A/N – woo wee, I’m on a roll! Another one in less than 2 weeks! I’m so proud of myself. Haha it helps that I haven’t had any huge assignments for like a week and a half *knock on wood.* Mercy me, but life has been beautiful =D Haha anyway, enjoy!
- - - - -
Chapter 20 – Questionable Motives
“Did it hurt?”
Naomi’s voice was a caress against Pierce’s neck and a sweet melody to his ears. She had her head pillowed on his shoulder as they lay in her bed, covered by only the sheet.
“Did what hurt?” he murmured sleepily.
Her finger traced his Dark Mark.
“Yes,” he admitted, stroking her hair with his eyes fixed on the ceiling. “But no worse than any other burn. That’s all it is — a brand burned into us. Branded like cattle.”
Naomi yawned and snuggled closer against him. “You keep telling me you don’t regret it, but you always sound so bitter. And I know you hate You-Know-Who.”
Pierce sighed. “It’s not about loyalty to him, or even about liking the idea of Death Eaters in general. It’s a means to an end is all.”
“How Slytherin. The end justifies the means, is that right? And just what end are you hoping for, Jon?”
Pierce didn’t say anything, just kept on stroking her hair in silence. The past few weeks had been bliss for him, an escape from the reality that he hadn’t realized was weighing so heavily on him. He’d found freedom again in Naomi’s arms, in the liberating music of her voice, and though he knew it was dangerous to indulge so much, he just couldn’t keep away.
A large part of the reason Naomi provided such a perfect oasis, though, was that she had known what subjects to ignore. It had been all reminiscing and catching up and laughing and whispering promises of love, and it truly had been like he was a teenager again. But these past few days she’d started hinting at heavier topics, and now she’d come right out with it. He knew it would happen eventually, but it depressed him nonetheless.
Naomi shifted around so that she was propped up on her elbow, looking down on his face. “I never did understand that, you know. What you were looking for.”
He looked over at her, eyes slipping from the hollow of her throat down to where the sheet draped over the rest of her body. “What do you mean?”
“Back in school. I always thought we were so happy. Everything was perfect, but then….” She sighed. “I never understood why fitting in with them was so important to you. I was always afraid you would go and join that crazy bastard because of it.” She smiled thinly. “Looks like I wasn’t worried enough, doesn’t it?”
Pierce frowned. “It wasn’t perfect, Naomi. We couldn’t even tell anyone we were together.”
“No, you couldn’t. I was perfectly willing to deal with everyone else’s judgment. You were the one who cared so much about approval. I guess that’s what I never understood. Why you did care.”
“Is it so wrong that I wanted to belong somewhere?”
Her eyes grew soft, and she lifted her hand to stroke his cheek. “No, but you already did belong somewhere. With me. That wasn’t enough?”
Pierce closed his eyes. “Don’t say that.”
“What? That I wasn’t enough? Then why did you do it?”
He turned his face away from her, not wanting to discuss it anymore. These were issues best left alone; he knew all too well the dangers of second-guessing, especially in this game. He needed to keep his focus strong. Examining motives was a perfect way to risk that.
“Jon.” She whispered it right against his ear. “Talk to me.”
He knew better. He knew he shouldn’t. But the magic in her voice compelled him, and he felt his walls crumbling against its power.
His eyes found hers. “You know my dad left us, my mum and me, before I ever got my letter.”
“But he was a pretty nasty fellow anyway, wasn’t he? I thought you told me that once.”
Pierce nodded wearily. “I don’t remember much, but what I do remember is a drunkard and a man cruel as a long winter. I never saw Mum so…free as the day he left for good.”
He sighed. “I was supposed to be like her. I was supposed to go into Hufflepuff, and show everyone I had a heart of gold, just like she always believed.” He shook his head. “She still believed that rubbish right up until the very end.”
“That’s right,” Naomi remembered aloud. “She died in that fire right before you ended things with me, didn’t she? You never would talk about it. It sounds like it was a horrible accident.”
Pierce wouldn’t meet her eyes, a sensation that had been absent in him for years stealing over him: guilt. “Yeah. Horrible accident.”
“You know why she believed that about you, though, don’t you, Jon? Because you do have a good heart.” She pressed a soft kiss onto his collar bone. “Your Mum and me, we could both see that. They’re the ones who made you believe otherwise.”
He laughed — a cold, empty sound. “Oh, Naomi. There’s so much you don’t know about me.”
She frowned, making little circles on his bare chest. “So tell me.”
Pierce shook his head. “Trust me, you don’t want to know.” He suddenly rolled over her, bracing his arms at either side of her head and leaning down to kiss her. When he pulled back, he murmured, “Can’t we just go on as we have? It would be better for both of us.”
She reached up and smoothed some of his hair back from his face, a sympathetic gleam to her brown eyes. “I think we’ve ignored it long enough. We’ve been ignoring it ever since we started seeing each other in school. Maybe that’s what went wrong.”
He fell back again, defeated. “That’s not what went wrong,” he told her tonelessly.
Naomi pushed herself onto her side again so that she could look down at him. “So? What did?”
“What do you want me to say, Naomi? I don’t know what you’re asking me.”
Her fingers went back to tracing soothing swirls across his torso. “Start with the beginning. Why did you ever join in with that crowd?”
His smile was bitter. “Easy one. I was human. I got lonely. You didn’t happen along until Sixth year, and I needed more than the occasional letters from Mum. So I started trying to fit in.”
After a moment of silence, she quietly urged, “Go on.”
He reached down and grasped her hand, stopping the circles to entwine his fingers with hers. “I felt guilty at first,” he admitted. “For some of the cruelty I saw. It reminded me a lot of Dad, and I couldn’t bear to think of what Mum would say.” He sighed. “But it was working, too. They were accepting me, bit by bit, as I stopped acting less…I don’t know…”
He shrugged. “I suppose. Anyway, it turns out I was a great Slytherin. Am a great one. In an unconventional sort of way, which made things more difficult at first, but in a very effective way. The Sorting Hat is never wrong.”
“It can’t take into account everything,” Naomi protested. “You’re smart, and clever, and more determined than anyone I know. That’s why it sorted you into Slytherin. You didn’t have any of the cruelty, none of the negative aspects. Not at first, anyway. You learned that later, from them. When there’s only four stereotypes you can be categorized into, there’s bound to be some discrepancies.”
Pierce rolled his eyes. “You sound like Mum.”
“Well, she was a smart woman, from what I hear. And anyway, just look at me. The hat sorted me into Ravenclaw for my academic skills, but I never really fit in. They were so serious. No fun at all. That’s why I was so happy to find you.”
“Fine, I’m really a good man deep down. There, now can we talk about something else?”
“If you’re just going to tell me what I want to hear, you could at least try a bit more sincerity.”
He smirked. “Sorry, in the future I’ll lie more convincingly.”
She rolled her eyes. “You know that’s not what I meant. Now quit changing the subject. So they started accepting you. Then what?”
“Naomi, please. Let’s just drop this.” He brought her fingers up to his lips and kissed each in turn. “I’m sure we can find something more entertaining to do….”
She smiled and tugged her hand free. “Come on, I finally got you talking. Don’t ruin it.”
He groaned and dropped his hand back down to his stomach. “Fine, witch. So they started accepting me, I realized it was a bit of fun playing mind games with people, especially since I was so gifted with it, and I got caught up.”
“You mean the Death Eaters.”
“Before or after me?”
“Before,” he admitted. “By the time you came along…well, it was already too late.”
“You don’t mean….”
He smiled sourly. “No, I didn’t already have the Mark. I just mean I had already made up my mind to get it as soon as I came of age.” His eyes found hers and held. “Meeting you complicated that decision, but…well, you said it yourself. I’m a determined man.”
She sighed regretfully. “I understand that, only because I know how you are, but what I still don’t understand is why you ever wanted to join him. You don’t like him, you could care less about Muggles either way, you said they accepted you already…”
“But would they have still accepted me if I refused?” He shook his head. “And that wasn’t even so important anymore. Acceptance is more of a requirement for the young. By then, for me, it had grown into something more. Something they probably instilled in me, but it’s there nevertheless.”
He gazed frankly at her. “Power. I wanted it, and he had it. I disliked him, but I loved what he had, and I wanted a little bit for myself. Means to an end, Naomi. Everything’s just a means to an end.”
She was silent a long moment. “That’s very depressing.”
He shifted his eyes back to the ceiling, giving a crooked smile. “I told you that you wouldn’t want to know. I’m not the man you think I am. I’m definitely nothing of the boy I used to be, and even he wasn’t all that admirable.”
“I think he’s still down there, somewhere.” She stretched out her arm and lowered her head to his shoulder. “It just might take some digging to find him.”
“So that’s it? You’ve waltzed back into my life to redeem me?” The question came out bitter-sounding, but he didn’t care. He wanted no salvation, and he certainly wanted to be no one’s cause.
Surprisingly, her voice didn’t return defensively, but drifted softly up to his ear where she murmured, “No, I waltzed back in because I’m selfish and I missed you.” She ran her palm up his chest, pressing closer. “I missed this.”
He bit back a moan as she rolled on top of him, nipping at his bottom lip enticingly. “So you became a Death Eater for power and to maintain status. Why did you have to push me away too?”
He closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to look at her. “Naomi…”
She bent down and nibbled at his collar bone. “Jon,” her voice sounded a little breathless, “tell me. Please.”
Pierce pushed his head back into the pillow and bit the inside of his cheek. Damn. It truly amazed him how quickly he, the master at manipulations, could be manipulated by this woman who didn’t even realize she was doing it. Maybe that’s what he’d always loved about her: the loss of control.
“I wanted to protect you,” he whispered.
“No one but Severus knew about us. By ending it when I did, I got rid of the risk of him using you against me. He liked doing that, using loved ones to prove loyalty and all that rot.” He took a moment to gather himself. “I found that the hard way.”
Naomi suddenly stopped her attentions and regarded him curiously. “What do you mean?”
“Naomi,” he cut her off sharply, voice and eyes hard. “I said, it was nothing.”
They carried on a staring contest for an achingly long time before Naomi finally dropped her gaze. “All right. Just…can I ask one thing more?”
“Does it matter if I say no?”
She smiled faintly. “Jon, have you ever killed someone?”
He hesitated. “Yes.”
“A lot of someones?”
“Yes.” He searched her face. “Does that bother you?”
“Enough to leave?”
She seemed to consider a moment, then finally, “No. But only because I believe in second chances. Only because I believe there’s still hope for you.”
Pierce slid his hands up her sides. “You shouldn’t. It’s not true.”
“Well,” she lowered herself down to him, “I suppose there’s nothing for it but to stay and find out.”
- - - - -
Pierce trudged back into his quarters later that night utterly exhausted, assaulted by mixed feelings wherever he turned. He hadn’t wanted to tell Naomi all of that. He shouldn’t have told her. It wasn’t smart, it gained him no advantage, and he hated, hated letting people see too much of him. He just couldn’t bloody well control himself around her. It scared him and thrilled him all at once, and he wasn’t sure it was necessarily a good thing.
But Merlin, he loved being with her. He loved how she knew exactly what to say, exactly where to touch, exactly what he needed at any given moment. He knew it was dangerous — it meant she could play him on a moment’s notice, as she so frequently did — but something in him craved it. Something in him craved her.
He’d thought that he would be able to handle himself better than he had back in school. He was beginning to suspect maybe he was wrong. But did that necessarily mean he had to break things off again? It would be dangerous in someone he was uncertain of, but this was Naomi.
“Back late again, I see.”
Pierce tripped over a table in the dark, cursed loudly, and stumbled about four steps before he could regain his balance. Breath coming heavy and heart pounding, he tore out his wand and cast a Lumos. Snape sat in Pierce’s high-backed leather chair, proper and severe as any king on his throne.
“Bloody hell, Sev!” Pierce snapped, rubbing at his knee which had been unfortunate enough to collide with his furniture. “One time, just one time, it would be nice if you gave a normal entrance.”
Snape ignored him. “You never answered.”
Scowling and still grumbling to himself, Pierce went and fixed himself a drink before collapsing across from his old House mate. “Sorry, I wasn’t really paying attention. I was too busy having the shit scared out of me.”
“I said, you’re back late.”
Pierce raised an eyebrow. “Very good. And you have black hair. Anything else you’d like to bring to my attention?”
Snape narrowed his eyes. “I’m serious, Jon. This can’t keep going on.”
Pierce sighed, slouching down into his chair and pinching the bridge of his nose. “Sev, I’ve had a long day. I’m knackered, and I’d rather like to enjoy a drink in peace before falling into what’s certain to be a coma-like sleep. So would you please just come out with it so you can leave?”
“You know I’ve tried visiting you twice already?”
“That so? Well, you know what they say: third time’s a charm.”
Snape’s eyes went hard as black iron. “This is no laughing matter. What do you think you’re doing taking this mission so lightly? How am I supposed to report this to the Dark Lord?”
“Hopefully not at all.”
Snape’s lips pressed into a thin, white line. “You’re putting me in a very difficult position, Jon.”
Pierce swirled the liquid in his glass around lazily. “Look, I’ve just had a few small matters to deal with…”
“Matters?” Snape’s stare weighed heavy and cold with judgment. “At least do me the courtesy of telling the truth.”
Pierce’s hand stopped mid-swirl, alarms suddenly going off in his head. “Excuse me?”
“I looked into these ‘matters’ after I couldn’t find you the second time. Turns out they boil down to just one big mistake.”
Pierce slowly set his drink down. “Severus — ”
Snape suddenly rocketed from the chair, any pretense of calm vanished. “Naomi? Jon, how could you be so stupid? I’d thought you learned your lesson the last time!”
Pierce rubbed tiredly at his eyes. “Calm down. You’re making too much of it.”
“You know how dangerous it is to have any close associations with an outsider,” Snape went on as if Pierce never spoke. “Classified information could slip so easily in the heat of the moment, not to mention you’re just handing the rest of them an easy tool to use you! I thought I taught you better!”
“You did,” Pierce snapped back. “And I ended it once because of your brilliant advice. Well, I’m older now. Things have changed.”
“Nothing has changed! If anything, it’s worse!” He pointed a finger at Pierce’s scarred forearm. “So long as you bear that Mark you belong to him, and that means this ridiculous relationship cannot go on! Not again! You’re lucky there were no consequences the first time!”
Pierce rose, pacing restlessly around the room. “You don’t think I’m fully aware of all of that? But Severus, you know something? For the first time in a whole hell of a lot of years, I feel good.”
“Congratulations, Jon. I hope you’ll be able to say the same when she’s dead.”
Pierce’s eyes flashed. “She won’t die. I won’t let her get involved like that.”
“Oh? Just like your mother wouldn’t get involved?”
Pierce felt anger boil up within him on the verge of eruption. “I don’t think all your advice has got anything to do with me,” he growled. “You don’t care if I get used or provide a weakness. You’re just jealous. You’ve never experienced anything like what I have with Naomi, and it kills you.” He sneered. “You’re pathetic.”
Snape went very still and said in a low, dangerous voice, “You know full well that’s not true. I just had more sense than to pursue it.”
Pierce rolled his eyes. “What, Lily?” He scoffed. “Don’t give me more sense. She never wanted you, mate! You mooned after her like some miserable little school boy, but she didn’t even waste the energy detesting you! She was always Potter’s, and you, she never realized you existed.”
Snape’s long, thin hands curled into white-knuckled fists. “Don’t speak her name.”
“Just admit it!”
“She defended me.”
“She defended her morals!” Pierce shot back, voice dripping with contempt. “God, you really are pathetic.”
Snape advanced on him in a swirl of black robes and a curled lip. “I’m pathetic? At least I’m not letting some woman I haven’t seen in years play me like a fool!”
Pierce stopped and glared suspiciously. “What?”
Snape sighed, shaking his head. “I planned on sparing you.”
“Sparing me from what, Severus?” He felt defensive anger pump though his veins. “What are you trying to say?”
“Don’t you find it the least bit odd that she just popped back into your life with no warning and no explanation, completely accepting the choices you’ve made and opening her arms without hesitation?”
“She read about my position in the Prophet. She wanted to see me. She said she missed me.”
“Oh, I’m sure she did say that.”
Pierce took out his wand and started twirling it around in his fingers agitatedly. “Why on earth would she lie about that? What purpose could it possibly achieve?”
“Have you really become so blind?” Snape’s voice filled with disgust. “My Lord. If this is ‘love,’ I’m happy I never suffered it.”
“Just get to your point, Severus.”
“She’s using you, Jon. She’s working for someone else.”
Pierce snorted. “Please. Naomi? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“She’s not the same woman she used to be, and even then she was never as innocent as you always liked to believe. Face it: there’s something more going on here, and I don’t like it.”
“Who would she be working for? She’s got nothing to do with the kind of people that would use her to get to me! And honestly, how many enemies do I even have?”
“You’re successful, Jon. That alone is grounds for a great multitude of enemies…whether they’re known to you or not. I don’t pretend to know everything; I can’t tell you who exactly she’s working for…but it’s someone. I would stake my life on it.”
Pierce’s eyes narrowed, and he shoved his wand roughly back into his pocket. “You’re wrong. You don’t know her like I do.”
“Jon! Use your head! What other explanation is there?”
“Is the idea of honest emotion really that beyond you?”
Snape folded his arms. “So I suppose she hasn’t asked you anything about the Death Eaters. Hasn’t persuaded you to tell more than you should?”
Pierce felt his chest tighten painfully, his only response a glare.
Snape smirked. “I assumed as much. I mentioned earlier that important information is likely to slip out in the heat of the moment. I’m sure she — and her employer — are all too aware of that truth as well.” He walked up closer, standing almost nose-to-nose with Pierce. “Don’t be a fool, Jon. Say goodbye.”
With that, he swung an invisibility cloak around his shoulders and swept out of the room. Pierce snatched up his half-empty drink and hurled it at the closed door, breathing heavy as the glass shattered into a million tiny fragments.
“Damn you, Severus!” he shouted. Then, squeezing his eyes shut and curling his fingers into his hair, he whispered again, “Damn you.”
- - - - -
Ginny felt rather proud of herself. She had finally figured out the secret to making use of the library when it was blessedly empty of other students: pop in during meal time. She’d simply dropped by the Great Hall, grabbed one of the sandwiches laid out for that day’s lunch menu, and ate it on her way to study. Now, she could get some work done without anyone disturbing her for a change.
Well, that was the plan, anyway. There was one small complication in the form of Theodore Nott. When she walked into the room, expecting to find it empty, she instead met with him, sitting slightly reclined with a book open in front of him. She tried to turn right back around, but he spotted her first.
“Weasley. Pleasant surprise.”
Back still turned, she took a steadying breath, pasted on a false smile, and turned to face him. “It’s a surprise, anyway. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be eating?”
“I already did.”
“Well, me too. You’re not the only who realized the benefit of a fast meal and an empty library.”
“Obviously,” she muttered. Then, louder, “Right, well, I’ll leave you to it…”
He raised an eyebrow. “Assuming that your work didn’t just magically disappear, it’s a big library. I do believe there’s room for two.”
Ginny felt a sensation like a thousand ants crawling all across her skin. “Oh, that’s all right. I’m not really in the mood anyway, and…” she trailed off at Nott’s amused expression. “What?”
“You’re afraid of me.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Admit it: you are. You’re actually scared of me.”
“If I’m not afraid of Draco, I’m certainly not afraid of you. I just happen to strongly dislike you. Excuse me for trying to be polite about it.”
He crossed his arms, tilting his head a bit to one side as he regarded her. “Well, that’s a shame, because myself, I’m rather fond of you.”
Ginny felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. Draco had promised her so long as she was supposedly his, she didn’t have to worry, but she was beginning to worry maybe he’d been a bit too confident. “Draco wouldn’t be too thrilled to hear that,” she pointed out, praying the reminder would deter the boy.
He gave a soft chuckle. “Malfoy’s not thrilled by much in my experience.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. Perhaps I don’t care.”
A sick feeling curled low in her belly, and suddenly the deserted library seemed as dangerous as any back alley. She tried a different tactic. “Well, I suppose that makes sense. Draco’s not much of a threat compared to the hexing I would give you if you tried anything.” She threw him a falsely sweet smile. “Everything they say about redhead’s and temper? All true.”
“My, my, my. Quite the spitfire, aren’t we? No wonder Draco’s so taken.”
Ginny crossed her arms. “Just try me. Because I’ve got to say, I’m getting tired of you and your veiled hints. It needs to stop.”
“Still wearing that lovely little gift I see,” he remarked.
She blinked, momentarily thrown by the total one-eighty in the conversation. It took her several seconds to realize his eyes were focused on her throat, and her hand instinctively flew to Draco’s necklace.
She’d never taken it off. She’d promised herself she would return it as soon as she talked with him again, but she hadn’t seen the blond since her hasty exit from his rooms the day before. He hadn’t shown up for their morning jog or even to breakfast, which now that she thought about it, was a little odd. He hadn’t been at lunch, either, but then she’d only just slipped in and out again. Maybe he’d arrived late.
“And?” she snapped, closing her fingers around the heart-shaped pendant protectively.
“Merely making an observation,” he answered innocently. “Very nice of Malfoy to give away such a valuable piece.”
She could feel his eyes like two needles pricking into her skull as she battled to hold her features neutral. Being around Draco had taught her the trick to an extent, but she doubted her amateur skill would stand up against that shrewd gaze. She should have known Nott would guess about the necklace. “I’m leaving,” she announced, turning on her heel.
“I told you, I’m sick of your stupid Mr. Mysterious rubbish. I don’t need to listen to it.”
“Fair enough. What if I just came right out and asked you a frank, no-nonsense question then?”
She folded her arms, eyeing him warily. “Like…?”
“Like, is your darling relationship with our dear Malfoy really genuine?”
Ginny felt her heart jump against her ribs. She prayed her face didn’t betray it. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded, trying to sound scornful.
He leaned back, pushing his book away from him to fold his hands together on the table. “I have my doubts, is all.” His half-smile crept onto his lips. “I think you’ll agree you two aren’t exactly a…likely pairing.”
“You’ve got to be joking. Of course it’s real.” Ginny found herself quite grateful for all those years spent deceiving her brothers. They made her an excellent liar. “Honestly, why would I fake something like that?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out myself,” he admitted, eyes never wavering from her face. “And Potter?”
She swallowed reflexively. “Harry? What about him?”
“You two were dating, weren’t you?”
She fought to hold his stare. “Harry’s not here,” she finally managed, voice quiet as a tear drop.
“Ah. But Malfoy is.”
“Yes.” She felt a wave of guilt wash through her and wondered at it. What did she have to feel guilty about? It wasn’t as if she was really involved with Draco. Their relationship was completely platonic. She had remained nothing but loyal to Harry.
A sly whisper in her mind asked why it was Draco’s token around her throat then and not Harry’s, but she smothered it almost immediately in denial.
Nott leaned forward, regarding her with a critical eye, obviously skeptical yet. “You trust him then?”
She let out a noise of exasperation. “Am I being interrogated?”
“Well, I could go back to tricking the answers out of you if you prefer, but you didn’t seem to appreciate my usual approach very much.”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “I’m leaving.”
Nott sighed and pushed away from the table. “No need. I was just leaving myself.” He got to his feet and brushed past her, pausing at the door. “I’ll be watching, Weasley.” And with that, he left.
Ginny watched his exit so flustered that she could feel her cheeks growing hot. Theodore Nott was a mystery she could not bear any longer. She’d never told Draco about the boy’s odd behavior, mostly because she felt horrible adding to the burden he already carried because of her, but after this episode, Ginny decided it was time to just break down and do it.
Because Nott had been right about one thing: he did frighten her, and not just a little.
- - - - -
A/N – I know, I know…we didn’t get to see any more D/G interaction. It’s coming, I swear. Next chapter.
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