A/N – Well, I had some trouble getting this one decent — on top of no less than 5 projects and a sudden explosion of responsibilities from the extra-curricular department. It hasn’t been a fun couple of weeks. All I can say is thank the Lord for coffee. Lots and lots of coffee lol.
ANYWAY, I finally managed to salvage some time for me (thank a terrible snow storm and its day and a half holiday for that), during which I finally worked this troublesome sucker out, fine-tuned my outline, and now I’m ready to rock ‘n roll. Hopefully this’ll be worth the ridiculous wait.
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Chapter 18 – Naomi
Pierce leaned on his elbows, slouching over his desk and the pile of papers he really ought to be correcting right now. He stared into the fire instead. The flames wound around invisible pillars of air, hypnotizing him until his gaze unfocused and he fell into a sort of trance.
He didn’t know what to make of Draco anymore. The boy seemed almost hostile towards him, which would throw a serious wrench in his plans. Did he suspect that Pierce hadn’t been entirely honest? He found it hard to believe, but he supposed it was possibile. The younger Malfoy was far too quick for his own good.
But the game. A light smile curled Pierce’s lips. That had been brilliant. He doubted that anyone else had caught it, or if anyone had, only a select and exceedingly observant few, but he most certainly had not missed Draco’s feigned loss. He gave the boy credit, it had been convincing, but not enough to fool him. And a sacrifice of that magnitude spoke volumes of his feelings for the Weasley girl.
Overall, things boded well for Pierce. Some complications might arise, but on the whole, he could almost taste victory. Honestly, he believed he could go ahead right now with his plan and it would succeed. But he had always been a fairly cautious man, and he wanted to be sure before he took such a critical step.
That, and he still wasn’t entirely positive of his plan. Of course there was still the option of a good old fashioned Avada Kedavra on Weasley, but that route just seemed so…messy. Some part of his intuition was urging him to hold off, to wait for some hidden opportunity to show itself, and Pierce had found his intuition more than reliable in the past.
A sudden fluttering sound snapped him out of his fire-induced trance just as a brown blur soared into the corner of his vision. Blinking away the spots dancing in front of his eyes, he laid his palms on the desktop and straightened up, watching with incredulity as an owl swooped down to drop a sealed letter atop his stack of still ungraded papers. Then without so much as pausing for a treat, the creature made a smooth U-turn and flew from the room.
Pierce stared at the open doorway for a long moment. What had that been about? He’d never heard of owls delivering at the castle any time other than breakfast. He didn’t even know it was possible.
He finally dragged his gaze down to the letter and picked it up like it might burst into flame at any moment. It was old parchment, yellowed and dangerously brittle to the touch, sealed with candle wax but lacking any telling signet. He turned it over a few times before carefully breaking the seal, almost afraid the parchment would crumble apart in his hands as he did.
He skimmed over the handwriting, both strange and vaguely familiar all at once, glanced down to find no signature, then with an annoyed frown began to read:
I know you’re probably extremely irritated at the moment because, let’s face it, Jon: you have to know everything. Trust me when I tell you that all the secrecy is necessary. I’m not playing games with you, though I’m sure you don’t believe that. You’ve been in the wrong company too long to believe in anything without cold hard proof sitting in front of you…and sometimes not even then.
But I digress. My hand is shaking while I’m writing this, but it’s something I have to do. I need to see you again, Jon. And no, I can’t tell you who I am — you would probably just ignore this letter if I did, which is why I’ve chosen anonymity so far and will keep it until we meet.
I know what you’re thinking. I know you better than you ever realized. But no, this is no trap, no plot, no trick. It’s just what it is — a request that you meet an old acquaintance. No reason, no hidden agenda, just for the sake of it, if you can even wrap your head around that concept.
The Three Broomsticks, tonight, eight o’clock. Please.
An Old Friend
His hazel eyes flicked over to the clock; it read seven thirty exactly. He looked back to scan over the letter one last time, frustration growing with every word. Who could it be? What “friend,” old or otherwise, did he have that couldn’t reveal himself? No one in Slytherin, he gathered that much from the “wrong company” comment, but who did that leave?
He debated for less than a minute before curiosity got the better of him and he pushed himself to his feet, grabbing up his cloak and leaving the papers long since forgotten on his desk, waiting bottle of red ink still untouched.
The evening had already surrendered to darkness this late in the year, and without the benefit of the sun the air seemed to cut through to his bones with blithe disregard to the cloak across his shoulders. He shrugged the garment closer, scowling into a blast of wind that carried the promise of winter just around the corner. Whoever it was, this mystery man had better have a good reason for getting him out of his warm rooms.
Carriages didn’t run to the small village this late in the evening, so Pierce was forced to walk through the ridiculously huge expanse of Hogwarts’s grounds before he could apparate the rest of the way. A few people still trickled about, completing last minute errands before day’s end, but for the most part the roads of Hogsmeade were empty.
He made his way towards the Three Broomsticks quickly, anticipating the warmth within and maybe even a glass of something strong enough to burn on the way down and thaw him out.
The inn didn’t disappoint him. A wave of blessedly warm air enveloped him as he stepped through the door, and even more remarkable, there was no line at the bar. Thanking his lucky stars, he ordered just a small shot of firewhiskey — enough to heat him up without clouding his mind — and found an empty booth near the back corner. Then he sat back to wait.
How much time passed he couldn’t guess. All of the other customers seemed like the average evening pub goers — townsmen looking to loosen up after a long day in the shops, interspersed with the occasional woman trying to do the same, and he thought he might have spotted one or two seventh year students. He played with the idea of confronting the rule-breakers, but he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. He hoped to spot the mystery man before the man spotted him. That, and he really didn’t care what students did.
A few groups came and went, some loud and boisterous, others speaking in low earnest voices as they bent over their mugs. Random tidbits of conversation would float up to him, but it was all standard gossip. It seemed as if absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary, and with a dark mood he began to suspect he was wasting his time.
Just when he was considering getting up and leaving, a figure came round from behind and sat across from him. The man looked surprisingly slender, though it was admittedly hard to make out his shape beneath the heavy black cloak wrapped around his body, and he wore the hood up so high Pierce couldn’t make out a single feature of the face other than the tip of a delicate, straight nose and full pink lips. Even the man’s boots were black, as well as a pair of gloves he apparently never saw fit to remove.
Pierce slowly ran his eyes over the stranger from head to toe. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He leaned back to cross his arms over his chest. “A hooded cloak? Really?”
The pink lips curved into a smile, then raising an index finger to his lips — a finger which again seemed rather thin, though the gloves, like the cloak, made it hard to tell — the stranger stood and motioned for Pierce to follow.
Pierce laughed incredulously. “Now I know you’re joking. You think I’m going to follow you with all this cloak and dagger rot going on?”
But the figure only motioned more insistently, turning promptly after and weaving with admirable ease through the tangle of patrons towards the rooms upstairs. Pierce watched the mystery man’s graceful movements with interest. Something about it sparked a memory, though only a shadowy outline of one that he couldn’t quite place. It definitely rang familiar, though, and it raised just enough curiosity to persuade him to follow despite his initial refusal.
By the time he fought his way through the crowd with considerable more difficulty than the stranger, the stairs were already deserted and he climbed them alone. The mystery man waited at the top though, inclining his head when Pierce appeared and once again motioning for him to follow. This time Pierce did so without comment.
They entered a room on the end, relatively small with one double bed and a closet of a bathroom off the main area. The stranger, still silent, indicated a chair for Pierce and turned back to close the door. He locked it with a whispered incantation.
Pierce sat, slouching down to give the appearance of boredom despite the doubt racing through him. “All right, you’ve got me alone. What’s this all about, old friend?”
Again the pink lips smiled, then one by one, the man pulled off his gloves. Pierce raised his eyebrows just slightly, seeing that they were indeed extremely slender, smooth and delicate hands. Almost like a…
Then before he could fully put everything together, the stranger reached up and pulled back the hood. And standing before him was no man.
Surprise though that was, it didn’t even compare to the shock he received when he finally placed the woman a second later.
“Naomi?” His voice cracked with disbelief, all pretenses falling away from his face for the first time in years, leaving nothing but the genuine emotions churning beneath the surface.
She smiled sympathetically. “Hello, Jon. It’s been a long time.”
Pierce reeled. At once she looked both exactly as she had all those years ago, as if preserved in a photograph, and nothing the same. She was taller, but not much, a little curvier perhaps, a sign that she had finally reached the full maturity of her womanhood, but still slim and lithe as he remembered.
“Naomi,” he murmured her name again, letting it fill his mouth and fall from his lips slowly, mind sprinting through a maze of memories while simultaneously trying to wrap around the fact that what stood in front of him was much more than mere memory.
“Well, we know you didn’t forget my name at least,” she teased, lips quirking playfully.
Pierce stared. It wasn’t that Naomi Lawson was stunningly beautiful. She had always been attractive, certainly, but in a plain and unremarkable way. Her straight, brown hair, neither dark nor light but balancing somewhere in the middle, usually rested loosely in an unadorned clip at the back of her head as it did now, her features kind, smooth and fresh but average, indistinct. Naomi Lawson was the type of girl a man noticed, duly appreciated, and promptly forgot.
That was, until he heard her speak. Her voice was a magic all its own, the simplest phrase spoken from her lips a song. Melody danced through her words and lilting music filled her sentences. She could convince anyone to do anything with that voice, draw out any emotion she desired, and what made it almost deadly, Pierce knew, was that Naomi was brilliant, a Ravenclaw at Hogwarts and quick as any Slytherin when it came to assessing another person. She knew how to pick just the right words to go with her mesmerizing power.
Watching her now, moving to perch on the edge of the bed, Pierce mused that the ironic part of it all was that she had no clue. She never realized the effect she had on people, on men especially, and any manipulating she might have done with her talent was purely unintentional. The fact had always baffled him, but oddly enough, he respected her all the more for her ignorance.
“Are you going to say anything?” she asked quietly, biting at her lip uncertainly. The question washed over him, filling him guilt for causing her anxiousness. “Are you glad to see me at least?”
He wanted to get up and assure her that he was glad, to tell her he’d missed her and to apologize for any hurt he might have caused all those years ago, real or otherwise. But he forced himself to swallow down the rush, closing his eyes for just a moment. He’d almost forgotten what an emotional roller coaster this woman could put him through without even trying.
“Naomi, what are you doing here?”
She seemed a little disappointed but recovered quickly, self-consciously tucking back a strand of hair that had fallen from her clip as she sat up a little straighter. “I wanted to see you, Jon.”
He savored the sound of his name coming from her mouth and felt a burst of satisfaction that she would want to see him, even after all this time. But again he had to push the emotions down. He had to control himself, had to keep thinking clearly. “Why? It’s been years, Naomi. A lifetime.”
She frowned. “Not quite a lifetime.”
“That was another life for me.”
She tilted her head, eyes searching his face, and he knew she was considering what he just said, analyzing and trying to figure him out. She always did that, thought carefully before she spoke…but she never judged, something he knew for fact but couldn’t quite fathom for himself.
“You’re a professor now, Head of Slytherin even,” she remarked, giving a small smile. “I never would have placed you for the teaching type.”
“And you’ve been doing your homework,” he observed, questions zipping through his mind. “How did you know?”
“I wasn’t stalking you, if that’s what you mean.” She pushed herself back a little further on the bed and shrugged the rest of the way out of her cloak. Underneath she wore a simple, gray skirt to her knees and a white sweater.
“No, I’m just curious how you found out.”
“Oh, through amazing detective skills and truly astounding powers of deduction.” A corner of her mouth tilted up. “I read it in the Daily Prophet.”
He couldn’t help but smile at that, shaking his head. “They put it in the Prophet?”
“Of course. They put everything in there these days. Anymore they’re hurting for news that doesn’t involve someone dying horribly with a Dark Mark over his head.” Pierce must have flinched or given some other visible sign, because she suddenly looked at him with new intensity. Carefully, she asked, “So besides a new career, what have you been up to, Jon?”
Coming from anyone else, the insinuation in that question would have clammed him up immediately, but from her and that voice it sounded that although she already guessed everything, she harbored no disapproval — just curiosity. It made him feel safe, and he almost let everything spill out right then. He caught himself at just the last moment.
“Nothing of interest,” he answered instead, striving to keep his voice and his face neutral. Normally that mask came to him without a thought, but around Naomi it was a conscious effort every time.
She considered him a silent moment, then nodded even though he knew she didn’t believe. “Why don’t we take a walk?” she suddenly suggested.
He raised his eyebrows. “It’s freezing outside.”
She scoffed. “Oh, freezing, please. You were always such a baby. It’s just a little nippy autumn weather.” She jumped up, swinging on her only recently discarded cloak. “I feel cooped up in here.”
He wanted to protest, but her excitement seemed to spill over to him so that before long he found himself following her out of the inn into the crisp night air.
They walked slowly down the streets of Hogsmeade in silence for several minutes. Pierce looked down at Naomi, arms wrapped tight around her middle and an unreadable look on her face. It struck him with another wave of disbelief, the moment so incredibly surreal that he wanted to pinch himself just to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. It had been so long, and her sudden reappearance in his life still had him reeling off balance.
“Why all the secrecy?” he asked suddenly, wanting to take his mind off his thoughts…and though he wouldn’t admit it, craving the sound of her voice. “You couldn’t have just told me in the letter, or at least dressed like a normal person?”
She laughed lightly, a pleasant musical sound from low in her throat. “I already explained in the letter. You wouldn’t have come.”
“You don’t know that.”
She turned an upraised brow to him. “Oh? Can you honestly tell me that if you read my name on that piece of parchment, you wouldn’t have done everything in your power to avoid me?”
He said nothing, his deceptively mild eyes turned out towards the countryside.
“Thought so.” Her voice whispered the words softly, imbuing them with weary acceptance. “Jon, I’ve always wondered. What ever made you detest me so much?”
He shut his eyes. “You know I never detested you.”
“What else do you call it when the man you love — who once said he loved you — suddenly announces, for no apparent reason, that he never wants to see you again?”
“Naomi — ”
“I just find it odd,” she interrupted, some bitterness creeping into her voice. Then she shot him a knowing glance. “Unless, of course, there’s something you’re not telling me.”
Pierce sighed. Normally he lived for the challenge of a good game of wits, but now, with her, he just couldn’t play. “Naomi, if you’ve got something to say to me, just come out with it.”
She hesitated. “Just…I have to know. I mean, I’ve always wondered — suspected, I suppose. Ever since….”
“What is it?” But he already knew the answer. She was too smart not to have figured it out after all these years.
She seemed to struggle for a moment before she finally just stopped abruptly, taking his hand and turning him to face her. Her eyes searched his, then dropped to where both of her hands still held his left one. Slowly, she turned it palm up. Her fingers drifted to his sleeve.
“Naomi…” he tried to protest, but he could put no strength behind it.
“I have to know,” she repeated quietly, and achingly slow, as if afraid to finally confirm the truth, she slid the sleeve up to his elbow.
For a long time the silence seemed so heavy he couldn’t breathe. She stared at the ugly Mark on his arm without expression, without any reaction at all. Finally, Naomi lifted her eyes to his, pulling his sleeve back into place as she did.
“Is that why?”
No accusation sharpened her tone, but he felt a tremendous guilt all the same. He couldn’t meet her eyes, so he looked over her head instead.
“Does it really matter?”
“Yes.” She closed her eyes, breathing out so deeply he could see the puff of white mist trailing from her lips in the cold. “I need to know you had a reason. I just need that closure.”
He felt something in him turn colder than the wind. “Then that’s the point of all this. Closure. So you can ‘finally move on,’ is that it?”
Naomi never so much as blinked. “No. So that I can sleep again at night.”
He didn’t quite know what to make of that or how to respond, so he said nothing at all, and for a long time they stood there staring at each other in the middle of a deserted street in Hogsmeade. Then a sudden blast of chilly wind swept up from the side, knocking loose the tentative hold Naomi’s clip had on her hair so that the fine brown strands whipped wildly around her face.
She laughed and smoothed it all back. “Whose crazy idea was this anyway?”
Pierce only shook his head.
“Come on. Let’s go back inside.” She started back towards the Three Broomsticks, pausing when she realized he wasn’t behind her. “Jon?”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “That’s it? That’s all you’re going to say after you find out — ?”
“Find out what?” she interrupted, hands going to her hips. “That you made a mistake? We all make mistakes.”
His eyes hardened. “How are you so sure it was a mistake?”
“Because,” she smiled sadly, “you’re not happy, Jon. I can see it in your eyes. Don’t think I’ve forgotten how you used to be.”
He opened his mouth, but to his surprise, found he had absolutely nothing to say.
She stepped up close to him, and he couldn’t back away. Her fingers reached out to weave through his. “Let’s go back inside.”
Pierce shook his head. “Has anyone ever told you you’re bloody mad?”
“Many times. Now, let’s go back inside.”
His gaze drifted in the direction of the castle. “I should be getting back. I don’t really think I’m supposed to leave. Something about students needing me in case of emergency and all that.”
“I think they can manage a little while longer.”
“That’s not really the point.”
“Jon? Let’s go back inside.”
She said it low, alluringly, and he tried to shut it out by closing his eyes but that was the trouble with Naomi — a bloke couldn’t just close his eyes and block her out. He could still hear, and she would echo through his mind long after her lips stopped moving.
“Naomi, my job. I’m not supposed — ”
“Jonathon Pierce, when have you ever paid attention to rules?”
“I’m older now.”
“What a coincidence, so am I.” She stepped back, pulling their arms out straight without letting go. “Time does that. Now, either give me a real reason, or let’s get somewhere warm.”
She waited, and when his scrambling mind turned up nothing, she led him away. Against all better judgment, Pierce let her. They passed through the dwindling crowd by the bar without a word, and up the steps to her room.
She closed and locked the door with another whispered charm, then shrugged out of her cloak and let it simply fall in a heap on the floor.
She turned to him and pressed a finger against his lips. “Don’t say anything. We can talk tomorrow, but not now. I know all I need to for tonight.”
Confusion wrinkled his brow. “What?”
She smiled, faint and mysterious, then with absolutely no warning whatsoever raised herself on her toes to touch her lips to his. He felt her fingers in his too-long hair, still cold from outside, and for a second he was a teenager again, floating free and burning up just so long as this woman pressing against him hung on.
Then some voice in his head reminded him of reality, reminded him that there was a reason he had pushed her out of his life — or at least, thought he had pushed her out. He broke away. “We shouldn’t — ”
“I know.” She was breathless, and it was all he could do to keep his knees from buckling. “It’s terrible. You should go.”
He nodded, swallowing. Only his feet wouldn’t work. “I should.”
“But,” she continued, having recovered her breath so that now her words came out flowing like silk, “that’s always been my problem. I never did do what I should.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “I even dated a Slytherin once.” Her eyes danced as she tilted her head up at him. “I really don’t see any reason to change now, do you?”
She linked her hands behind his neck, bringing his face close to hers. “Jon, please,” she whispered against his lips. “Even if it’s just tonight, even if I never see you again. I just need you. I missed you. God, I missed you so much…”
And just like that, she broke him, shattered his heart into a million tiny shards with a voice more intoxicating than any alcohol. Or maybe that was the feeling of all the shards finally fusing back together. He didn’t know, and he honestly didn’t care just then.
This time when her mouth pressed against his, he kissed her back, and when she drew him towards her bed, he followed without hesitating.
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Books lay open all around Draco, though he hadn’t read so much as a word in the past four hours, and his parchment sat blank and accusing on his lap. They made a good excuse for why he wouldn’t leave the common room, though, so he kept them out.
His eyes started feeling blurry staring at the cramped text, so he lifted them to the rest of the room without really seeing. It wasn’t the only thing he wasn’t seeing. He had staunchly avoided Ginny for the past three days, unwilling and unable to face her again. Not after that night.
The sound of a door opening and closing drew his attention to the entrance to the girls’ dormitory where Pansy was strutting out, pug-nose in the air. Her eyes found him on the couch, and Draco felt his stomach sink as she immediately flounced over.
“Draco!” She plopped down beside him. “I’m so happy you’re here! I wanted to talk to you.”
Rapidly searching for an escape, Draco glanced at the clock and found one. “Love to Pans, but I’ve been so busy with all this homework that I missed supper. I was just about to run down to the kitchens to grab something to eat.”
She looked doubtfully at his empty parchment. “You’ve got homework? But we’re in all the same classes, and I hardly have any….”
Draco snapped a book shut over the parchment. “I procrastinated. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Pansy jumped to her feet. “That’s fine, I’ll just come and keep you company. Then we can still talk.”
He fought a groan. “That’s all right.”
“I really don’t mind. In fact, I would love — ”
“Pansy,” he interrupted. “I said, that’s all right.” Catching her wounded expression, he gave a mental sigh and explained, “It’s just I’ve got this essay I haven’t even started yet, and I need to think of a topic. I can’t do that and talk to you…and the essay is due in a few days.”
She pouted. “But it’s really important….”
“Later,” he promised. “Right now I need food and quiet.”
He didn’t wait to see if she would back down. Knowing her, she would keep the argument going all night, so he just scooped up his books, dumped them off in his room, and walked past her again without so much as a glance on his way out of the common room.
Out in the hallway he stood in a moment of indecision, wondering what he was going to do now. He didn’t want to risk a run-in with Ginny, but he couldn’t think of a spot on grounds that she was guaranteed not to be hanging about…except the dungeons, but aside from his common room, there wasn’t much here.
Well, he frowned, there was Pierce’s office, but the man wasn’t exactly his favorite person at the moment. There was just something about him, something Draco couldn’t place….
He heard someone cough down the hall and, making up his mind, decided he would do what he told Pansy and get something to eat. He actually had missed supper — Ginny would have been there, so he’d made sure he wasn’t.
He walked up the gentle incline, avoiding the light that spilled from the bottom of the dungeon’s few doors. He didn’t really know why. But when he got to Pierce’s door, no light pooled onto the stone floor or through the seams. Curiously, Draco stepped closer and pressed his ear against the wood. No sounds, no signs of life whatsoever. After hesitating just a moment, he reached out to turn the handle and found it firmly locked.
He stepped back, cocking his head with a frown. It was well past eight, and he knew for fact that Pierce didn’t have to patrol tonight — Draco made a habit of checking all the professors’ schedules when he looked up his prefect rounds. Odd. Shrugging to himself, he moved on.
Aside from the occasional student hurrying back to his or her dormitory before curfew, his way remained mostly deserted. He was just beginning to relax when a classroom door suddenly opened directly to his left and he looked over to find himself face-to-face with Ginny Weasley. He gave a mental curse, thinking, of course, who else would it be?
“Draco.” She seemed at least as startled as he was, a stack of books nearly tumbling from her hands before she managed to shift them back into place. “What are you doing here?”
Draco slid his hands into his pockets, letting his eyes travel her once over. Her hair was pulled back in a careless ponytail, her school robes discarded for a loose sweater and what looked like pajama bottoms. She seemed absolutely exhausted, a right mess. She looked gorgeous.
He hated that.
“What are you doing here?” he returned.
She rolled her eyes and smoothed back a stray lock of scarlet hair. “Do you always have to be difficult?”
“Generally.” To his surprise, she laughed with a small, helpless shake of her head. He remembered the days when that comment would have had her fuming, and considering the drastic change in his opinion of her, he couldn’t help but wonder what exactly she now felt. He forced the thought away, though — that was something better left alone, too dangerous to dwell on.
“They’re being obnoxious in the common room,” Ginny was explaining, “so I couldn’t concentrate, and the library’s packed.” She shrugged. “I had a lot of homework, so I found an empty classroom. Your turn.”
“I missed supper. I’m getting something from the kitchens.”
Her eyes lit up. “Mind if I join you? I’m starving, and freezing too. Some hot chocolate and cookies sound amazing.”
He hesitated, scrambling for a way out because he honestly didn’t know if he could stand another minute around her without doing something he would regret later, but unlike earlier in the common room with Pansy, he found none. “All right,” he agreed grudgingly. “What about your books?”
She glanced down at the stack, bit her lip in a way that made Draco want to groan, then disappeared back into the classroom. She reappeared a second later and said, “They’ll be fine in there. I’ll just grab them on my way back.”
She fell in step beside him then, dark eyes drifting aimlessly through the halls. “I’m actually happy I ran into you,” she admitted after a few moments of silence. “You’ve been a hard man to track down the past few days.”
He kept his face carefully blank. “Really?”
She shot him a suspicious look that told him she didn’t buy his nonchalance, but she played along anyway. “Truly. I kind of wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Never mind.” They reached the kitchens and Draco tickled the pear.
Ginny stepped into the kitchens first, tossing him a curious look over her shoulder. Then Dobby rushed forward in a blur of multicolored socks and flopping ears. “Mizzus Weasley!” he squealed in a high, ecstatic voice. “Did you come to see Dobby?”
She smiled kindly at him. “Of course I did. How are you? It’s been ages.”
Draco rolled his eyes. He just couldn’t fathom treating a House Elf like it was human.
“Very good, very good!” Dobby chirped. But suddenly, a morose expression fell over his face. “Worried for Harry Potter, though, Mizzus Weasley. Very worried indeed.”
An indecipherable look clouded Ginny’s face then, and with narrowed eyes, Draco watched her hand rise to the locket around her throat. “We all are,” Ginny assured the elf quietly.
Speak for yourself, Draco thought darkly.
Dobby bobbed his head somberly then seemed to undergo a mood swing as he clapped his hands together, once more the picture of excitement. “What can Dobby get for Mizzus Weasley?”
“Hot chocolate and…um, do you have any peanut butter cookies?” Dobby nodded eagerly, and Ginny continued, “Excellent. I’ll have some of those, and…Draco?” She turned to him expectantly.
Draco blinked, shaken from his bitter musings. “Oh…uh…just…a bowl of oatmeal. And maybe a piece of toast. Oh, and a glass of milk.”
Dobby bobbed his head again, going into several rather comical-looking bows before scurrying off.
Ginny walked over to one of the counters and easily lifted herself up onto it, her legs dangling over the side. “So where have you been lately? You’ve even been skiving off on our morning runs.”
Draco avoided her gaze, walking over to the wall opposite her and leaning back. “I haven’t been feeling well lately. I’ve just been sort of resting up in my dorm. So what did you want to talk about?” He was a little nervous what she might have to say, but it had to be better than this conversation.
She frowned a tiny bit, then seemed to let it go as she answered, “Well, I know you missed the announcement at supper since you weren’t there…but did you at least see any of the advertisements around the castle?”
“McGonagall’s giving us one last trip to Hogsmeade before the hols. You know, last minute gift buying, some time with friends before we all don’t see each other for awhile….”
Draco nodded. “All right.”
Ginny sighed, leaning back on her hands. “You really don’t see where I’m going with this, do you?”
He raised his eyebrows, trying not to notice how her leaning back accentuated certain aspects of her anatomy. “Going?”
She smiled. “Didn’t think so.”
Just then Dobby rushed in, a floating tray carrying their requests trailing him. Ginny thanked the elf and accepted the food, exchanging some last minute pleasantries that Draco chose to ignore as he walked over to the counter to start his meal. He really was surprisingly famished…and he was still trying to figure out where Ginny had been going.
“What I was trying to get at,” Ginny continued after Dobby had left and she’d taken a bite of one of the cookies, “is that I was wondering if you’d like to go with me.”
He nearly choked on his oatmeal. “You want me to go with you?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, calm down. I’m not asking you on a date, you arrogant prat. I wouldn’t subject either of us to that particular horror. Just as friends. I’d rather not spend another visit following Dean and his mates around if I can help it.”
Her comment about a date with him being a horror stung more than he cared to admit, and the idea of spending the day with her away from the safe, restrictive bounds of the castle made him hesitate all the more, but despite all of that he heard himself say, “Sure. That might not be too horrible, I suppose.”
She grinned hugely. “Good. It’ll be fun, I promise.”
He didn’t answer, watching her as she took a tentative sip from her still steaming mug. His eyes involuntarily fell on her locket, and reminded of earlier, he abruptly asked, “What is it about him?”
She looked at him startled, a second cookie poised halfway to her mouth. “What is it about who?”
Draco gestured vaguely towards her neck. “Potter. He doesn’t seem like your type.”
A wry smile found its way to her lips. “Just a bit random, don’t you think?”
Draco shrugged uncomfortably, seriously regretting having brought the matter up. He knew he would end up doing something stupid if she came with him.
Ginny tilted her head curiously, finally biting into the second cookie. “Why would you say that, though? That’s he’s not my type?”
Draco shrugged again, even more uncomfortable. “You just seem too…I don’t know…smart.”
“To fall for the celebrity thing.”
“That’s all you think it is? The ‘celebrity thing’? It’s not possible that I liked him despite him being a celebrity?”
Ginny blinked. “What?”
“You just said ‘liked.’ Not that you like him, but that you liked.”
She opened her mouth, then shut it again with a doubtful furrow to her brow. She shook her head. “You know what I meant,” she snapped, then a little grumpily pointed out, “Besides, you’re fair famous yourself. Who doesn’t know the Malfoy name?”
“I’m not famous, I’m infamous,” Draco corrected, still a little distracted by the implications of her slip in tense. “And even if I am, I’m still not ‘The Boy Who Lived,’ am I?”
“Do you want to be The Boy Who Lived?”
The question caught him off guard. Did he?
“I don’t really want to talk about this,” Ginny suddenly announced. She jumped down off the counter. “I should probably be getting back. I’ll see you later. Maybe tomorrow morning if you’re feeling up to jogging again. Or something.” Then, fingers fiddling restlessly with her locket, she left without so much as a backward glance.
Draco watched her go, tempted to call out to her but stopping himself at the last minute. He stirred at his oatmeal absently, suddenly no longer hungry. It was a shame, too: she had left her hot chocolate and cookies for him. But she’d left him a lot more than that to think about.
- - - - -
A/N – Well, at least it was super long again to make up for the wait. In fact, that probably contributed to the wait, but…oh, well.
On a separate note, I really didn’t know whether I should risk focusing/building on Pierce so much, him being an OC and all. But on the other hand I know some people have been saying they’re interested in his past, and I was fairly eager to explore it some more myself, sooo I took the chance. Hopefully it turns out, because it’s going to factor significantly into the rest of the story. *crosses fingers*
Oh, and in case anyone’s curious, I consider the story ABOUT at the halfway point…you know…give or take a little. And as always is the case with me, absolutely everything is subject to change at any given moment. I like to think it keeps things interesting. Or maybe I’m just making excuses for being too lazy to think things out well enough to catch plot holes (or, more often than not, plot canyons) ahead of time…
All right, it’s really late, and I’m rambling, so I’ll stop. Thanks so much!
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