face rather solemn. “Not just for Healer Pye, but--” She lingered, drawing a shaky breath. “--for everything.”
She didn’t know what exactly made her open her mouth at this ungodly hour of the night, when the only sound in the deserted Tea Room was the persistent pounding of the rain against the windowpane and her conversant was an old school nemesis. But at the moment she was caught up in the still grayness of the image they found themselves in and she allowed herself to speak freely, without fearing scathing uncalled for retorts. Though the images of their previous fight were still fresh in her mind and she didn’t know whether to be angry or ashamed or reprimanded, and despite the occasional snide remark and the cold demeanor, Ginny realized she was thankful for him.
He tore his gaze from the dismal picture of raining London and looked at her for a long while before nodding once and picking up his teacup again. “Did you think what you’re going to do now?”
Ginny was amazed at how calm and level he sounded, as if he had every possible right to be prying into her personal affairs and there was absolutely nothing wrong or odd about that. An exasperated sigh escaped her lips and for a moment she thought she might snap. But she tightened the grip around her teacup and looked outside of the window again, bitterly admitting to herself that somehow Draco attained the right to question her about this particular situation. Still, she thought to herself, scanning the London peaks showered with heavy silver raindrops, he doesn’t have to seem so nonchalant about it.
“Why do you care?” The words were small and almost inaudible, but had to be said. She fully expected him to ignore her question or respond simply that he really didn’t, but she just had to utter the fluttering thought before it gnawed its way through her mind.
A short exhaled frittered passed his lips as he leaned against the backrest of his chair and dropped his gaze onto the cooling auburn liquid in his cup. “Care is too strong of a word,” he finally said, tilting his head slightly to the side. “I am… inquisitive.”
“Intrusive more like it,” she quipped with a cocked brow, sipping her tea. “Runs in the family, apparently.”
“Do not judge the Malfoys by my father,” he snapped briskly, fixing her with a glare.
Ginny blinked in alarm and confusion, staring at Draco with slightly wide eyes. “I meant your Grandfather, actually. Real busybody that one.”
Her words seem to surprise him and she saw his ice crack slightly as he looked away, for the first time unable to find the right thing to say.
Watching Draco, Ginny was startled when she recognized the faint signs of Malfoy embarrassment - his posture ever so straighter, his jaws set in a defiant angle and the barely evident frown line between his light brows. And she wasn’t startled by the fact that he was self-conscious about the misinterpretation, but by the fact that she actually recognized the fine inconspicuous signs.
Perplexed, Ginny realized that despite her remarks about the Malfoy lineage, which flashed through her mind out of force of a habit, she no longer considered the wholesome of the family as undiluted evil. She tried remembering when and how exactly the revelation and the shift in her beliefs took place, but was unable. It also occurred to her that Draco no longer was the infamous Slytherin Nemesis, who had to be hated in the brief and random encounters in Hogwarts hallways.
She snorted a laugh at that, her eyes drawing automatically to see if Draco had heard her. He did and his response was the delicate inquiring arch of his brow.
“I just thought,” Ginny began, wondering if he could see the humor in the situation as well. “I just realized that you are not 'The Enemy' anymore.”
“Took you this long? A bit on the slow side, are we?” Draco smirked, the tension in his shoulders easing up ever so slightly as he found her sudden insight amusing.
“No,” Ginny scowled at him lightheartedly. “I just tried to redefine you. I mean, if you’re not 'The Enemy', then what are you? A neutral human being I used to dislike? A recurring guest star in the story of my life? An UWO - unidentified wizarding object? A friend, perhaps?” she paused at the word, narrowing her eyes suspiciously. “Are you a friend?”
He seemed immensely amused by her rambling and didn’t make a move to stop her. He watched with a smile though, but when the question was directed supplied only a one-shouldered shrug.
“Perhaps ‘friend’ is too strong of a word as well. You are… more of an acquaintance,” she finally decided.
Draco gave her a small lopsided smile, shaking his head tiredly. “An acquaintance that wants you to stop talking nonsense and answer his question,” he said suddenly, his sharp voice contradicting the entertained glint in his eyes.
“What question?” She feigned confusion.
“The one you’re so inanely avoiding,” he clarified over the rim of his teacup.
Ginny scoffed in immature indignation. “You’re too bossy to be an acquaintance…”
“And you’re too obvious to be attempting the subtle arts of forestalling,” he countered almost reassuringly.
“You’re too nosy not to care, too,” she grumbled in response.
He threw her an aggravated look, his lips pursed in annoyance and his eyes boring. “Fine, then. Don’t talk.”
For a moment he seemed almost sullen in his silence as he broke his stare from her and instead glared outside, aimlessly scanning the dark yet glimmering city. He was still a Malfoy; still the capricious, arrogant, infuriating man she loathed so many times when he spoke out of place. But she had come to understand that he was far better than the capricious, arrogant, infuriating boy she once hated, and that for some reason he wanted her to talk to him, to confide in him.
She couldn’t actually talk about the situation to anyone in the family for fear of making them dreadfully uncomfortably. They could never understand everything, in any case. On the other hand, Draco didn’t seem in the least unnerved by the subject and knew more about the situation than he probably should have. It was more than mildly bizarre to even be considering it, but she cleared her throat, gathering her thoughts, and opened her mouth.
“I have no idea,” came the short yet the true declaration. Glancing at him as he tore his eyes from the window and looked at her cautiously, she couldn’t help but question him, “How come it seems you do?”
She expected him to withdraw, as he always did when confronted with a question he didn’t care to answer. She expected him to scowl and glare at her suspiciously, making an excuse to leave immediately or act upon the Slytherin inbred paranoia and demand her to explain herself. She expected him to become bitingly frigid or coldly aloof, but she didn’t expect him to stare at her with an unfamiliar sense of bitterness in his eyes. She did not expect him to answer.
“I’ve seen what you’re going through before… in my mother.”
Ginny was caught off guard by the honesty in his reply, which made him smirk. She didn’t think he would actually speak about this to her, and though she knew about Lucius’ feats from Ora, it was shocking nonetheless to see him utter it.
“When she finally decided that she had enough,” Draco spoke again, preferring to look out of the window instead of her. “She made it all the way to the Foyer, before realizing he was the one who held all the funds, who chose her social circles and was in fact the only one she had. She also knew as much about taking care of herself then as she did when she still went to Hogwarts and her parents were in charge of her life.”
She stared at him in barely hidden disbelief, as he gazed at the gray dome over the murky city with astonishing impassiveness, the callous lighting striking him in a peculiar angle and giving him an edgy luminance. At that moment, when Ginny’s breath threatened to hitch, she thought that in a sickly perverse way he looked more human, almost reachable, in his pain.
“He gave her everything she ever asked for and it was always the best, and in return…” He paused for a moment, his mouth moving to say something, but not a sound leaving his lips. Picking up his teacup, he brought it to his lips, and upon noticing that it was empty, placed it down. “He crippled her.”
Ginny blanched at the sound of that word for some reason, a fierce tremor shooting down her spine. Her chest tightened and her hands begin to shake, forcing her to put down her own cup. Feeling sick, she ran a hand through her hair and murmured quietly, “So I’m crippled as well?”
Draco replied in silence, only breaking it with the sounds of his teacup scraping the saucer beneath it as he turned it this way and that. When he finally spoke, there was a trace of something unrecognizable in his voice.
“No,” he said. “You made it past the foyer.”
The front door of the Malfoy Manor slid compliantly into its rightful place, clicking softly as it latched into the lock, sealing the entrance shut. Draco removed his winter cloak in complete silence, deciding against waking the greeting elf to take it away, and made his way to the library, having no reservations whatsoever about waking his Grandfather at such an hour. He had to talk to someone and the occupant of the tyrant portrait in the library was the closest thing to confidant Draco had ever had.
He didn’t know what made him talk to Ginny back at the Hospital’s Tea Room. What made him tell her what only few others knew? It was just that at the time, sitting across from her and seeing her almost squirm with dread and uncertainty, he couldn’t find a reason not to tell her. There was a fleeting thought, at some point, that she would find out eventually anyway, so there was no harm in telling her straightforward.
Now, the more he dwelled on it, the more he couldn’t understand where the thought originated. It was almost as if he was somehow positive that she wasn’t going anywhere, that their questionable acquaintance was going to last well past her turmoil, past the article she was assigned to do on Malfoy Incorporated.
Draco couldn’t bring himself to hope. He barely allowed himself to admit he indeed wished to hope.
Drawing a deep wavering breath, Draco pinched the bridge of his nose and slid into the dark library. A wave of his wand supplied the needed illumination as he made his way through the maze-like bookshelves to the back of the vast chamber where the portrait of Sir Lynus Malfoy graced the wall near the northern windows.
The incessant buzzing just behind his eyes refused to fade away, forcing him to squeeze his eyes shut in hopes of subduing the pain. Hand brushing against the books on his way, he turned for the last time, finally arriving in the hidden alcove. The pain finally subsiding, Draco shrugged off the settling sense of unease and opened his eyes. Sir Lynus wasn’t in his painting, which of course was completely understandable, as no intelligent being would ever choose the drafty library as their retreat for the night, but that not to say that the alcove was deserted.
A shudder cascaded down Draco’s spine as he recognized the odd grin of the person that currently occupying his favorite armchair. The same beguilingly oblivious brown eyes graced with a twinkling lilt; the same wide slightly lopsided grin shining with the intensity of overly white teeth; the same burly build and the same dark toned skin supported the same immaculate posture; the same freshly pressed pristine robes of dark hues hid the hideous mark on his left forearm.
At the sight of Draco’s barely hidden astonishment, the uninvited guest shook his head and the same baritone laughter spilled out of his mouth.
“Blaise,” Draco’s voice finally broke through the silence, stating the obvious for unneeded confirmation. “You seem different from the last time I saw you. Perhaps because the last time I saw you, you were crying and begging for mercy when the Dementors came to drag you away to Azkaban.”
“That’s odd,” Blaise Zabini countered with a wide smile and the same nonchalant drawl as his conversant. “The last time I saw you, you were white as a ghost when I pointed someone’s wand at you, preparing to utter the Killing Curse.”
“You know you would have missed.”
“No.” Blaise laughed, pushing himself from the armchair with some difficulty, and faced Draco again. “I know you're sure as hell grateful that the court clerk didn’t.”
The bleak expression on Draco’s face finally broke into a grin, and he charged his old friend, embracing him in a tight hug. The baritone laughter rumbled against his chest again as Blaise grasped him tighter, hefting him off of the ground and into the air. Draco screamed, cussing under his breath, and demanded to be put down again.
Blaise Zabini hasn’t changed in the least for the past ten years, in which the majority of the wizarding community presumed him to be locked away in Azkaban along with the other Death Eaters. Of course, in regards to most of the Second War issues, the wizarding community was always led to presume incorrectly.
Because of the public Death Eater trials and some questionable issues regarding Zabini’s switch of sides at the end of the war, the Order was forced to let him be trialed and sentenced in the full severity of his accusations. Only a small group of Order members were aware that Blaise Zabini has never reached Azkaban prison, and that somehow in the midst of the after-War chaos in the Ministry someone had forgotten to report it. Blaise was provided with new documents that claimed him to be his own twin brother, Andrew, who'd been discovered as a Squib and sent off to live with their Grandparents in France years ago. Blaise’s wand had been broken after the trial and he has been prohibited to use any magic, forcing him to live among the Muggles. He was still entitled to the Zabini inheritance - whatever was left after the Ministry’s raid on every prominent Death Eaters’ house - but was nonetheless advised to leave the country so as not to raise too many unwanted questions.
The last time Draco had seen him was in a staged breakout attempt in front of the Wizengamot ten years ago. The last he heard of his ancient friend, he was residing in France and held a high position at some Muggle vehicle cartel.
“Zabini, let me down, you oaf! I can’t breathe!” Draco roared through the laughter and was finally granted his request when Blaise swayed slightly, having almost lost the balance at one point.
“Still as squeamish as I remember,” the black wizard commented, stumbling and collapsing back into the armchair.
Draco released a chuckle. Settling at the nearby window seat, he glanced at Blaise from the corner of his eye. Suddenly a sense of terrible dread overcame him at the sight of his oldest best friend. Draco only now noticed that he seemed awfully ill. His skin was clammy and a disturbing sheen of pallor engulfed him. Despite the ever-present grin, his eyes were sickly glazed and his fingers shook slightly in their clasped state on his lap.
Draco’s heart lurched again and dark thoughts recoiled within his mind. “Blaise, what are you doing here?” Those were the words that came out, but Draco knew that that wasn’t the actual question.
By the pained lopsided smile that Blaise offered him, it seemed that the other wizard understood it as well. Inhaling loudly, he swiped the sweat off his face with shaky hands and leaned his head onto the backrest. “Draco, my friend, when was the last time you saw your left forearm?”
Draco’s heart sank into the pit of his stomach and his already pale skin lost its last traces of color. The left forearm was the dwelling of the Dark Lord’s mark and all the switched Death Eaters were known to cast several charms on the entire arm to hide the gruesome engraving and immunize against the residual poisons. He hadn’t seen it in over a month.
Draco swallowed hard. “What about it?” he asked hollowly, staring at Blaise in a silent pray that his words wouldn’t be as horrifying as Draco’s thoughts.
Tilting his head to the side in what almost could’ve been considered an apology, Blaise heaved his sleeve over his forearm, revealing an over-inflamed silhouette of the dreaded mark. His arm, shaded in an ailing green tinge, trembled as he held it up to Draco’s inspection, and when he spoke after a stretched silence, Draco could hear through the casual drawl to the traces of unsolicited fear.
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