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Chapter 7 : Biscuits, Bacons and Black-Haired Man
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Heart hammering savagely against her ribs, Ginny sprang upright. Clutching the sheets beneath her and breathing raggedly with eyes wide open, she scanned the bedchamber anxiously, ignoring the cold sweat trickling down her forehead as she searched for any sign of danger. Remnants of her nightmare gnawed at her, trying to claw their way into her conscious mind and terrorize her wakeful self as well. She could still hear his insane voice, maddening her with the sound of her own name reverberating through her mind, threatening to burst out of her skull and unleash its' malice fully. "Ginevra…"
She stared at the windows, an almost full moon glowing peacefully through the transparent pane, bathing the desk beneath the window in silver luminance. Glancing at the grandfather clock that informed her it was about three o'clock, she grimaced in exasperation and took deep, soothing breaths in an attempt to calm herself. Soon her heart returned to its' natural pace and her breathing slowed. Just another nightmare, she thought to herself grimly. Another. . .
Ginny closed her eyes, murmured something under her breath and slowly climbed out of bed. The white sheets did not seem comfortable and the thought of trying to fall asleep again was not a welcomed one. Dragging the burgundy coverlet from the bed, she wrapped it around herself, tightening it against the brisk chill in the air and headed out of the chamber. As she descended the stone staircase leading into the foyer, the walls radiated a bitter coldness that penetrated the velvet quilt around her, making her shiver slightly and quicken her pace into the living room.
Pausing at the threshold she was not surprised to see Draco still up as he turned and glanced at her from the armchair. Receiving nothing more than a quick appraisal of her improvised garment, Ginny waddled to the armchair beside his - now secretly considered as 'hers' - and slumped down, snuggling in front of the blazing fire. Reaching out her hands to the flames to warm up, she caught Draco's silent attention and was startled when he raised his voice slightly.
"Kibit!" The name reverberated through the cold stonewalls and a small house elf scurried into the room.
"Yes, Master Draco?"
"Bring Miss Weasley some blankets and a cup of tea. There was supposed to be some biscuits left after the dinner, bring those too," Draco drawled out absentmindedly, dismissing the elf with a wave of his hand.
Ginny gazed at him for a long time, her expression mildly surprised. "Thank you," she mumbled as he tore his eyes from the fireplace and glanced over.
He waved at her dismissively as well before turning back to the fire, as if she was but another house elf, and all Ginny’s warm gratitude dulled.
She rubbed her hands together to ward the cold, sinking deeper into her chair and stifled a yawn just as the small elf returned carrying two blankets twice his size. She relieved him of his burden and wrapped herself tightly with the soft warmth before plopping back into the chair, scanning the quilts' patterns of delicate dark blue roses strewn about. She watched as the elf wheeled a trolley in with two cups of tea and some biscuits, then placed everything carefully on the table between the two armchairs and left the room.
Picking up a cup of tea, Ginny laced her fingers around it and gazed into the fireplace, observing the rippling tongues that hissed and crackled with pleasure. Her eyes grew warm from the distant contact and she took a sip from her tea, without moving her gaze from the fire. Not for the first time she wondered what was in the hearth that kept Draco so captivated, so engulfed in the heated dance. Does he spend all his nights in here staring at the fire? Is this why he doesn't sleep?
"Why aren't you sleeping?"
His unexpected voice ripped through her musing and she turned to find Draco's gray eyes boring into hers, searching for something. The sudden question ambushed her and she found herself grappling for words, not quite wishing to tell him she was driven from her warm bed by a recurring nightmare.
But nothing came to mind and she resigned herself to the truth. "I had a nightmare."
The silver in his eyes darkened instantly. She noticed his jaw quirk imperceptibly and he looked into the fireplace once again, his icy gaze glinting warmly while the fire reflected in them. "Must have been some nightmare."
Ginny gazed at him, her eyes narrowed as she tried to untangle the mystery that he was. She could not figure Draco Malfoy out and that fact was starting to get on her nerves. He was so easy to read and understand in Hogwarts - smug, spoilt, cowardice brat whose rich father possessed just about everything and mostly anyone, and was the Dark Lord's closest supporter. It was so logical to believe that Draco was as evil and as heartless as his father, that he would follow Lucius' footsteps becoming a Death Eater, and therefore would eventually position himself beyond the red line that divided 'them' from 'the enemy'.
But not everything was meant to be simple or logical, Ginny thought to herself, continuing to look at him, wondering whether he noticed her stare and preferred to ignore it. As a matter of fact everything got very complicated when Ginny discovered Draco was the one responsible for her father's escape from the Death Eaters, that he has been spying for the past two years in his own fathers' circles for Dumbledore and was actually risking his own life for the sake of— Whom? Dumbledore? Muggles? Muggle-born wizards and witches? Why on earth would this spoilt brat risk his own life for the sake of anyone else?
Everything wasn't as simple as it was suppose to be. Suddenly Draco no longer was no longer securely placed behind the red enemy line and was now occupying a position among those he once spent endless time making fun of, protecting those he openly swore to despise. What logic or simplicity was there in such a thing?
And now, Ginny thought to herself, stifling another demanding yawn and sinking deeper into the soft fabric of the blankets. I'm living in Malfoy Manor and oddly enough, starting to consider Malfoy as— Her gaze wandered back to him, watching his pallid features glow in a subtle golden radiance. Allowing herself to smile, she shook her head and took a sip of her tea. Human.
"Stop gawking, Miss Weasley, it is most inappropriate," he drawled suddenly, his low voice seemed to jolt the room out of its stillness.
Narrowing her eyes into a brief glare, she turned to look into the fireplace. Smug bastard, she thought to herself, shaking her head with a small smile. Then, from the corner of her eye, she saw him finally place his full attention on her, so she glanced at him sideways.
"Yes?" he drawled when she remained silent.
Innocence marred her face like a mask. "What?"
"You were in deep contemplation of my person. I am interested in your conclusions. "
She smirked at him, taking a sip from her tea. "How dreadfully arrogant. You cannot possibly be certain of that. "
“Ah, but I am, look at that,” he countered, his voice mockingly playful. “Magic.”
Laughing, Ginny shook her head once again. “Whatever’s going on in my head, Malfoy, stays there.”
"Really? I believe I rather remember an awful blabbermouth back from Hogwarts days,” he jibed. “Gossipy little whelp too. No wonder you became a journalist, but I still cannot fathom how you manage to keep your stories secret before their publishing.”
“Har bloody har.” She scowled good naturedly in response. “I was not a gossip. I simply had an inquisitive mind.”
“I believe I once caught you hiding in the bushes on one of my rounds, eavesdropping. The image is so vivid because you had camouflage paint all over your face, Weasley.”
Ginny’s eyes widened with horror. She had forgotten all about that episode. There was a rumor back then that Cormac McLaggen was selling inebriating potions to the First Years and she was crazily adamant on unveiling his entire hideous operation. Of course in the end it turned out that his mother had secretly smuggled loads of extremely rare and delicious chocolate for him and he was trying to get rid of it before he lost his figure. The encounter with Malfoy was short and inconsequential, resulting in just a week of snide remarks that never left a lasting impression.
“I was doing research,” she finally defended herself feebly.
The expression on her face – the haughty tilt to her chin and the righteous pinch of her lips – was apparently enough to fracture his icy exterior as his lips quirked almost involuntarily into a full-blown grin. His chest quivered slightly as he repressed the feat of laughter that threatened to erupt from him and the silver in his eyes sparked with satisfaction that she had never seen in them.
Ginny scowled at his jubilant expression and drew the covers closer around herself.
He laughed harder. And as the atmosphere changed, Ginny noticed a subtle strangeness about it. I had never heard him laugh before. Cackle, snicker… evilly at that! She glanced at him in time to see him settle down. His features still contained that imperceptible fracture, so his appearance did not seem as icy and detached as before, but was composed enough for Draco to remain himself. He seemed calm and content in the orange blaze of the hearth in front of them, his eyes for the first time not glazing over as he watched the fire.
"Laughter suits you," she said suddenly, surprising not only him.
He raised a perfectly shaped brow at her, smirking in the process. "Weasley, are you going soft on me?"
"Shut up, Ferret," she huffed, throwing a biscuit at him. His former Seeker reflexes seemed to be as honed as ever, because he caught it effortlessly without tearing his eyes from her, which made her all the more miffed. "Ugh, you’re insufferable!"
Draco chuckled, and bit into the piece of bread. "Much better. Don’t think I could’ve endured it if you’d decide to adopt me as a stray pet."
She shot him a piercing glare over the rim of her teacup and leaned her head on the backrest. Stupid, arrogant, little bastard. All right, so perhaps not that little anymore. Or stupid for that matter. Or a bastard, if you wished to be technical. But still!
Soon her eyelids became heavy and her yawning more consistent. She finally gave in an hour later, bidding Draco goodnight before going back up to her bedchamber and falling onto her four-poster, fast asleep long before her head hit the pillow.
Ginny entered the 'Leaky Cauldron', a smile gracing her face as Hermione followed her out of the cold streets. Warmth shrouded them caringly, such a contrast to the spearing cold in the Diagon Alley. Taking in the sudden change in the air, they removed their gloves, greeting acquaintances on their way to a table. The pub was overfilled with loud yet jovial conversations as wizards and witches exchanged pleasantries over mugs of hot butterbeer, cold pumpkin juice or warm mead. Here and there, in more quiet areas, people sat around small tables consuming delicious everyday delicacies Tom - the owner of this establishment - was known for. It was at one of those small tables where Ginny and Hermione finally settled down after they managed to make their way through the packed inn.
Quickly enough Tom appeared by the side of their table, giving them a great toothless smile. "Hi there, girls! My, how you have grown! It seems like only this morning you've passed through this place on your way to buy Hogwarts supplies… and now look at you!" he exclaimed delightedly motioning with both of his hands at Hermione's round stomach that was very visible now that she discarded her cloak.
"What did you expect, Tom? Can’t stay in Hogwarts forever," commented Ginny, removing her cloak as well while Hermione laughed.
"Oh no, no," he dismissed the notion with a wave of his hands. "It's just good to see you well and–" His eyes wandered to Hermione's belly once more and he gave out a bark of laughter. "—and growing! Ha! Okay, let’s see - double bacon sandwich, scrambled eggs with tomatoes and pastrami and couple of butterbeers, am I right?"
Hermione nodded her head, smiling widely at the pleasant taverner.
Tom laughed, tapping a finger on his forehead. "Never forget an order, I tell ya. Okay, then. Coming right up!" He gave them both a wink and disappeared back into the crowds on his way to the kitchen behind the counter.
Ginny smiled at Hermione, shaking her head slightly. "He hasn't changed one bit."
"No, he hasn't," Hermione agreed, scanning the people around them.
Ginny glanced at her best friend and saw concern edging her soulful brown eyes that were deliberately scanning the room so she wouldn't have to meet Ginny's questioning stare. Ginny was glad she'd accepted Hermione's lunch invitation this day; it had been too long since she'd seen her and she missed her friend terribly.
This morning Ginny awoken considerably early to find Pig, her brother's hyperactive owl, knocking on her window. After finally being able to untie a small roll of parchment from his little twitchy legs – a process which involved a Stupefy spell since she could not catch him otherwise – she revealed a note from Hermione, saying she would be in the Diagon Alley later on today and she wondered if it could be possible to meet up. Ginny replied immediately, agreeing with great pleasure.
After an uneventful breakfast, Ginny headed to the Diagon Alley and the Daily Prophet's offices, where she had to meet Tomas Brooks. Tomas acted odder than usual and was brief and brusque with his words, overpowered by the constant flow of endless papers he had to take care of himself, since his secretary had taken a sick day. All she managed to understand from his aggravated tone as he threw almost hostile looks at her was that she was rehired – but no reasoning for that was given – and that her next assignment would be an in-depth article about 'Malfoy Inc.'.
Her first day, thus far, was spent tying some loose ends remaining after she was fired – reorganizing her office, contacting her informants, checking the datebook she remembered leaving in the office only when her eyes happened upon it, and other small semi-important details. Her colleagues congratulated her on getting her job back, saying how much she had been missed, and how they were glad Brooks regained his senses before it was too late. Ginny accepted the compliments with a beaming smile, but was all too happy to break her way out of the building by lunch, to meet with her best friend.
And now sitting across her friend who was still consciously avoiding eye contact, Ginny knew there was something Hermione wanted to talk about and she feared she knew exactly what.
"Hermione, keep your eyes on one spot. You're starting to remind me of Mad-Eye Moody. "
Finally focusing her gaze on Ginny, Hermione gave a small smile. "How have you been?" she asked almost solemnly.
Ginny's eyes slipped to her hands and she spoke halfheartedly, starting to pick her nails. "I'm… all right, I guess."
"Gin, come on. I'm your best friend. 'All right, I guess' isn't a good enough answer," Hermione countered gently.
"But it is the only one I can give to this question. I truly am all right," said Ginny, smiling to Tom as he placed their order on the table in front of them.
"How are you handling Malfoy? He hasn't been totally unbearable I hope," she asked, picked up one of her bacon sandwiches.
"Oh, no." Ginny shook her head while picking up a fork. "He has been as bearable as he can be. And on some occasions his behavior could've even be considered cordial. "
Hermione's expression reflected her skepticism. "We are talking about Draco Malfoy, right? The blond conceited, spoilt, evil prat we attended Hogwarts with."
"Yes, we are," Ginny assured her, digging into her eggs.
"And Malfoy has been acting nice?" Hermione probed further with doubt clearly heard in her voice.
"Don't overstate it. He's been—" she paused, looking for the right word. " –civil, as hard as that might be to believe," she added quickly to her friend's sake.
"It is not hard to believe, Gin. It borders impossible," Hermione said, still quite shocked by the revelation.
"Don't exaggerate it, Hermione! It is not impossible for Malfoy to be— well, human," said Ginny in response, surprising herself by defending Draco. "He did fight on our side in the war." She ignored the sudden sharp looks she received from the diners beside them at the mention of war. "And he did save my Dad."
Hermione looked startled when she realized Ginny's stance. For a moment she looked unsettled, but then quickly regained herself, as she always did so well.
"Yes, I suppose you're right. I just wouldn't trust him completely if I were you. You just… never know."
"That's okay, I won't." Ginny smiled at Hermione, who hesitantly returned her own smile. Of course if Ginny had taken a moment to ponder this statement, she would've discovered that it wasn't as truthful as it sounded. "So how are you? How's the baby?"
"Oh, don't ask!" Hermione exclaimed, pausing to order another double sandwich after finishing the previous. "It doesn't seem like it’s planning on coming out any time soon! And I don't think I'll be able to carry these extra pounds for much longer. My back is killing me, my ankles are swollen and I can't stop eating! Of course the eating part pleases Mrs. Weasley to no end, and Ron is very generous with the massages. "-
Ginny snorted out a short laugh as Hermione wriggled her eyebrows suggestively. -
"I should consider charging rent. Per hour!"
Ginny laughed out loud as another plate was placed in front of Hermione and she picked up the sandwich.
"Yes, Ginny. Laugh at the poor fat incubator. We’ll see how you cope—" She paused abruptly, stopping herself before she could say something else she intended to say.
The two friends spoke enthusiastically as they finished their meals, laughing heartily through the conversation and conveniently avoiding any subject that was linked to Ginny's situation with Harry.
Finally, when they settled down after another uncontrollable feat of giggles, Hermione heaved a sigh. "Anyway, we finally received an owl from Bill and he said he and the family will visit this weekend. The twins also said something about stopping by and your Mum obviously decided to blow the whole thing out of proportion. So,” she breathed heavily, her face etched with subtle lines of despair. “I hereby invite you to the Weasley Family Epic Reunion this weekend. And by epic, I mean colossal. The owls had infested the Burrow from all over the country and the world, and I do believe I had seen one from Aunt Muriel also.” Hermione was referring to the one-hundred-and-forty-five-year-old aunt who had lived most of Ginny’s life in seclusion and rarely accepted an invitation. This meant Mrs. Weasley was talking business.
«I’ll be there," Ginny assured her without a second thought, before a notion bright her up short. "Oh, umm—"
"Harry is not invited," Hermione provided abruptly.
Ginny glanced up from her plate immediately to find a pair of chocolate eyes boring into her. Hermione's expression was unreadable, a fact that unsettled Ginny a bit and made her stomach clench strangely. She held Hermione's stare without flinching, waiting for her to blink first or avert her concentration. Her best friend was dear to her heart, but she had never allowed herself to cave under anyone's stare. Finally Hermione blinked, loosening the intensity of the moment as she rubbed her face tiredly. She let her hands drop onto the table and looked at Ginny, her eyes reflecting concern, exhaustion and a pinch of frustration.
"I spoke to Harry yesterday," she stated frankly. "He's been slacking off on the job, unable to concentrate or do anything for matter. He hasn't slept for the past four days and was on a brink of tears when I saw him. He misses you, wants you back—"
"Hermione, don't," Ginny said suddenly, holding up her hand. "Don't try. Don't— just don't. "
"I don't want to know, Hermione," she cut her off, a bit louder than she intended. Ginny tore her gaze from her best friend and looked down to her hands. "I kept my distance from him, so I could think. But every time I try to think about the situation, my mind refuses, focusing my attention on something else." Ginny sighed, scratching her forehead. "A part of my brain says I should return home and forget it ever happened." She paused, seeing something flash through Hermione's eyes, but gave it no meaning. "And the other part… makes me want to run away and hide from him."
"You're confused," Hermione stated meaninglessly.
"Yes, I am," agreed Ginny. "In a way. But one thing remains even when I think I begin to see things clearly." Her voice drifted off as she heaved up a sleeve of her shirt, revealing four morbidly delicate bracelets gleaming in a vague violet hue around her arm.
Hermione fell silent, her eyes scanning the still-purple bruises tentatively, as if afraid of causing Ginny pain with her stare. It was undeniable – the mauve marks, though softer than before, were still clearly visible to her. Finally looking away as the sight became somewhat unbearable, she gulped hard and her face paled to a sickly ashen shade.
Ginny glanced at her and returned her eyes to the sleeve, heaving it back down. "Are you okay?" she asked hopefully, praying Hermione would snap out of it.
"What? Oh, yes, yes, of course I am. It's just—" Her gaze drifted away and for a moment became glazed as horrid images played in her mind.
Ginny closed her eyes, sighing tenderly and slightly shaking her head. When the lunch was over and they parted, she couldn’t help but be haunted by the notion that Hermione wished to deny everything, wished that things were as simply and good as they had been before. Ginny shouldn’t have shown her the bruises. It upset her too much. Perhaps it was better not to confide in Hermione about this anymore. Ginny could never forgive herself if the stress somehow caused problems with the delicate physical state the other witch was concerning the baby.
Ginny rubbed her eyes tiredly, releasing a yawn that had threatened to overpower her for nearly an hour. Stretching to free the cricks in her neck, she yawned once again. Collecting various papers from all over her desk and placing them neatly in a blue paper-folder she slowly stood up, shaking her numb legs and picked up the folder. Grabbing her cloak from her chair and turning off the lights in her office, she made her way out. Pausing at the door with the metallic sign "Tomas Brooks; Editor" she turned the knob and opened the door to discover an empty office. Walking into the shadowy room, she noticed the open windows allowed enough white light to filter through for her to see the desk. Placing the blue folder on the desk on top of other similar folders Ginny took a moment to pull on her cloak.
She had stayed late today and managed to finish the article she had intended to submit before she left. With the article now securely tucked in the folder on Brooks' table, she smiled. At this moment, if only for this moment, everything was right and in its place. She never noticed how much this job meant to her until it was taken away. The sight of a completed story quenched a strange sense of thirst she hadn't felt anywhere else. The smell of dried ink on yellowing parchment made her giddy with excitement and the empty office this late in the evening was a simple and quiet haven.
Raking her hands through her fiery hair she stepped out of the office closing the door behind her and smiling warmly at the guard who stayed overnight. Humming a soft tune she opened the door to the chilly isolated streets of late night Diagon Alley and skipped down the first few stairs.
Stopping suddenly she felt as though her smile had been slapped from her face when her eyes landed on a raven-haired man standing at the bottom of the stairs, wand in hand and green eyes blazing with something that could be only described as malice.
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