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Not Quite Fate by Hearts Cadence
Jewels and Disruption by Hearts Cadence
Chapter 19 — Jewels and Disruption

To his absolute surprise, Draco was actually in a terrific mood. The dungeon halls were cold and a little damp, but the heavy cloak swinging from his shoulders — a leftover from the days before his father disowned him and left him penniless — managed to shield him from any discomfort. No, the air felt pleasantly crisp to him, fresh and tasting of winter, and it only got cleaner as he ascended higher from the dungeons on his way to meet Ginny.

He’d decided to go out for their run the morning after their kitchen rendezvous all those weeks ago. He’d been a little nervous it might be awkward after their conversation then, but he needn’t have been — it had been as natural as it ever was, for which he was grateful. The weeks following had continued in much the same manner, easy and comfortable and without incident.

Well, aside from the fact that Draco was, if anything, even more convinced that he really did love the red-haired girl, and was painfully aware of the inconvenient fact.

Actually, for the most part, he had gotten the hang of ignoring his emotions, and even more useful, of suppressing some of his less…honorable thoughts. It still wasn’t easy to be around her, but he didn’t feel like he had to avoid her or risk humiliation anymore. He was just thankful he’d mastered it before this date to Hogsmeade…that wasn’t a date at all, he made himself remember.

The sound of voices floating down the hall from above reached him, and he slowed to listen. It only took a second for him to identify the voice, and he cursed, his head swiveling in an attempt to find a hiding spot. He spotted a small alcove up ahead, and without a second thought dashed towards it. The shadows closed around him not a moment too soon as Pansy appeared around the corner, hands gesturing emphatically as she spoke to Daphne.

“I know, I’ve been trying to talk to him, but he’s always busy!”

From his hiding spot Draco rolled his eyes. Three guesses who she meant.

“It can’t be that hard,” Daphne protested. “Just get him during supper or breakfast or something.”

“Oh, brilliant plan, Daphne,” Pansy snapped. “I’ll just bring it up in the middle of the Great Hall, where anyone could overhear….”

Their voices faded as they disappeared from sight, and Draco let his head fall back against the stone wall. Just lovely. Pansy had been badgering him non-stop ever since he brushed her off that night he went to the kitchens, but he’d managed to avoid her every time and never did find out what she wanted to talk about so badly. Still, he’d suspected it must involve the Death Eaters, and her comment to Daphne just now left very little doubt in his mind on the matter.

With a sigh, he pushed off from the wall and hoped that Ginny wasn’t wondering where he was.

When he finally reached the Entrance Hall, she was already leaning against the wall next to one of the giant suits of armor, bundled against the cold in a rather thin-looking cloak.

“Been waiting long?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Not too bad. Besides, he’s been keeping me company.” She nodded towards the suit of armor. “Great bloke. Not the greatest conversationalist, though.”

Draco smirked. “The sad part is I’m not even surprised.”

She stuck out her tongue as she walked towards him. “You’re a prat.”

“If I had Knut for every time you said that to me, I’d be rich again,” he said a little wistfully.

“You don’t want to be rich again. Money corrupts.”

“But it buys such nice stuff.”

Ginny rolled her eyes, pulling her cloak a little tighter against the cold as they left the castle behind them. “You’re hopeless.”

“You can’t tell me that being rich doesn’t appeal to you at least a little bit,” Draco argued.

“Can too. I told you: money corrupts. It’s not worth it.”

He shook his head. “You really believe that?”

She smiled at him. “Just look at it this way: I never liked you until you lost everything. Even if I didn’t know it until later.”

“Trust me — and this is coming from someone who’s known both worlds — having money is a lot easier.”

She nodded. “I don’t doubt it. Much easier. Not necessarily better.”

“How is easier not better?”

“Oh, come on. Haven’t you ever heard that half the fun is getting there? What’s the point of living if you don’t have anything to work towards, if everything’s just handed to you?”

They reached the carriages and Draco helped her into one, fighting mightily not to notice the smooth, cool touch of her skin against his as she grasped his hand.

“Well, it’s a pretty theory,” Draco told her as he climbed in after, “but I still miss my galleons.”

Ginny smiled and shook her head helplessly. “I suppose it’s easier not to miss something you never had.” She watched the grounds roll past the window for a moment before suddenly turning back to him. “So why were you late, anyway?”

He grimaced. “Nothing. Just Pansy.”

“What about her?”

“Like I said, it’s nothing.”

She eyed him critically a moment before determining, “You’re lying. I can tell. Something’s bothering you.” Her face went a little ashen. “It’s not…?”

He quickly shook his head. “No, it doesn’t have anything to do with you, don’t worry.”

She visibly relaxed. “Oh, good. So…what is then?”

He hesitated, not really sure he wanted to burden her with yet another Death Eater concern. It really wasn’t fair to her. Or, if he were truly honest with himself, the real reason was less noble: he just didn’t want to talk about it.

“Draco, you know you can trust me,” Ginny told him with an encouraging smile, and she laid her hand on his knee.

Draco swallowed, staring at where her hand rested. Merlin, was she trying to drive him mad? He cleared his throat. “She’s, uh, just been after me a bit.”

“After you?” Ginny leaned back against the seat, taking her hand with her to Draco’s immense relief…and, he hated to admit, his disappointment.

He could think a bit more clearly now, in any case, and explained, “Yeah, she’s been wanting to talk to me about something. Take a wild guess what.”

“Death Eater business.”

“Right in one.” He frowned. “Well, I suppose. I can’t see what else it could be. I haven’t let her get me alone long enough to say.” He brooded over it a moment, then shrugged. “Anyway, I had to duck out of the way to avoid her in the hall.”

“Oh.” She studied him a moment, frowning. “You seem really bothered. Are you worried about it or something?”

Draco let his eyes drift towards the window. He hated these conversations, but one glance at the sincere look on her freckled face made it impossible to tell her so. “Not really. I don’t know. Maybe.” He slouched down in the seat. “Just with them you never know what’s next, you know? And most of the time, you really don’t want to know.”

“Maybe you should just talk to her,” Ginny suggested, pushing herself up to cross her legs Indian-style beneath. She propped her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand. “The not-knowing is probably worse than the reality.”

“Wanna bet?”

“Maybe she just wants to ask you out or something.”

Draco snorted. “I think I’d prefer something to do with Death Eaters.”

She laughed, sitting up straight again. “You’re terrible.”

“No, I’m honest.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “You’re honest, are you?”

Draco conceded her point with a shrug. “Well…sometimes.”

“When it’s convenient, yeah?”

He smirked. “Congratulations, you’ve mastered the Slytherin philosophy.”

Ginny only rolled her eyes, then after a moment, she suddenly announced, “I feel terrible, you know.”

He looked over, surprised by the sudden remark. He could see by her face that she wasn’t lying. She was biting her lip in that nervous way of hers that made him want to just grab her and snog her senseless — which, he berated himself, was one of those things he was supposed to be ignoring now — and her eyebrows had a little crease of worry between them. “Oh, what do you have to be guilty over now? I swear you just look for things….”

She glared at him. “Well, I was going to say I felt bad about being the reason you’re having to deal with all this stress, but now I think I’ve changed my mind.”

“Excellent. See? Never say I don’t help.”

She gave a laugh that said, “you’re hopeless” and shook her head. “You’re in a weird mood today. Did you take something this morning?”

“No, actually. Believe it or not, I’m just happy.”

“Well, that is strange.”

“Exceedingly. It’s a little frightening. Maybe I should have run into Pansy, just to get things back to normal.”

The carriage rolled to a stop, and Draco climbed out first, turning back to help Ginny down. She accepted his hand, but when her foot moved to the step, she tangled it in her robes and lost her balance. He heard the startled squeak escape her throat, and after that everything happened in a blur. She fell forward, her arms grabbing for his shoulders, and he instinctively caught her waist, holding her tight to his chest off the ground so that she was raised just slightly taller than him.

For an awkward second, neither of them moved, and the only thought running through Draco’s head was, Oh bloody hell….

Because now he knew what she felt like in his arms. Now he knew how perfectly her curves fit his body, like she’d been made just for him, and he finally could feel exactly how soft that fiery hair really was. And, God help him, she smelled like flowers and grass after spring rain — sweet but distinctly earthy in a way exactly fitting for her. Before he had only his imagination to contend with, but this would beyond a doubt make dealing with this inane emotion that much more difficult.

The second ticked by, though, and Ginny gave a nervous laugh as she pushed back a little on his shoulders, sliding herself down to the ground again. He let her go, intensely relieved when she stepped back, but at the same time experiencing a pang of loss so sharp that he actually welcomed the duller ache of longing that eventually replaced it.

“Sorry.” Beneath her freckles her face was so red with embarrassment that it almost blended in her with her hair. “I guess I never quite mastered that lady-like grace stuff.”

Uncomfortable to the point of wanting to flee and still battling with all the conflicting emotions rushing through him, Draco just shrugged, muttered, “It was nothing,” and started walking towards the village.

Ginny caught up quickly, and they spent the next several minutes in awkward silence. Draco felt about ready to break from the tension when Ginny suddenly stopped in front of a shop window and gazed inside.

“Wow,” she breathed. “That is lovely.”

He identified the establishment as the local jewelry shop, the displays inside the window glittering brilliantly in the afternoon sun. Ginny was so absorbed by whatever caught her eye that she practically had her face pressed against the window.

“What is?” he asked curiously, stepping up behind her to peer over her shoulder.

That.” She pointed at a delicate gold necklace that draped gracefully around a mannequin’s neck, a circle pendant of emerald, ruby, amber, and sapphire — one for each of Hogwarts’ Houses — hanging from the end.

Draco studied it a moment. “You like it?”

“Of course! It’s beautiful, and I love that idea. All the Houses, you know.” She smiled wistfully, turning away. “Just neat.”

Draco considered the necklace for another few moments as she started walking away, then before she got too far called, “Ginny, wait. Come here.”

“What?”

“Do you want it?”

“What do you mean?

“I mean, do you want that necklace?”

She laughed incredulously. “Draco, I could never afford that!”

He looked at the necklace another second before turning to her. “I know. But I might be able to get it for you.”

“Draco, you can’t afford that anymore than I can, remember? You’re as broke as me now. Maybe more than me.” She tilted her head. “Now that’s an interesting notion. A Weasley with more money than a Malfoy.”

He glared. “I think you’re actually enjoying my poverty.”

She grinned impishly. “Maybe just a little bit.”

He put his chin in the air. “I’ve still got more class.”

She snorted, which he chose to ignore.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I’m not suggesting that I’d buy it.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Umm, thanks all the same, but I’d rather not walk around sporting stolen goods.”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m not saying that either. Look, just come with me.”

He started back towards the carriages, knowing she would follow. Sure enough, her footsteps came slapping up behind him in seconds, and she demanded, “Where are you going? Back to the castle? We just got here!”

“I know, but it would probably be a good idea to do this while the castle’s deserted.”

“Do what?” Her voice came out exasperated, and her lips formed an annoyed frown.

He just shook his head, fighting not to smile. Something in him still loved seeing her get worked up. He liked that the fire in her always burned somewhere deep down…and sometimes not so deep down.

He hailed a carriage and climbed inside, reaching down to offer her his hand.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not getting in that thing until you tell me what’s going on.”

“You’re going to be standing there an awfully long time then.”

She actually stomped her foot, hands going to her sides clenched in fists. “Draco Malfoy! Quit being such an obnoxious git!”

“That wasn’t very nice. Now, get in, or I’m going back without you and you’ll never know.”

She glared at him, then slapped away his hand and pulled herself into the carriage unaided. She plopped down opposite him, crossing arms and legs and staring out the window with her nose in the air, refusing to look at him. This time, Draco couldn’t help but smile, though he was smart enough to hide the fact behind his hand.

When they reached the castle, Ginny jumped down before he could offer to help and stood outside tapping her foot impatiently. “Well, go on then. Show me what was so important we had to leave early, you great prat.”

He chuckled as he started walking up the steps to the Entrance Hall. “You know, you’re going to feel just awful when you find out. Especially with your guilt issues.”

“Somehow I doubt that.”

He just shook his head, smiling lightly to himself.

Ignoring the way Ginny stomped as she followed, Draco led her down to the dungeons and didn’t stop until they reached his common room.

“Draco, this is ridiculous!” she suddenly exploded, telling him she’d been trying to hold back for some time. “Your common room?”

“My room,” he corrected. “We just have to go through the common room to get there…which is why I thought we should do this now, before everyone came back to see and make assumptions you probably wouldn’t like.”

Ginny eyed him reproachfully. “What’s in your room?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Don’t you trust me even a little bit by now?”

“Not really,” she returned lightly as she followed him into the common room. “But you only have yourself to blame for that. You’re the one that turned me into a paranoid freak, remember?”

“You know, I’m about to do something incredibly nice for you, and all you can do is insult me.”

“Now you know how everyone usually feels around you,” she answered absently, her real attention focused on her surroundings.

He watched her reaction with interest. In his head, he’d always pictured her regarding the place with that little wrinkle in her nose betraying her distaste at stepping foot on enemy territory. The reality surprised him.

Her dark eyes traveled slowly, carefully observant, without ever quite stopping. She didn’t seem to disapprove of the gothic-looking room with its black leather chairs, green lamps and decorations carved from ebon wood, though that didn’t necessarily mean it looked like she liked it either. She appeared merely fascinated. At least she seemed to have forgotten her annoyance.

“Well?” he asked after she’d turned in a complete circle.

“It’s…different. Gryffindor is much more cheerful, but there’s something kind of cool about this too.” She smiled up at him. “It’s almost like stepping into one of those old Dracula novels.”

He chuckled. “Creepy?”

She considered. “No. Classy, mysterious. A little exciting. If it were a man, it would be tall, dark, handsome, and have a tortured past.”

“Oh, Lord, please tell me you don’t fancy that clichéd romance novel type Pansy’s always blathering on about.”

Ginny laughed. “Don’t be silly…I prefer my men with fair complexions.” She winked at him and flashed a wicked grin before sauntering — actually bloody sauntering — by him.

He stared after her in disbelief, only vaguely aware that his mouth hung open in a way entirely unsuitable for a Malfoy. Was she flirting? No, she couldn’t be. She was still in love with damned Potter. And even if she was, it was only in jest. It had to be. But he was wasting his time wondering about that anyway, because she definitely had not been flirting. After all, she’d always been a joker, even before they drew their truce…well, when she hadn’t been hexing him or screeching at him like a banshee she had, anyway.

“So where’s your room?” she asked resignedly, arms crossed.

He snapped his mouth shut. “What?”

“Your room. I want to find out what this brilliant surprise is already.”

The reminder shoved him back into the present. “Oh, right. This way.” He walked past her, holding his breath so as not to risk even a hint of that spring shower smell, and led her down a short hall to the boys’ dorms, and from there to the dormitory he shared with the other Seventh year males.

“I’ve never been in a boy’s room before,” Ginny commented as Draco shut the door. “Well, I mean my brothers back at the Burrow, but that doesn’t count.” She looked around. “Which bed is yours?”

Draco walked over to it and crouched by the trunk at the foot. “This one. Now close your eyes a minute.”

She raised her eyebrows, then with a little sigh, complied. Draco spared a second to just look at her like that, standing beautiful and oblivious to his scrutiny in the middle of his quite deserted room. He shook his head and opened the trunk before he followed that dangerous train of thought further.

He rummaged around through his belongings for a moment before he found the small, midnight velvet box he wanted. Cradling it in hand, he walked slowly over and around her, stopping at her back.

“Don’t open your eyes,” he warned in a murmur, then hesitating for only a second, reached out and swept her hair over one shoulder, brushing the skin at the back of her neck as he did — not really on accident. He could have sworn he saw her shiver, but that was probably just wishful thinking. He gave himself a good mental smack. Why did he torture himself like this? He was beginning to suspect he was becoming a masochist.

“What are you doing?” she asked, whispering just as he’d spoken in a murmur, like they both feared shattering some fragile spell.

Or, again, maybe that was just his imagination teasing him.

“Just wait,” he answered. He flipped open the box and pulled out a necklace, tossing the empty container onto his bed. “Take off your locket.”

“What?”

“I said, take off your locket.”

She hesitated, hand flying to the locket in question. “I…I can’t.”

“Just for a minute. You can put it right back on after.”

She didn’t say anything for a long moment, and Draco stepped to the side to see her face. She was biting her lip, eyes still squeezed tightly shut and her forehead creased in an obvious internal struggle. Finally, releasing a shaky breath, she reached up and unfastened the locket with one hand, letting it slither with a soft clink into the waiting palm of her other one. She dropped it into her pocket.

Draco felt a swell of satisfaction as though he’d just won some pivotal battle, and wordlessly, he worked free the clasp of the necklace still in his hands. He leaned forward to drape the chain around her now bare neck, taking his time as he did, breathing in that unique scent of springtime rain.

Like I said, a bloody masochist, mate, he thought to himself bitterly.

This time, when the cold metal touched her skin, he knew for sure she shivered, and he took inordinate pride in the fact. He couldn’t resist brushing the skin of her neck again as he fastened the clasp.

“Draco?”

“Shhh. Almost. Come on.” He lightly grasped either shoulder, feeling the warmth of her body through the cloth of her robes, and steered her carefully towards the room’s one full-length mirror. He stopped her with a light squeeze and, though he knew he was seriously pushing it now, he also knew that he probably wouldn’t find an opportunity like this again, so he stepped up closer so that his chest stopped just a whisper away from her back.

Carefully, he arranged her hair, soft as a unicorn’s mane and vividly bright as dragon fire, back around her shoulders, allowing himself a moment to run his hands through those strands one last time, committing to memory the picture they made in the mirror. Then he stepped back.

“All right. Have a look.”

She opened her eyes and let out a soft, “Oh.” The necklace didn’t match the one in the shop window exactly: its chain was made of silver rather than gold, but the pendant resting just in the hollow of her throat did have all four House colors. The only difference was the addition of diamonds to this one, and the fact that they were shaped into a heart rather than a simple circle.

Draco,” she breathed, touching the glittering jewels reverently with the tips of her fingers.

“It’s not exactly the same as the one you saw,” Draco apologized with an awkward shrug, “but I thought it was close enough that you might like it anyway.”

“Are you kidding me? It’s gorgeous. Better than the one in Hogsmeade.” She admired it a moment longer in awed silence, then blinking as if emerging from a dream, shook her head. “But you know I can’t accept it. It’s too nice.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Well, I’m certainly not going to get any use out of the thing. Mum wanted me to give it to Pansy, but I’d sooner toss it in the lake. I want you to have it.”

She stared at her reflection, obviously torn between manners and desire. “I don’t know….” She turned suddenly to face him. “Why? Why would you want to just give me something so precious? You could sell it or something. It has to be worth more galleons than I’ve had in my life.”

Draco lifted a shoulder, unable to look her in the eye. “I just do. Besides, it looks good on you, and I just…do.”

She shook her head. “But it doesn’t make sense. All I’ve caused you is trouble, having to protect me and everything else, and you don’t have a reason for that either. It’s not like you, and you know it. There must be something. I just can’t see what.”

Draco finally met her gaze. Her brown eyes, so rich and dark, stared back wonderingly at him, and he felt his stomach clench. He took a steadying breath, but that only succeeded in bringing her curiously heady smell to his senses. “Ginny….”

“Yes?”

Somehow they’d gotten closer. He couldn’t remember if it had been his doing or if she’d drifted nearer on her own, but Draco suddenly found himself at a far cry from a respectable distance. And the way she was tilting her head back to see him, it would be so easy to just lean down and…

A sharp knock came from the door.

The two sprang apart just as Pansy’s high voice cut through the air. “Draco? Someone told me they saw you leaving early, so I thought…Well, are you there?”

Draco cursed hotly under his breath, feeling a loathing for Pansy like nothing he’d ever felt for the girl before. “Hide!” he hissed to Ginny, shoving her roughly onto the bed nearest the door and yanking the curtains closed.

Draco had just enough time to retreat back to his own bed before Pansy came barging in.

“Why didn’t you answer?” she snapped.

“I’m not feeling well, Pansy,” he growled. “Why do you think I came back early?”

She frowned uncertainly. “Really? What’s wrong?”

Draco had an idea. “I’m not sure, but my head feels foggy. I could use one of those potions we keep in the loo, but I don’t even feel like I have the energy to get up and find one.”

Pansy instantly perked up, eager to please. “I can get it. What’s it look like?”

“Green, with a blue stopper.” She nodded, and Draco waited until she was just out of sight before striding across the room, throwing back the bed curtains hiding Ginny, and dragging her out by the arm. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered, rapid-fire. “Go, we’ll talk later.” Then without waiting for her reply, he pushed her through the door.

By the time Pansy reappeared, Draco was already back to reclining on his bed, and handing him the vial, she said, “Okay, here’s your potion. Now, can we please have that talk?”

Draco knew there was no way out this time. He sighed. “Fine.”

- - - - -

Ginny felt a little shell-shocked. She had seen the Slytherin common room, been inside Draco’s dormitory, received the most expensive gift of her entire life, hid and then escaped from detection, all in the space of less than an hour. It was enough to keep the adrenaline pumping in her veins for ages. She still couldn’t believe Draco would consider giving her something so priceless, and she was enormously uncomfortable with accepting it. She would have to return it…eventually.

She was just ascending the stairs out of the dungeons when a pair of black shoes entered her line of vision. She grabbed the rail in surprise, uttering a squeak, and lifted her gaze up to the face of Theadore Nott.

Without thinking, she snapped, “A little warning? I almost fell down the steps!”

He raised his eyebrows. “My apologies.”

Ginny glowered but made no reply. That was, until he showed no signs of moving out of her way. “Could I please get by?”

Nott appeared not to have heard her, slipping his hands leisurely into his pockets. “So I’m curious: why would a Gryffindor princess be wandering about all by herself in the dungeons?”

Ginny scowled. “I’m not a princess,” she grumbled, side-stepping the implied question.

He looked her over from head to toe, gaze halting at her neck. “Hmmm. Perhaps not, but you certainly ornament yourself like one.”

She was getting impatient and more ill at ease by the second; she just wanted out of there. It was torture being so close to freedom, yet to have it so far out of reach thanks to the tall boy blocking her path. “Now what are you on about?”

He gave his damned half-smile, which she was all too familiar with by now, and descended one more step. He reached out to her, making her flinch back, but he only lifted Draco’s necklace off her neck before letting it fall back into place. “That. I don’t mean any offense, but it seems a bit out of your price range.”

Ginny’s fingers covered the jeweled pendant defensively. “It was a gift.”

“Ah. Of course.” Now his half-smile became a smirk. “May I ask from whom?”

“No, you may not,” she retorted in her best impression of his precise speech. “Now please be ever so kind as to get the hell out of my way!”

Nott chuckled. “In a minute. First, you never did explain: what are you doing down here?” That knowing half-smile again. “Visiting someone?”

Ginny narrowed her eyes, perfectly aware of what he was implying. “Yes, actually,” she answered sweetly, enjoying the momentary surprise that flitted over his face. “I had to see Professor Pierce about an assignment.”

“I see. Was he helpful?”

His apparent interest caught her off guard, but she recovered quickly. “I…suppose. I mean, he answered my questions.”

“Did he now? Right here in these dungeons. Well, that is interesting.”

Ginny eyed him suspiciously. “What do you mean?”

“Well, because I just got back from Hogsmeade, you see, and when I was leaving, I saw someone distinctly Pierce-like walking into the Three Broomsticks. Now, call me crazy, but I find it quite impressive that he managed to finish his business there, get back to the castle, and answer your questions all before I arrived back myself.” Ginny fought mightily to maintain her composure, silently using several of the swears she’d recently learned from Draco. Nott’s mouth quirked in amusement. “Next time, do your homework. Or at least choose something more likely.”

“That is likely,” Ginny defended stubbornly, trying to recover at least some measure of dignity.

Nott shook his head. “It isn’t if you’ve been paying attention.”

“Paying attention to what?”

“Haven’t you noticed? Our dear Professor hasn’t been frequenting his rooms very often these days. Apparently, he’s found more pleasing accommodations elsewhere…or, my personal theory, more pleasing company.”

Ginny made a face. “Oh, please.” Though, now that she thought about it, Draco had mentioned on several occasions that Pierce’s quarters appeared deserted when he walked by. Still, Pierce partaking in some illicit affair seemed a little far-fetched to her.

Nott shrugged. “Think what you will. But remember that the most unlikely people are usually the ones involved in the most unlikely things. Just look at yourself.”

She immediately threw up her guard. “What about me?”

He crossed his arms, leaning casually against the wall. “Well, obviously you didn’t take my advice to stay away from him very seriously.”

“I’m sorry, stay away from who?”

“Don’t play dumb. It doesn’t become you. That’s a tool more suitable to someone like Pansy.”

Ginny smiled sweetly. “I’ll be sure to let her know.”

He snorted. “Go ahead. She knows what I think of her.”

“Look,” she snapped, finally run out of patience, “I don’t have time for your stupid games, so either move or I’ll move you personally.”

He gave her a quick assessment that clearly left him unimpressed. “You think so?”

Temper snapping, Ginny clenched her fists and without warning bulled forward, throwing her entire weight into shoving him out of the way. He stumbled back against the stone wall with an audible thump, and though Ginny knew better than to turn back and gloat, she sported a wide grin.

“I’ll admit one thing I was wrong about!” he called after her, eloquent voice only slightly rougher as he struggled to regain the breath she knocked out of him. “It’s already too late for you. You can’t get out now. He’s got you tangled up in his world, and you’re as trapped as the rest of us.”

She whirled around. “What does it matter to you? What the hell do you care? Honestly, I’d like to know, because I sure can’t figure it out!”

He shrugged. “It can’t be friendly interest?”

“You’re no friend of Draco’s.”

He smiled mysteriously. “I never said Draco, did I?”

At a complete loss for words to that, she simply stood there utterly confused. She remained a beat longer without knowing how to react, then in a burst of frustration, let out a small scream and spun on her heel, storming off.

She walked the rest of the way to Gryffindor in a haze of absolute bewilderment and more than a little anger. What was it with these people and their fascination with game playing? What could Nott possibly want out of her, and what did he mean when he implied a “friendly interest” in her? Another danger to watch out for? Certainly not an ally, not that enigmatic Slytherin.

She stalked over to her bed and started stripping off her robes as soon as she entered the dormitory. Folding the garment to put it away in her trunk, she noticed a hard lump in the pocket and realized she’d never put back on her locket. Guiltily, she pulled it out and held the end of the chain, watching as the locket dangled at the end, turning in lazy circles.

She gazed at it a long time, letting the light bounce off the surface. Lowering it, she lifted her fingers to trace the silver chain already around her neck, following its length to the glittering, multi-colored pendant at the end.

Then she returned the locket to her robe and shut both in her trunk…leaving Draco’s heart nestled at her throat.

- - - - -

A/N – All right, not quite as long (though still about five pages longer than my old average), but much faster, so I call it even haha. Thanks for reading! Let me know what you thought!


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