A/N – Well, personally, I had fun with this chapter. It should answer some questions, too. Hope y’alls like it! And of course, as always, thanks for the reviews!
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Chapter 3—Slytherin Ethics
Dusk claimed the land quietly, its dim light softening even the sharp angles of Draco Malfoy’s face. Leaning against a tree at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, he spotted Ginny’s glaring red hair before anything else, the wind whipping long strands of it wildly around her head like a signal flag. She had on faded denim jeans, secondhand judging by the way they kept slipping low on her hips before she tugged them back up, and a white t-shirt that seemed to glow in the twilight. For his own part, Draco wore all dark colors, simple black slacks and a shirt that matched his gray eyes.
She stopped well outside arm’s reach, using both hands to catch up a fistful of scarlet hair and holding it back from her face. She didn’t bother to acknowledge his presence. He planned to do the same, but every time she lifted her arms to tame that hair, the hand-me-down jeans slipped alarmingly low, drawing his gaze to the bared skin despite himself. He could only ever catch a glimpse of pale hip and smooth stomach though before she dropped her hair in favor of yanking the jeans back up, then repeated the whole maddening process over again.
Finally, he could take no more. “Can’t you just tie that stuff back?” he snapped, waving his hand at her head.
She blinked at him, a strand of hair falling over her eyes as she did. “Why? It bothers you being down?”
“It bothers me that you can’t stand still because of it,” he snapped.
She smiled, just a small smile, but filled to bursting with wickedness. Draco cursed mentally—he knew that expression; it was the look of someone who just discovered a pet peeve.
“Terribly sorry, Malfoy, but I left my hair bands back in the castle.” She didn’t sound very sorry in his opinion. Her jeans slid down a few inches, and she quickly dropped her hair to snatch them back up again.
Draco’s eyes lingered for a split-second at the curve of her hips, wondering if it was his imagination, or if he actually just saw the elastic band of Ginny Weasley’s knickers. He shook his head, annoyed with his thoughts, and annoyed with her for making him think them. “I know you’re too poor to buy brand new clothes that actually fit,” he drawled, “but can’t you even afford a belt?” There, now he felt vindicated again.
Her only answer was in the form of a hate-filled glare. The truth was that her last good belt lay buckle-less in her trunk, but she would never admit it to the great prat. She eyed him sourly, irritated with his standard pristine appearance. She couldn’t find a single wrinkle in his clothes, and even his hair seemed to flow in the breeze rather than thrash about uncontrollably like hers. She wondered in passing if his back was ever anything but ram-rod straight.
The crunch of booted feet nearing carried her gaze over to the approaching Professor Pierce. His sand-colored hair blew in his face as well, but he didn’t seem to notice. His teeth gleamed in the night from a wide grin. “Evening!” he called, raising a hand as he easily covered the last few feet on those long legs of his. Ginny noticed an odd, rectangular box made of glass at his side.
“Evening, Professor,” Ginny answered politely.
“Well,” Pierce began, clapping his hands together in a business-like manner, “let’s get right to it, shall we? Tonight I’d like you to collect sprites for me.”
“Sprites?” Ginny asked while Malfoy examined his nails.
“Forest sprites, actually. I need them for a lesson tomorrow,” Pierce explained, squinting into the woods behind them. “Basically, they just look like miniature, winged women made of green light, which is why we had to do the detention here after dark. They’re quite useful, really…but I’ll save the lecture for class. No need to bore you twice.” He showed a lopsided grin. “Either of you have any experience catching them?”
Ginny glanced to Malfoy, who went on studying his hands. “Er…experience?”
Pierce chuckled. “I’ll take that as a no.” He paused, hunting around in his pockets for something. His hand came out holding a hand-carved wooden whistle. “No worries, it’s not too difficult. Just walk a ways until you’ve got a good ring of trees all the way ‘round, then give this a good hard blow.” He handed the whistle over to Ginny, as Malfoy still refused to acknowledge anything going on around him. “They should come right to you. Then just pop them in here.” He held up the glass container she’d noticed earlier. “Any questions?”
Ginny slipped the whistle into the back pocket of her jeans—she noted curiously that Malfoy followed the motion with his eyes—then carefully took the transparent cage in both hands. “Uh, I don’t think so.”
“Excellent.” Pierce’s hazel eyes flicked over to Malfoy, and for just a second, Ginny could swear she saw a flash of frustration in them. In the next instant they cleared, though, and she couldn’t be sure. “Best of luck, then. I wish I could stay, but I’ve got all sorts of catching up to do.”
Just as Pierce turned to leave, Malfoy said in a bored voice, “Yeah, I’ve got a question.”
Pierce stopped and faced them again, the lightest of smiles resting easily on his lips. “Yes, Mr. Malfoy?”
“Suppose we get attacked out here,” he stated conversationally. “What do you expect us to do then? This forest isn’t forbidden for no reason.”
“Remembering your last detention in the woods, Malfoy?” Ginny asked sweetly.
He sent a glare her way fierce enough to make any First Year whimper, but she only grinned innocently, just barely containing her laughter. She would mention something about the girlish shriek Harry described from that incident, but with the professor standing by decided not to press her luck.
Pierce shook his head. “That won’t be an issue. The Headmistress did me the favor of setting up a magical boundary. As long as you stay inside of it, you won’t be harmed.”
“And if we don’t?” Malfoy prompted.
“You won’t have to worry about it. Professor McGonagall created the boundary to keep all the nasties out, but it’ll keep you lot in as well. Quite solid thing, that barrier.”
Malfoy didn’t look overly convinced, but he shrugged his indifference anyway.
“If that’s all…?” Pierce asked.
Ginny nodded. “Think so.”
Pierce nodded to each in turn. “Right, then. I’ll be back in one hour.”
Ginny, still cradling the glass box in both hands, watched until the night swallowed up Professor Pierce.
“I don’t much care for him,” Malfoy commented then.
It took Ginny several seconds to get over the surprise of Malfoy speaking conversationally before she actually paid attention to his words. “Why not?” She was growing quite fond of the man, herself.
Malfoy frowned in the direction he’d gone. “I don’t trust him.”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “What, because he’s a Slytherin who knows how to smile?”
Draco gave a small, half-smile of his own. “He’s certainly done a good job of charming you, hasn’t he?”
Ginny narrowed her eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean? I think he’s nice, yes.”
“Think on this, Weasley,” Draco said, locking stares with her. “The man’s a Slytherin, whether he looks or acts like it or not, and if there’s one thing that’s true for every Slytherin, it’s that they never do something for nothing. There’s always a personal agenda, and it’s usually a hidden one. But no matter what, they don’t do anything ‘just because.’”
“So what are you saying?” A sinking, sick sort of feeling was curling in her gut.
“That dear Professor Pierce doesn’t fit the bill, and you can bet that he knows it. It’d be easier for him to just conform…but he doesn’t. Curious, no?”
“Maybe he’s just got a friendly personality, Malfoy,” she snapped defensively.
He shrugged. “Maybe. Or maybe he’s hiding something behind that friendly personality.” He smirked at her troubled expression. “Just something to think about.” He held out his hand abruptly. “Be a love, hand over the whistle thing.”
Her thoughts were still swimming, but she retained enough sense not to trust him with something so important. “You can put your hand down. You’re not getting it.”
He rolled his eyes, but didn’t argue the point. Instead, he simply turned and started striding towards the forest.
He stopped, looking over his shoulder expectantly.
“If all Slytherins have hidden agendas, how come he’s the one you don’t trust?”
He turned around all the way, smiling bitterly. “I don’t trust anybody, Weasley. He’s the one I don’t like.”
She crossed her arms impatiently. “Okay, why don’t you like him then? Seems smarter to like the nice one, even if you don’t particularly trust him.”
Malfoy seemed to honestly consider this a moment. Finally, he answered, “I respect honesty. Most Slytherins aren’t nice, and they don’t bother hiding it. But Pierce plays at being a real fine fellow, when I’d be willing to bet he’s ten different kinds of bastard under all that charm.”
Ginny’s face was doubtful. “I don’t think so.”
Malfoy shrugged. “Think whatever you’d like.”
“No one’s that good an actor,” Ginny insisted, trying to convince herself as much as Malfoy.
He cocked his head to the side. “What year are you again, Weasley?”
She blinked. “Huh?”
He smiled a slow, amused sort of smile—but not an unkind one. “What year? Sixth, yes?”
She eyed him suspiciously. “Why?”
The smile remained comfortably on his lips, and Ginny decided it was actually attractive without the usual twist of cruelty in it. She immediately berated herself for thinking anything about Malfoy was attractive, but didn’t have much time to worry about it, because he started moving closer. He approached carefully, like a man afraid to startle a wild animal, and with all sorts of alarms going off in her head, Ginny backed away just as slowly.
“I haven’t seen your brother around. Or Potter,” Malfoy remarked. “Where are they?”
Her eyes narrowed to slits, hackles raised. “Like I would tell you. What do you care, anyway?”
“I don’t, not really,” he answered truthfully. “I was just thinking that it must be lonely for you.”
She faltered, confusion flickering in her dark eyes. “What?”
He shrugged. “You used to hang about them quite a bit, didn’t you? Weren’t you and Potter an item even?” She only glared, so he gave another shrug. “It just seems to me that you’d be lonely, is all.”
He was still edging closer, and Ginny backed away more quickly. Then her back hit a tree, and her pride wouldn’t allow an all-out, obvious retreat, so she simply stood straight and tall, raising her chin defiantly. “I’m fine,” she snapped.
He finally stopped directly in front of her. He leaned one arm against the tree next to her head, so close that Ginny could actually smell him—a not unpleasant mix of cinnamon and something earthier.
“Malfoy,” she said quietly, not knowing for the life of her why she spoke so softly, “I suggest you get away from me right now, before I hex that pretty-boy face of yours right off.”
He smiled attractively again, this time even flashing his teeth, and Ginny hated that she thought it made him seem almost pleasant. “You know, I don’t doubt that you would,” he admitted. “That’s what I think I find most irresistible about you.” Ginny’s eyes went very, very wide. Malfoy didn’t seem to notice. He went on, voice reduced to a murmur, “So passionate….” He reached out and trailed a finger of his free hand down her cheek.
“Malfoy, get your hands off of me,” Ginny warned, voice dangerous. She wanted to slap him, or at least get out from beneath him, but she felt frozen and nerveless and her body didn’t respond.
He ignored her, his cool eyes intent on watching his finger trail over her skin. He dragged it on past her cheek to her throat, collar bone, and shoulder, where he laid his palm flat and ran his hand down her arm. “I’m lonely too,” he said in something just above a whisper. “Maybe….” His hand found the side of her waist, slid around to her back.
“What are you doing?” Ginny demanded harshly.
His eyes met hers, and in the next instant, his hand slipped smoothly into the back pocket of her jeans. That finally shocked her out of whatever trance he’d put her into, and she pulled back her arm to deliver the hardest slap of her life. Before she could follow through, though, he backed swiftly out of range, a smirk on his face so smug Ginny wanted to use her wand to blast it off his face.
“What the hell did you think you were bloody well doing?!” she shouted instead, feeling the flush building from her neck all the way up her face. “You slimy, filthy, disgusting ass! How dare—”
Her rant came to an abrupt halt, because between his thumb and forefinger, Malfoy held up the whistle from Ginny’s back pocket. The smirk on his face looked like it might become a permanent fixture. “Like I said, Slytherins never do anything just because.” He pocketed the whistle. “And remember this little demonstration next time you think that ‘no one’s that good an actor,’ because if I can pretend to take an interest in you to get what I want, Professor Pierce can certainly fake a smile or two.”
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Her honey-blonde hair shone in the pale morning light. From her seat across the table, she turned her fine-featured face towards him, and he was struck all over again by the beauty he never really appreciated until these long separations began. She deserved to be on the arm of a king, with a prince for a son. She deserved all the happiness in the world. But her crystalline blue eyes glittered with unshed tears. And they were because of him.
Her gaze collided with his, and he found he couldn’t look away. “You’re not one of them,” she whispered, refusing to blink despite the tears—she would not release his eyes, not now that she caught them. He so rarely met her eyes these days. It was just too hard.
“You know that I am,” he answered without emotion. This conversation was old and dry, and he lacked the energy to really argue it through anymore.
She shook her head slowly, rays of sunshine bouncing off her head. “You’re a smart young man, Jon. Clever enough to come up with the craziest schemes and just sneaky enough to pull them off.” She smiled faintly. “Remember when you were just a little boy, and you got into the cookie jar?”
He did. His mother put it way up high on the counter so his stubby arms couldn’t reach, but he knew it was right next to where she kept the first aid kit, since she always swore that the kitchen was the most accident prone room in the home.
He’d done a very simple thing, really—he went into the study, found the sharp letter opener, and cut his hand. Just big enough so that his mother would make that scared gasping noise, but small enough that it wouldn’t take too long to heal. Then he ran to the kitchen, real tears already glistening in his eyes from the pain, and began to bawl. Just as he predicted, his mother rushed in, made the gasping noise, and promptly lifted him up on the counter to put on the bandages. When she wasn’t looking, he leaned over and snatched a cookie right out of the jar. She never would have known, either, if not for finding the blood-stained letter opener he hadn’t thought to clean and forcing a teary confession from him.
“That’s why you were thrown in with that bunch,” his mother was saying, conviction still strong after all the years. “Because of that cunning determination. But for all that, you’re not cruel, Jon. You have a heart, and it’s still in there, I know it. It’s a little harder now, maybe, but still beating.” And then she repeated again, “You’re not one of them.”
He stood so abruptly that the chair grated noisily against the floor, and he turned his back to her, unable to bear looking at that face for another second. The face of his mother…the face of his first real test. His fingers wound around the wand hidden beneath his robes.
“You don’t have to do this,” she whispered. He heard the catch in her voice and the sob in her throat that she was too strong to release. “You could just walk away.”
He shook his head. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Where would I go? Where is there left to turn?” He squeezed his eyes shut. When he spoke, his voice was barely audible. “You should’ve left it alone, Mother. You should’ve never gotten involved in Death Eater business. You should’ve just let the damned thing be.”
“I should have let all the innocent children in that orphanage die? Is that what you’re saying?”
“They were only Muggles,” he mumbled.
“Jonathan!” she scolded. “I taught you better than that! Their being Muggle does not make killing them okay!”
He spun on her so suddenly that she visibly flinched. “Better them than you, you idiot woman!” he shouted, voice cracking.
She stared at him for a very long time before slowly straightening in the chair, drawing her shoulders back. “My conscience is clear,” was all she said.
He laughed. It was not a sound of mirth, or even of cruelty, but the sound of a madman. In it, his mother could hear all the makings of desperation and hysteria. It was the sound of a man who had reached his limits. He lifted his wand and took aim, his hand trembling violently.
She did not even glance at the wand tip pointed at her point-blank. “If you do this,” she warned quietly, “your heart won’t survive it. You’ll prove to them once and for all that you are one of them.”
For only the second time in years, Pierce met his mother’s crystal blue eyes. “That’s the point, Mum,” he whispered. And then he cast the spell, and sickly green light flooded his vision. But he could still see her eyes, intensely blue and wide and clear…and utterly lifeless…
Jonathon Pierce jerked awake with a gasp, sitting bolt upright in bed with a cold sweat running down his back. He swallowed thickly, fighting for air, and pressed his forehead against his knees. Years. That was years ago, and it still plagued his rest. Several minutes passed before he could bring himself to lift his head again.
The bedroom was pitch black, but he didn’t particularly care to see his own reflection just then anyway, so he swung his legs over the side of the bed and found the dresser in the dark. He started reaching for a comb when the hairs rose on the back of his neck, and he knew he wasn’t alone. His hand kept moving towards the comb without faltering, but at the last possible second darted to the side and snatched up his wand instead.
He whirled and shouted, “Lumos!” When the spots from the burst of light faded and Pierce saw who was at the other end of his wand, he rolled his eyes and lowered his arm. “Merlin Severus, don’t you ever announce yourself like any normal person?”
Severus Snape, at home in an armchair before the cold and dead fireplace, smirked. Ignoring the other man’s complaints, he remarked, “Still having the nightmares, I see.”
Pierce laid the wand back on his dresser, rubbing his palms over his face. “Every so often,” he admitted.
“The same one?”
Pierce nodded. “Every time.” He lowered himself into the chair opposite Snape. “It’s nothing. What are you doing here?”
Snape’s black eyes studied him a long moment before glancing away. “Seeing for myself what you’ve done to my rooms,” he joked dryly. “I kept them a bit tidier, myself.”
“You kept them Spartan,” Pierce retorted. “I had to add a little clutter just so it wasn’t so gloomy down here, you overgrown bat.”
“If you were anyone else, I would be forced to use an Unforgivable for that mouth.”
Pierce chuckled. “Ah, lucky I’m not then, hmm?” He sighed. “Why are you really here, Severus?”
Snape tilted his head. “How go things with Draco?”
Pierce made a face. “Time for my first check-up already?”
Snape shook his head. “I’m not here on behalf of the Dark Lord.” Pierce forced himself not to roll his eyes at mention of the name “Dark Lord.” “Just myself.”
“What? Bored with no children to torment this year, Sev?” Pierce grinned.
Snape snorted. “Hardly. Merely concerned…and curious. I know better than anyone how stubborn the boy can be.”
“He is that,” Pierce agreed. “To be completely honest? I haven’t made any progress whatsoever. Only ever talked to him a handful of times, and then I was dealing out a bloody punishment.”
Snape raised his eyebrows in question.
Pierce waved his hand. “Fighting in the halls, breaking curfew, that sort of thing. But other than that whole mess, nothing.”
Pierce let his head fall back against the chair. “I don’t know where to start with this kid, Severus. You know me—I already look nothing like what I am, and then with the cheerful act I put on, people usually take to me like that.” He snapped his fingers. “It’s why I’m one of Voldemort’s best spies.” He ignored Snape’s frown at the disrespectful use of Voldemort’s first name. “But I get the feeling that he’s not impressed, and I don’t want to do anything to raise any suspicion before absolutely necessary.”
Snape settled back, crossing his arms. “So instead you haven’t done anything?”
Pierce shrugged tellingly.
“Good Lord, Jon, you know better. You’re telling me you can spend two years stealing top secret documents from right under the Minister of Magic’s nose, but you can’t employ a little persuasion on a boy?”
“I seem to recall someone else unable to persuade a certain boy last year,” Pierce shot back.
Snape wasn’t fazed by the barb. “My talents are as an Occlumens and a Legilimens, which aren’t much help when it comes to this. You, on the other hand, have made your name playing on emotions. You’re in your element, Jon. Act like it.”
Pierce was beginning to feel real frustration. “It’s not so simple—”
“What tactic have you told me time and again you’ve always used before?” Snape interrupted.
Pierce frowned. “What’s that got to do with—”
“Just answer the question, Jon.”
Pierce shut his eyes and slumped, then dutifully recited his own mantra, “Figure out what they hold most dear, because that’s their greatest weakness. Use it any way you can—hold it hostage, blackmail with it, or bribe with the promise of more of it.” He took a breath. “Find what they can’t live without, and you find their greatest vulnerability.”
Snape nodded approvingly. “It’s never failed you yet.”
Pierce allowed a bitter smile. “Ah, but see that’s what makes this case so hard. What does Draco hold dear? Does he care about anything anymore? I mean, if last summer is any indication, he doesn’t even value his own life all that much, and that’s usually what I fall back on when all else fails.”
“I guess that’s what you need to figure out, then,” Snape stated simply, picking absently at the hem of his sleeve.
“And if I can’t?”
Snape gave a bored shrug. “Give him something to care about.”
“Oh, is that all?”
“No one said this would be easy,” Snape reminded him pointedly. “But the Dark Lord has faith in your abilities.”
Pierce gave a sarcastic smile. “Oh, well then, if the Dark Lord has faith in me….”
Snape’s eyebrows furrowed over a deep frown, and he was quiet a very long time. “It’s a dangerous game you play,” he said finally.
“And what game would that be, Severus?”
“Advancing so high in his ranks when it’s painfully obvious you hold so little loyalty for him.”
“It’s not as if I’m loyal to anyone else, either,” Pierce argued, not bothering to deny the observation. “And anyway, only obvious to you. I’m careful around the rest.”
Snape sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Did you ever consider that it’s not wise to place so much trust in me?”
Pierce raised his eyebrows. “Are you saying you plan on betraying me? After all these years? Oh, Severus, that’s just not nice.”
“Stop it,” Snape ordered harshly. “This is serious. Remember when you were first sorted into Slytherin? How na´ve you were? I saw potential in you so I took you under my wing, but even with all your success, you never grasped the first thing I always told you, again and again—trust no one.”
“You do,” Snape growled. “Me.”
Pierce narrowed his eyes. “Just what are you getting at, Severus? Do you plan on betraying me?”
Snape sighed. “No, Jon, I don’t. But the Dark Lord is no fool, and if you stay so central in his attentions, he’ll eventually catch on to the fact that you hold no allegiance to him, or even any real respect. Then it won’t matter how talented you are or how valuable to the cause—he demands no less than absolute devotion from his followers.”
Pierce flapped his hand impatiently. He knew all of that already. “I don’t see what this has to do with trusting you.”
“Just this—I’m a Slytherin above all else, Jon, and that means my own skin comes first. Right now you’re an asset, but don’t delude yourself into thinking that the second you fall out of favor with the Dark Lord I won’t secure my own position by whatever means necessary.”
Pierce felt his insides go cold. “What exactly are you saying?”
Snape stared down his hawk-like nose at Pierce. “I’m saying I would hate to hurt you should the Dark Lord figure things out. Do not give me more ammunition with which to do that.”
Snape stood abruptly, producing a vial from some hidden pocket of his robes. “Dreamless sleep,” he explained, setting the potion on Pierce’s bedside table. “For the nightmares.” Then he tossed an invisibility cloak around his shoulders, and Pierce was left alone with Snape’s warning echoing around darkly in his head. It fully hit him then what he’d really known all along—that his survival depended on him alone, just as was true with any Slytherin.
He didn’t resent Snape for the reminder, but a steely determination overcame him not unlike when he was a child scheming for a cookie—or a young man carrying out the first, terrible order from his new Master. He would make himself invincible…and he would use the “Dark Lord” to do it. He would make himself so invaluable that an insult to Pierce would be synonymous with an insult to Voldemort himself.
And he would start accomplishing that right now—with Draco Malfoy.
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