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Not Quite Fate by Hearts Cadence
Invitations All Around by Hearts Cadence
A/N – thanks for all the reviews and support!!! You guys are absolutely amazing!
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Chapter 22 – Invitations All Around
The rooms seemed smaller than they used to, cramped and gloomy and dank with the damp chill of the dungeons. Well…the dungeons weren’t really damp, or even much colder than the rest of the castle thanks to several well-placed charms…but like the rooms, they seemed that way.
Pierce’s whole world seemed that way. For the past several weeks, indecision over the Draco situation had been gnawing away at him like a slow, certain cancer, attacking every thought to enter his head and dominating all else. He’d hardly even seen Naomi. On the few occasions that he had, she’d noticed his distraction and inquired about it, but he’d given no answer. She’d let it be.
Now his hands glided across the dozens of volumes on the bookshelf, most pertaining to potion-making, left behind by Severus after his hasty flight. Some dealt with darker matters. It was these that his fingers sought out.
His hand fell across the spine of one book, Of Curses and Poisons, and he slipped it free of its neighbors. Carrying it to the sofa, he lowered himself down and cracked open the tome to a random page. It was in a section on poisons, this particular one a silent killer that the Potions Master in question could design to simulate all manner of natural death — sickness, choking, even suicide. Very effective. Very complex. Beyond Pierce’s ability.
He shut the book with a sigh. For once, opportunity seemed to have failed him. Nothing but murder presented itself in regards to the Weasley girl. Perhaps it was his own fault for not looking hard enough. One drunken night, he’d ranted to no one in particular that it was Naomi’s fault for taking his eye off the goal. The next morning, sober but hung-over, he took it all back. He couldn’t bring himself to accept Naomi was a weakness. She wasn’t; she was merely a reprieve.
Pierce grudgingly turned back to the book, the one that claimed it could teach anyone to manufacture all sorts of fascinating and sneaky deaths. His hands leafed aimlessly through the contents while his mind wandered somewhere in the castle up above where Weasley was probably with Draco right now. Maybe laughing, or flying, or simply talking about things of absolutely no importance just for the fun of it.
This would destroy Draco. Not that Pierce particularly cared one way or the other about the boy, but he couldn’t help but see a lot of himself in the youth. He knew that a conclusion like this to Draco’s first experience with love would sour it for him for life. Pierce would, in effect, be taking any hope the boy had of caring for another human being. Especially after Voldemort got his hands on him.
Shame; he never even really experienced it this time around. As far as Pierce knew, Weasley remained clueless. Pierce could say this much at least: his life might have been shattered by Voldemort and the Death Eaters on a hundred different levels, but at least he’d had love.
His hand froze over the page it was on. What had he just thought? He stared wide-eyed out in front of him, oblivious to how comical he must appear. Did he just tell himself he’d had love? But he wasn’t in love with Naomi. He wasn’t.
Annoyed, he re-attacked the book with new vigor, scowling at nothing in particular as spell after spell, potion after potion flashed by his eyes, a hundred different paths to the same dark end. He needed the cleanest one, the one that would look the most innocent and would seem totally unlikely of him. If any fingers pointed to him, he was finished.
After several minutes of this frantic searching, though, he gave a frustrated sigh and flung the book across the room, taking some small satisfaction in the way it thumped against the tapestry-covered stone. His heart wasn’t in it. He couldn’t build up any enthusiasm, and so his mind didn’t want to cooperate either.
He drummed his fingers against his knee. What was he doing? What was wrong with him? Restless, he got to his feet and walked over to the chest at the foot of his bed. He freed both the manual locks and the numerous wards he’d personally set to protect it against any meddling. Inside, he shoved aside piles of random books and papers, lifted out a secret compartment, and gazed down at the contents.
A silver mask stared back at him, empty eye-sockets hideous and black as they looked vacantly on. He lifted it out carefully, feeling a vague tingling in his fingertips, but he knew that was only in his head. He pulled out the thick robe next, so black it seemed to absorb and swallow down the light around it, and then he tossed both onto his bed.
Stepping back, he rested his chin in his hand, the other one holding his elbow, and he gazed at the costume. He felt his old sarcasm boiling up in him, thinking that the thing looked like some child’s cheap Halloween disguise for the Grim Reaper. Ridiculous, really. How had something otherwise so laughable become such a symbol of terror? But therein, Pierce knew, lay Voldemort’s real power.
Pierce sighed. Too bad he wasn’t impressed by any of it. Otherwise, this would be a whole hell of a lot easier. But he had no respect for the man, no belief in his cause, no awe of his devices — he had only his personal ambition to keep him strong. And for some reason, that was waning.
He suddenly decided he had to get out to where he could think. These quarters were stifling him, shutting down his brain. If he just got somewhere else, maybe he could find his answers, sort things out. Like a man fleeing from a smoke-filled room, he jumped to his feet and strode through the living area to his adjoining office, and on out through the door.
At first he didn’t know where he was going, but when his feet started heading towards Hogsmeade, he couldn’t say he was all that surprised. In minutes he was standing before the Three Broomsticks, staring at the sign swinging lazily in the wind above the door and wondering what he thought to accomplish by coming here. He could tell Naomi nothing, so she could advise him in nothing. It was pointless. He went in anyway.
He let his eyes have a moment to adjust to the dimness inside, giving Rosmerta a familiar nod when she called out a greeting, then made his way towards the stairs. He thought their usual creak sounded particularly mournful as he made the ascent this time.
Naomi opened the door after only a brief pause, eyes widening a bit when she saw him. She twisted around to get a look at the clock and said, “Jon? It’s only two o’clock.”
“I know.” He looked at the wall to the right of her doorway. “I just…I don’t know. I wanted to see you.”
“You don’t have any classes?”
“They were all in the morning today. The last one finished at noon.”
She studied him curiously a second, then stepped back to let him in. “Well, don’t just stand out there in the hall.”
Pierce stepped into the now familiar rooms feeling like he was both coming home and walking into a danger zone. It was comforting and thrilling all at once — just like Naomi herself, really.
“Want some tea? I could send down for a cup…”
He shook his head, finding a seat on the room’s one chair. “That’s all right.”
She sat on the bed facing him, a tiny frown tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Everything all right?”
Pierce closed his eyes. What could he say? “I have a problem,” he finally admitted.
“I’d gathered. What sort of problem?” He opened his eyes and gave her a look, and Naomi’s mouth formed an “o” of understanding. “A Death Eater problem,” she supplied gently.
Pierce said nothing, but that was confirmation enough.
Naomi sighed, shifting around so she lay on her belly, chin in hand. “Are you going to tell me more?”
He met her stare, but said nothing.
“All right. Can you at least tell me if you’re in any danger?”
“No, I’m not in danger.” He rubbed absently at his Mark. “It’s nothing like that.”
“Something you don’t want to do then.”
“Something you have to do?”
Pierce slid down in his chair, eyes going towards the ceiling. “I don’t know. There might be a way around it, somehow. I just can’t see it.”
“You know, this conversation would be much easier on me if I knew what we were actually talking about,” she pointed out with a small smile to soften the words.
He shook his head. “I can’t tell you. I’ve told you a lot of things, Naomi, but not this. Don’t push me.”
Something in his tone must have struck a chord because she stayed silent for a long while. Finally, she said, “Then why did you come here?”
“I don’t know.” He pushed himself up straight in the chair again, running both hands through his hair. “I honestly don’t know.”
Naomi got up then and moved over to him, perching sideways on his lap. “Maybe you just wanted to remember you’re not alone?”
He smiled wryly up at her, pulling her head down for a brief kiss. “Damn Ravenclaws. Always been too smart for your own good. That’s why we Slytherins can’t stand you.”
She grinned. “Lucky me I found the exception, huh?”
“Yes. Lucky you,” he said softly, not sure she really was all that lucky at all. But so long as she believed it, he would take advantage of all she had to offer him. He had no qualms over that.
She wound her arms around his neck and stared at him frankly. “Look, Jon, you’re the most clever person I know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without a dozen tricks up your sleeve. Whatever your problem is, you’ll figure it out and fix it. Just don’t force anything. This stuff comes natural to you, so let it do just that — come natural.”
He blinked. He hadn’t really considered that. Why couldn’t he just wait till he figured something out? Nothing dictated that he had to act now, and he always said opportunities tended to present themselves if you knew how to look. His opportunity just hadn’t presented itself yet. That was why he struggled so much with this. Some innate part of him understood there was a better way if he just had the patience.
At least, that sounded like a damn good excuse to him.
“You know,” he said slowly, sliding his arms around her waist, “I think you might just be right.”
“Of course. I was a Ravenclaw.”
He chuckled. “What are you doing for Christmas?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Christmas? Did I miss something?”
He smiled. “No, I just remembered something I wanted to ask you and don’t want to forget. So what are your plans?”
“Probably what I’ve been doing. Maybe a hang a few decorations around this place. Why?”
“I’m going to Italy. I bought a little villa there a few years back, just south of Naples. I think you should come with me.”
Her eyes went a little wide. “Really? Are you sure?”
“Positive.” The hols would begin in just two short days. Pierce decided all of this Death Eater business could just wait until after. Draco and Weasley both would still be there when he got back, after all. They weren’t going anywhere. “I want you there.”
“You might regret it,” she warned with an impish grin. “I can get rather obnoxious when I’m around all the time.”
He chuckled. “Then I’ll just have to find ways to keep you quiet, won’t I?” Then he pulled her mouth down to his.
- - - - -
Draco jogged along the border of the Forbidden Forest, taking care to avoid patches of ice hidden in the dusting of snow and ignoring the way the cold seared through his lungs as he went.
Ginny wasn’t with him. She claimed anyone who went outside to run in temperatures like this was barking mad and chose to simply jog through the halls of the castle very early in the morning while everyone else still slept instead. Draco didn’t think students were technically supposed to do that, but she didn’t seem to care. He thought she must have inherited the twins’ disregard for rules.
But Draco needed the openness of the outdoors. He needed the freedom of it and he even needed the burning in his chest. The hols would arrive in two days, and Draco felt a panic crawling up his throat as bad as the night he’d turned his back on his father. He still had no answer to the problem and certainly no way out.
Pansy, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was like the bint was on a bloody sugar high twenty-four-seven.
And as for Ginny, he knew she suspected something. As the days fell away, he grew quieter. She’d made a few attempts to coax the reason out of him, but had just given up after he shortly dismissed each and every one. He could feel her eyes on him constantly, though, curious and sympathetic to a hurt she couldn’t begin to guess at. He didn’t know why he didn’t tell her. He supposed he just didn’t see a point. What could she do?
He reached the edge of the grounds and turned round, moving back in the direction of the castle. His muscles tightened painfully from the frost-bitten air, his lungs ablaze in his chest by now, but he ignored all of it, maybe even reveled in it a little. It took his mind off of Pansy’s “brilliant” idea at least.
He had to do something. That much he knew. He would not take the Mark even if it killed him…literally. He would rather be dead than live a life with so little control that he might as well have been dead, a puppet to a madman.
Of course, he would rather like to avoid that fate, but what else could he do? If he went home, it was sure to happen. He had no reasonable excuse for staying at the castle, so Pansy would immediately know something was up, and that would endanger Ginny. Draco couldn’t bring himself to do that either. There was only one option he hadn’t explored yet, one he’d hoped he wouldn’t have to resort to, but as the castle drew nearer, he knew he had no choice. He would have to speak to Pierce.
Draco stopped off in the Quidditch locker rooms to shower, wanting to avoid the Slytherin common room where Pansy seemed to lay in wait for him like some spider hoping for a fly to stumble into its web. The freezing cold as he stepped back outside, his hair still slightly damp, mirrored the chill in his heart perfectly while his feet started carrying him towards Pierce’s office.
He couldn’t place why he distrusted the professor so much. Yes, Pierce displayed a Slytherin cunning worth taking note of, and yes, Draco knew the man used him for his own means, but there was something more. It was there in Draco’s head, peaking around some mental wall, teasing him but never quite showing its face. Whatever it was, it made Draco want to shun the man as much as possible. But the thought two days reared up in his mind and overpowered the reluctance.
Pierce’s door was closed, no sign of life coming from within. Draco frowned. Gone again? He knew the professor had made a habit of leaving most nights, but usually never in the middle of the day. Draco knocked anyway, unsurprised when he received no answer. He thumped his back against the door in frustration, letting his chin drop to his chest. Now what?
He straightened out, telling himself that maybe Pierce had just cast a silencing charm so he could concentrate on his work or something. It was a stretch, but Draco would cling to any hope he could find at the moment. He tried the knob, finding it locked, but Draco reasoned that if Pierce cast a silencing charm it meant he didn’t want to be disturbed, so locking the door only made sense. Again, Draco knew he was being vaguely ridiculous, but he was desperate.
Draco slipped out his wand and after trying about four different spells, he found one that released the catch to the door with an audible click. He smiled to himself. His father’s lessons on Dark magic hadn’t been a complete waste, even if he only ever used the more innocent variety.
He pushed the door open slowly and slipped inside, closing it again behind him. His heart sank when all that met him was an empty office, neat but not to the extreme. A book lay open here and there, a quill and jar of ink sitting on a blank sheet of parchment. No sign of where the professor might have gone.
Draco cursed under his breath and walked over to the desk, collapsing into the chair. Just perfect. It was official, everything had failed him — even his failsafe had failed him. He let his eyes wander darkly around the office, but his gaze stopped at a door in the back. It was the entrance to Pierce’s quarters, Draco knew, a definite off-limits for any student…but light pooled onto the floor from the thin space at the bottom.
His heart leapt. Of course, Pierce was just in his rooms! Draco’s feet carried him to the door in seconds, not even caring that knocking would condemn him of breaking and entering. Pierce would understand once Draco explained. Only he never got that chance; Pierce didn’t answer.
Draco cursed and slammed a fist against the door. Where the hell was the man? Draco was fast running out of time, and he needed to speak with him now. Angry and not ready to give up, he turned the handle, this time finding the door unlocked as it swung silently open. He looked around cautiously before stepping inside.
A half-drunk glass of water sat on a side-table next to a dimly burning lamp. Why hadn’t he doused it before leaving? Curiously, Draco walked further in and nearly tripped over a huge book lying open on the floor with the spine facing up, half the pages being crumpled beneath it. He stooped over to pick it up, carefully smoothing out the pages and closing it before reading the title, Of Curses and Poisons.
He sat down on the sofa and flipped through the pages, finding inside a slew of Dark hexes and potions that all ended with the same fate: death. His eyebrows went up. What was Pierce doing looking at something like this? Draco remembered his distrust of the man, but forced down his doubts. He had no choice, he reminded himself.
Laying the book aside, Draco got up and kept moving. He didn’t know what he was looking for. Pierce obviously wasn’t here. But Draco found the opportunity to explore the professor’s rooms just too tempting to pass up.
The next room was obviously where Pierce slept. It housed a four-poster bed, a dresser, a nightstand, another bookshelf, and a door that led off into what Draco figured to be the bathroom. Everything appeared completely normal except for the trunk at the foot of the bed. Its lid was thrown back, the contents inside jumbled and pushed hastily aside, and when Draco peered inside, he saw a false bottom had been lifted out. What had been so urgent that Pierce would leave the place in such a state?
Then Draco’s eyes lifted to the bed, and every muscle in his body froze at once. He hadn’t noticed them at first, but now he could see nothing else; silent as an assassin poised to strike, an unmistakable silver mask and a set of midnight black robes lay strewn across the duvet. He didn’t know how long he stood there staring…but he did finally know what had bothered him so much about Pierce.
The bed’s items seemed to shatter whatever dam he’d constructed in his head, and a river of memories flooded him, all so obvious now that he couldn’t believe he’d been so incredibly stupid not to realize what they meant earlier: the glimpse of a dark spot on Pierce’s forearm before he yanked down his sleeve, his quoting a line from the branding ceremony itself after Draco overheard Pansy’s kidnapping scheme, Pierce’s talk of knowing what it meant to be bound during that same conversation, and a hundred other little things that should have set off all kinds of alarms in Draco’s head. How could he have been so dense?
Of course, Draco knew how. Pierce didn’t fit the Death Eater persona, and Draco had never questioned that. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Didn’t he tell Ginny himself that a man who smiled was more dangerous than one who was at least honest about being a bastard? And still Pierce had pulled the wool over his eyes. It was pathetic.
How had Pierce even gotten into this position? Shouldn’t McGonagall have known better, researched more thoroughly? And furthermore, what was a Death Eater doing in the school? Before he would have said in order to kill Dumbledore, but the man was already dead and buried. Did Voldemort just want to abolish the school completely? Or had he hoped to get to Potter, only Scarhead wasn’t here, and Pierce couldn’t very well just up and leave upon finding that out?
Slowly coming out of his frozen shock, Draco stepped towards the bed and lifted up the mask and robe, feeling his stomach churn sickly at the touch. Here they were, the symbols for all he tried to avoid…and the symbol for everything he seemed destined to take on. Even after avoiding it on the first round, here they were again, back to taunt him.
Something new occurred to him, and it made him dizzy enough to sit back on the bed. What if Pierce was here for him? Draco had guessed all along that the “professor” had some ulterior motive, even besides the ones he claimed. And now, looking back, the man had paid far too much attention to Draco’s affairs.
And Ginny. God, how did she figure into all of this? Pierce had also used her in whatever twisted scheme he was playing out. Did that put her in danger? Damn it, and Draco had trusted the man with so much information! Just like he’d meant to do again today.
Fear started inching up Draco’s legs, threatening to swallow his whole body. Pierce couldn’t find out that he knew; he had to get out of these rooms.
But then what? Where would he turn?
He shook his head. He would have to worry about that later. Rearranging the mask and robes on the bed as he’d found them, he strode out of the rooms and then the office as fast as he could. He didn’t slow down until he was out of the dungeons and in the Entrance Hall where he stopped to let the pounding of his heart slow.
Hate wound its way around every corner of Draco’s mind, a rage so intense that he wanted to shout to relieve the tension. Anger at himself, fury at the Death Eaters, but most of all, loathing for “Professor” Pierce. For the first time in his life, Draco honestly felt like he could kill a man.
He didn’t realize he was moving again until the frozen air from outside cut through his thin cloak. He had no idea where he wanted to go, but he kept moving anyway, needing winter’s bite to keep his head clear, needing the movement to burn the energy. His hand itched for his wand, indifferent to the fact that Pierce was nowhere in the vicinity.
Another emotion slowly seeped into his consciousness now: helplessness. No answers were left to him — no options, no roads, no anything. His life consisted of one great concrete wall, gray and indifferent and immovable.
He nearly tripped. He looked around to see Ginny walking back from the greenhouse, a little smear of dirt across one cheek. He felt his heart ache a little, but he forced himself to stand up tall and look her in the eye. “Hi.”
She wrapped her arms around her as she came to stop in front of him. “What are you doing just wandering around out here? It’s freezing.”
Draco shrugged, but before he could get another word out, Ginny’s eyes narrowed sharply.
He hated how she could do that. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t lie. Something’s wrong. What is it?”
“Ginny, you’re imagining things.”
She planted her hands on her hips. “Draco Malfoy, I’ll stand here all day if I have to.”
He sighed. He probably should tell her. If his guess about Pierce was right, then she could be in danger from him too. She had a right to know. Glancing around, he grabbed her hand and pulled her back towards the greenhouses. “Fine, but I don’t want anyone hearing.”
The greenhouse gave off a welcoming warmth as Draco shut the door and cast a Imperturbable Charm. Turning around as Ginny hopped onto a stool, he decided he was in no mood to break it to her gently. “Pierce is a Death Eater.”
Ginny stared at him for a minute, then burst out laughing. “Right! And I’m secretly rich.”
He glared at her. “Ginny, stop it. I’m serious.”
“Draco, come on. Pierce? I know you don’t trust him and all, but don’t you think you’re being just a tiny bit paranoid now?”
“I was in his rooms,” Draco said quietly. “I saw the robes…and the mask to match.”
This time Ginny’s silence lasted much longer, her face paling. “Maybe…maybe someone…I don’t know…planted it all or something…”
Draco shook his head. “No one planted it. I remember now, other times, other clues. I think I might’ve even seen his Mark once.”
“You might have?”
He shrugged. “It happened too fast, and I was already distracted. It was ages ago, the day after I beat you at Quidditch when you bet my broom. I went to talk to him really early, and he had his sleeves pushed up. But he yanked them down so quick I wasn’t sure if I saw anything or not. I forgot about it.”
Ginny was shaking her head slowly, more in an effort to clear it than in denial by the looks of it. “But…how? He’s nothing like a Death Eater!”
“I know.” Draco walked over to the stool opposite her and slumped onto it, utterly drained. “And that’s why he’s so dangerous. I’m sure that’s why they sent him in the first place.”
“I can’t believe this.” Ginny propped her elbows on the table top and ran her hands through her hair. “What’s even the point, though? Dumbledore’s dead and Harry’s gone.”
Draco shook his head. “I don’t know. He might just be spying in general. The Dark Lord likes having eyes everywhere. Or maybe he’s just a watchdog for in case Potter ever decides to come back.”
Ginny gave him a searching look. “But you don’t think so.”
He felt one corner of his mouth lift slightly. He couldn’t believe how good she’d gotten at reading him. Or maybe he was just slipping. Who knew. “No,” he admitted.
“What do you think?”
He sighed. “I really don’t know anything, Ginny.”
“But you have a guess.”
“Only a guess.”
He rubbed at the back of his head, irritated. “Like I said, I don’t know anything really. It’s just…Pierce has paid a lot of attention to me. He said he wanted me to help him bring Slytherin to the top but…it always seemed a little funny to me.”
Her eyes widened. “You? He’s here for you?”
“I told you, it’s only a guess.”
She nodded absently. “Merlin, I just can’t process all of this. I mean…it’s Pierce for goodness sake.” She made a visible effort to collect her wits back about her. “What would he want with you?”
“My guess is either to get me back to the Death Eaters or else…make sure I don’t spill any secrets.”
Ginny’s face went ashen as she discerned his meaning. “He couldn’t kill you, could he? I mean…not right here at school.”
Draco shrugged. “Dumbledore was murdered here.”
She flashed the briefest of looks at him and quickly looked down, but he still knew what she was thinking: yes, Dumbledore had died here…but only by Draco’s doing.
“Look, I wouldn’t worry,” he said, ignoring the palpable tension between them. “If he just wanted to off me, he would’ve done it by now. I’m more worried about you.”
She looked surprised. “Me? What do I have to do with anything?”
“You fit into this somehow. I have no clue how, but if I’m right and he’s here because of me, you’re definitely involved.”
“How am I involved?”
He gave her a frank look. “D’you honestly think I started talking to you because I woke up one morning and decided it sounded like fun to hang around a Weasley?”
She frowned, her eyebrows bunching up a little in thought. “I guess I never gave it much thought. Now that you mention it, he did talk to me a few times trying to get me to give you a chance.” She shook her head. “But why would he encourage a relationship between us?”
“Who bloody well knows why they do the things they do.”
“But he must have a reason.”
Draco nodded. He wouldn’t argue with that; Slytherins always had a reason, followers of the Dark Lord especially.
“Well? What could it be?” she pressed, sounding anxious.
“I don’t know, Ginny!” he snapped, feeling something in him break. The pressure mounted too high, the helplessness too much, and he just couldn’t handle it anymore. “I don’t even know if he’s here for me at all! I don’t know anything, damn it, and now I’m totally screwed because he was my last chance!” His breath came hard, his nails digging into his palm, and he didn’t even realize his slip until he caught Ginny’s look of confusion.
“Your last chance?”
He closed his eyes. “Never mind.”
“No, not never mind. What do you mean, he was your last chance?”
“Ginny, just let it go.”
His open palm slammed down against the tabletop. “You want to know? Fine! Pansy decided it would be a brilliant idea if I got my Mark over the hols. If I go home, there’s no way around it — they’ll kill me if I refuse a second time — but I can’t stay at the castle because I have no good reason to and that means it would just put you in danger, and I have nowhere else to go! So basically, I’m getting my Mark or I’m sentencing myself to death. Those are my options at this point, and Pierce was supposed to be my last ditch attempt for a solution, only now as it turns out, he’s bloody one of them!”
Ginny stared at him through wide, shocked eyes. “What? You’re…you’re going to get…inducted or whatever?”
“No,” he told her harshly, “I won’t. I won’t have my life lived for me.”
“But…you said if you don’t…”
He met her eyes, letting her connect the dots herself. When his intentions finally dawned on her, she jumped forward in her seat so that she barely balanced on the edge, her hands clutching the table edge.
“No! You are not going to die!”
“What do you suggest, then?” he asked, voice tight. “That I become a Death Eater? Go and kill all your friends, your family? Because that’s the alternative.”
“There’s got to be another way! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
He looked away uncomfortably. “I didn’t want you to have to deal with it.”
“Oh, Draco….” she groaned, shaking her head. “You great pillock.”
“Insulting me makes me feel loads better,” he drawled.
She wasn’t paying attention, her forehead all crinkled up in thought. Abruptly she looked up at him, eyes bright and eager. “Come home with me.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Come again?”
“Come home with me. Over the hols. You could stay at the Burrow with me, and no one would ever think to look there for you!”
He shook his head. “Ginny, be realistic.”
“What? How is that not realistic?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I just have this funny feeling your parents wouldn’t welcome me with open arms.”
Her face instantly fell. “Oh. Well…maybe we could disguise you or something.”
“Yeah, like say you’re a new friend of mine and I want you to stay over.”
“Short of completely changing my appearance, your parents are still going to recognize me.”
“So we’ll completely change your appearance.”
“And how do you suggest we do that?”
“Polyjuice, of course.”
“We leave in two days, in case you forgot. We don’t exactly have a month to just whip up a batch, even if we did have the ingredients, which we don’t. So unless you just happen to have some on hand…”
Ginny smiled wickedly. “As a matter of fact…”
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