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Not Quite Fate by Hearts Cadence
Meeting the Parents by Hearts Cadence
A/N – thanks again for all the wonderful reviews! Quite a few of you caught some of the holes in Ginny’s plan, but don’t worry, so far, no one’s come up with one I didn’t already think out and come up with a solution to. (It’s amazing: it might be the first time I actually thought out a plot without holes lol.) Just be patient; some things might not get explained till later chapters, but eventually it all will be solved.

Thanks again! Enjoy!

- - - - -

Chapter 23 — Meeting the Parents

Ginny sat in the tower room again, momentarily ignoring the enchanted candle on the floor in front of her. Instead, she stared at the locket nestled in the palm of her hand, the one Harry had given her before leaving. His promise that he would come back. The symbol that she would never forgot him.

Ginny had forgotten.

The guilt was crushing, so bad she wasn’t sure she’d ever felt worse about herself in her life. She told herself it was because the events at Hogwarts commanded all of her attention by necessity, that as traitorous as it sounded, Draco was her friend now too, and he was someone she could actually help, whereas Harry was off Lord only knew where and far beyond the sphere of her influence. But it was rationalizing, and she knew it.

She couldn’t remember when exactly it happened, which exact day marked the first that she didn’t once stop to think about Harry. It was over a week, though. The problem was that she hadn’t been wearing the locket to remind her like she’d promised. Draco’s necklace had stayed around her throat instead, and though Ginny told herself every day she would return it because it was just too expensive a gift, it somehow kept…slipping her mind.

She’d only remembered Harry this morning by mistake. Today they were going home for the hols and while packing away her spare set of robes, Ginny had felt the locket that she’d never taken back out again. She should have put it on right then. But for some reason, Draco’s pendant still glittered at her neck even now.

Her fingers closed around the locket and she picked up the candle. She had to see him, if nothing else, just to tell herself that she had. It would make her feel better…if only a little.

Blackness clamped around her, and then she emerged into the same tunnel-like setting she’d last seen him in. She looked around and found Harry asleep, Ron snoring loudly next to him and Hermione curled up at the latter’s back. She swallowed down the claustrophobia of being underground and knelt next to Harry.

She studied his face. It seemed smooth, unworried, and it looked like he slept a peaceful, dreamless slumber. She wondered if that meant anything, or if that was just how he looked when he slept. It bothered her a little that she didn’t know. Shouldn’t she knew something like that, how he looked asleep? Or was that just her guilty conscience looking for any reason to open up a new wound?

She glanced up and noticed her surroundings again, which inevitably brought on the familiar panic. She instantly squeezed her eyes closed until the wave subsided, then careful to ignore where she was, stretched out next to Harry. Their faces were only centimeters apart, noses almost touching…if the candle would have allowed her to touch him, that was.

She stared at Harry for a long while, trying to make herself want to hold him, kiss him, have his hands on her in return. But the feeling she’d only just started to notice on her last visit now loomed undeniable in her mind: she didn’t feel attracted to Harry anymore.

A tear slipped down her cheek as she scooted away, chased closely by a second and then a third. She wiped them away furiously, hating to admit it, wanting nothing more in the world than for it to be false, but no matter what she did or how hard she tried, there was no way around the truth of it. She just wished she knew why. Had she changed? Or was it just the prolonged separation, and as soon as she was with him again, really with him, it would all come rushing back?

She didn’t know, but it was giving her a headache, and the claustrophobia was becoming unbearable, so she quickly crawled over to the candle and blew out the flame. She experienced the moment of oblivion, and then the tower sprang up around her once again, giant windows letting the afternoon sunlight stream through. For a long minute she just sat there, staring into space with the locket digging into her palm.

The sound of a train whistle signaling that the students should start boarding pulled her out of her trance. Dropping the locket into her pocket with guilty fingers, she quickly hid the candle and jogged out of the room and down the twisting steps and corridors to the carriages that would take her to the train platform.

Draco was already waiting for her in a back compartment, and he raised his eyebrows when she plopped down across from him. “What took you?”

She shook her head. “Just some last minute things I forgot I had to take care of.”

He looked unconvinced. “What sorts of things?”

She feigned an embarrassed smile. “Err…‘girl’ things.” That shut him up quite nicely, and Ginny thanked, not for the first time, that incredibly useful tool of her gender.

“So when am I taking this thing?” he asked.

She could tell he was nervous about this whole affair, but she couldn’t really blame him. “I told you, not until right before we get off. I’ve got just enough for you to sit through supper when we get there, and then breakfast the morning before we go back to school. That way you’ll have a ride away from and back to the train.”

“I still can’t believe you’re making me stay in a bloody treehouse the whole time,” he complained.

“I told you it’s not what you’re thinking. Ron and I made it before we went to school when we got bored, and it’s really nice and furnished and even has heating charms and the whole works. You’ll be fine.”

“But it’s a treehouse.”

She rolled her eyes. “Look, I’ve told you a hundred times: I stole this potion from the twins’ stash. Polyjuice is a pain in the arse to make, so they only had a little on hand just in case. If I’d have taken more, they would have noticed it was missing. And besides, at the time I didn’t realize I would be using it to smuggle a friend away from Death Eater clutches. I just thought it might come in useful for a prank, so there’s not enough to keep you disguised all break. Just for those two meals and the ride…hopefully.”

“Hopefully.” Draco made a face. “That’s the bit that scares me. And your brothers scare me too, for the record. It’s a little weird that they make sure and have stuff like that sitting around ‘just in case.’”

She laughed. “I took some too for ‘just in case,’ didn’t I?”

“I don’t recall ever saying that you didn’t scare me.”

She threw her carry-on bag at him, but he caught it just before it hit his face. “Hey, me and my brothers’ scariness turned out quite useful to you, so I’d keep my gob shut.”

He chuckled and sat her bag on his lap, opening it up and rummaging through.

“Better hope I don’t have any, you know, ‘girl’ things in there,” she told him sweetly.

He rolled his eyes at her and pulled out a vial that was indeed rather small. “Is this it?”

“Yup.”

“Whose hair?”

Ginny shrugged. “Some Hufflepuff girl. She’s in my year and has hair almost as freakishly blond as yours. The hair is first to change, so I figure that way if you start turning back too soon, at least your hair won’t suddenly go from black to white or something.”

“How comforting,” he said dryly, scrutinizing the bottle another moment before placing it carefully back inside and setting the bag next to him. “Did you really have to make me a girl?”

“Yes, you great baby. If I brought home a boy, there would have been all kinds of questions, and Mum would start talking about grandchildren, and Da would want to give you ‘the talk’, and they would both bug me about whatever happened to Harry, and trust me — this will be much easier. Not to mention safer for you. They won’t think twice about me inviting a girl over. They might get suspicious about a boy.”

“But I don’t know how to act like a woman,” he pointed out. “They might get suspicious of a masculine girl, too.”

Ginny grinned wickedly. “Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about being overly masculine, Draco.”

He glared at her. “Did I mention I’m not too fond of this plan?”

“Many times. Do you like the alternative any better?”

He sighed, looking out the window.

“Didn’t think so. Don’t worry, it won’t be that bad. I’m going to bring you three meals a day, I swear the treehouse is nice and comfy, you’ll be fine.”

When the train pulled into the station in London, Draco was still sulking.

“Just shut up and take the stupid potion,” Ginny told him tiredly as she unstopped the vial and dropped in a platinum hair she’d managed to take from the Hufflepuff girl. “Your name is now officially Lizzy.”

“Lizzy?”

“I had a pet lizard named Lizzy once. I thought it was cute. Besides,” she added with an impish grin, “you look kind of like a Lizzy.”

He only shot her a dirty look and knocked back the potion in one swift swallow. His face became a mask of disgust, and he let out a low moan, doubling over as his features began to change. His hair grew, tumbling down past his shoulders, which were rapidly growing thinner just like the rest of him, except for his hips and chest which grew rather a lot.

When the transformation was complete, Draco fell back onto the seat with his head in his hands. “Oh, God,” he groaned…in a distinctly male voice.

“Oh…shoot. Draco…your voice. You still sound like you.”

He glanced up at her irritably through “Lizzy’s” sky blue eyes, then pointed his wand at himself and muttered a spell. “Better?” he asked, his voice coming out in a soft, female purr.

Ginny raised her eyebrows. “Well…you sound like a girl. You also sound like you’re trying to seduce me.”

Malfoy smirked, though the very Malfoy-ish expression looked sort of funny on the innocent female features. “Do anything for you? That might be interesting…”

She punched him in the arm. “Don’t think just because you look like a girl I’m going to forget you’re a guy. I’ll still beat the crap out of you.”

He chuckled, or would have if he still had his voice. Instead it came out like a light, delicate giggle. He explained, “I used to mess around with voice altering spells when I was younger. Of course, back then I was a hormone-driven boy, and I only really looked into the sexier varieties of the female voice.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Of course you did. And what do you mean, ‘back then’?”

“Oh, you’re just a riot, you are.”

Ginny had her head cocked at him. It was a little disconcerting talking to Draco in the Hufflepuff girl’s body. “So, what, you’re going to go through the whole night sounding like you’re trying to hit on my parents?”

“Well…I was putting it on a little,” he admitted with another smirk, voice significantly less suggestive. “It’ll sound a little…ah, flirtatious, but not obviously so. Just say I’m part Veela or something.”

Ginny shook her head with a small laugh. “Oh, Merlin, this is going to be interesting.”

Just then the compartment door slammed open, and Pansy stood outside with arms crossed, tapping her foot impatiently. “Weasley.” She sneered, eyes passing right over Draco. “Nice rags. Did your mum sew them together out of old dish towels?”

Ginny’s nails bit into her palm. “What do you want, Parkinson?”

Pansy stuck her pug nose into the air. “I’m looking for Draco. I thought you might have seen him, seeing as you’re obviously obsessed with him. Though I don’t see how you can think you have a chance. He would never lower himself to someone of your…class…”

Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny saw Draco’s now feminine hands digging into the seat, whole body tense. She wished she could offer him some comfort, but Pansy was ignoring Draco for now and she wanted to keep it that way. Instead, she said, “Obsessed? Don’t you think that’s just a little strong? Now, let’s say I’d been chasing him from the crib and wouldn’t give up even when he clearly was not interested.” Ginny smiled sweetly. “Then I’d be obsessed.”

Pansy’s face twisted into another ugly sneer, clearly catching the reference to herself. “You’re just jealous that Draco and I have such a long history.”

“Funny, for me lacking such a long history, I seem to be beating the hell out of you.”

Pansy glared. “In your dreams, Weaselette.”

Ginny placed two fingers against her cheek in mock thought. “Well, let’s see now, who has he been spending all his time with?” She put her finger in the air. “Oh, that’s right — me.”

Pansy tossed her hair haughtily. “I don’t have to defend myself to peasants. Have you seen him or not?”

“Sorry, ‘fraid not. But I’m sure you’ll find him. After all, you’ve had years of experience stalking him.”

Pansy just let out a hmph! and spun on her heel, throwing the compartment door shut with an echoing clang.

Draco arched a brow, another very Malfoy expression that looked odd on the girl’s face. “What was that all about?”

Ginny blushed furiously, refusing to meet his eyes even if they weren’t really his eyes. “Nothing.”

“Oh no, that was definitely something. If I’m not mistaken, you just had a little cat fight with Pansy over me.”

Ginny rolled her eyes at his smug expression. “Oh, get over yourself, would you?” She took out two spare vials and pressed them into his hand. “Here. The potion only lasts one hour, so make sure you remember to take more when this dose runs out. And pray supper doesn’t last more than three hours.”

Molly and Arthur Weasley were waiting outside when Ginny and Draco stepped off the train.

“Ginny dear!” her mother squealed when she saw her, sweeping her into a warm, suffocating hug, then promptly shoving her at arms’ length to get a good look at her. “Have you been eating?” she demanded sharply. “You look thin as a rail.”

Ginny smiled. “Yes, Mum, I’ve been eating.” She turned to her father. “Hullo, Da.”

Arthur grinned and pulled her into a gentler hug. “It’s good to see you, Gin-bug,” he said softly into her hair. Then he let her go and looked to Draco. “You haven’t introduced us to your friend.”

Ginny turned around. “Oh, right. Mum, Da, this is Lizzy. She’s in my year. Hufflepuff.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Arthur said solemnly, giving Draco’s hand a firm shake. Ginny had to stifle a giggle when she imagined what Draco must be thinking, shaking Arthur Weasley’s hand and having to smile while he did it.

Molly nodded, smiling politely. “Yes, it’s good to meet you,” she echoed.

“Please, the pleasure is all mine,” Draco returned, female voice sweet but a touch seductive.

Arthur raised his eyebrows just slightly, and Ginny hurriedly cleared her throat. “Lizzy’s part Veela,” she announced. “Isn’t that neat?”

Arthur’s expression cleared in instant understanding while Molly shot him a disapproving look. “Yes, very neat indeed. I imagine it can be a bit of a hassle for you at times, though, hmm Lizzy?”

Draco smiled. “Sometimes, yeah.”

Ginny cleared her throat again. “I was wondering if maybe Lizzy could come over for supper tonight? She already owled her parents and they say it’s all right as long as she comes home right after so they can see her again.”

Molly frowned a little at her daughter. “Ginny,” she scolded in a low voice, “you should have warned me if you wanted a friend over! I don’t have anything prepared for a guest!”

“Please, Mum, as if you would have any trouble getting a meal around. Besides, look at how thin Lizzy looks. If anyone could use one of your feasts, it’s her.”

Molly considered “Lizzy” through calculating eyes. “She does seem too skinny….”

Draco smiled shyly, twisting a lock of hair around his finger in a nervous gesture. It was all Ginny could take not to burst out laughing. “I would hate to be a bother, Mrs. Weasley. Ginny just tells me that you’re a simply brilliant cook, and I tried some of the biscuits you sent, which were divine, so when Ginny invited me, I just couldn’t resist. Really, anyone who tries the treats you send just raves about them. You’re practically a legend at Hogwarts.”

Molly positively glowed. “Oh, you’re giving me far too much credit, dear. I just muddle around in the kitchen for awhile until something turns up. But if you really want to try my cooking, by all means, we would be thrilled to have you. Wouldn’t we, Arthur?”

“Thrilled,” he agreed sincerely.

“Thank you, Mum! And Da,” Ginny said with a grin.

Molly waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, as if I’d say no to such a sweet young lady. Get your things, girls, and we’ll meet you at the car.”

As her parents walked out of hearing, Ginny turned to Draco and finally released a torrent of giggles. “For not knowing how to act like a girl, you did an amazing impression,” she teased. “And that was brilliant with Mum, by the way. I think she’d fully support me now if I decided to turn lesbian so long as it was with you.”

Draco flashed an evil grin. “That can be arranged,” he purred, layering on thick the sexy undertones in his fake voice.

Ginny shoved him and scooped up her trunk. “Come on, you tart.”

“I resent that.”

Ginny shook her head. “I just can’t wait for this night to be over. It’s too weird talking to you like that. Even if it is highly entertaining.”

Draco sent a glare her way, and Ginny thought that the Hufflepuff girl would never know how fearsome her innocent face could look with the right personality behind it.

“I’m glad someone is entertained,” he drawled, though the effect was much lessened in his new voice.

Arthur came striding up to them as they neared the car, taking their trunks. “Here, I’ll just pop these in the back while you two get settled.”

Ginny nodded and glanced over to see Draco regarding the car with something like trepidation. “What’s the matter?” she whispered.

“We’re not really getting into that Muggle death trap, are we?” he hissed back.

Ginny covered a smile with her hand. “It’s fine, trust me. I’ve done it dozens of times and I’ve always survived. It’s actually sort of fun.”

“I doubt that.”

“Just come on, you big baby.” Ginny grabbed his hand, again struck by the oddness of holding onto a girl’s delicate fingers rather than Draco’s strong grip, and tugged him towards the door. Draco clearly resisted, but Ginny had no trouble hauling him in. “I sort of like you as a girl,” Ginny teased under her breath while her parents finished putting away their things. “You’re easy to push around now.”

“Just wait till I turn back,” he warned. “I’m going to remember every one of your snarky little comments.”

Ginny laughed as Arthur opened up the door and slid behind the wheel, Molly joining him in the passenger seat. He twisted around and gave them a smile. “You girls behaving yourselves back there?”

“Yes, Da. Come on, Lizzy’s got to be home soon! I want to make sure we have enough time.”

“Of course, of course. I’m sure your parents are very eager to see you, Lizzy. My apologies.”

Draco immediately tensed as the engine rumbled to life beneath them, clutching at the door as they pulled out, but he didn’t utter a sound. He never relaxed the whole ride, barely contributing to the idle chit chat everyone else engaged in, and when the wheels rolled to a stop at the Burrow, Draco jumped out of the car like it might explode at any moment. Ginny shook her head as she followed him out.

She watched his face as he got his first look at her home — or rather, Lizzy’s face. She wished that weren’t the case; she’d gotten quite good at reading Draco’s expressions, but Lizzy’s were still a mystery to her.

“What do you think?” she asked, hoping she didn’t sound as anxious as she felt. When he opened his mouth she added, “I’d be careful. It probably wouldn’t be too smart to insult the person saving your arse.”

He smiled. “I was going to say that it’s different. From the Manor, I mean.”

Ginny laughed. “Yes, well I would imagine so.”

“It’s not what I expected,” Draco admitted.

“What were you expecting? A hovel?”

Draco shrugged, saved from having to give an actual response by Arthur Weasley, who was just then walking up with their trunks levitated behind him.

“Molly’s already at it in the kitchen, so you two might as well get washed up and whatever else you’d like before we eat,” he suggested, holding the door open for them.

Ginny glanced over to Draco, finding it weird that she didn’t have to look up for once. The Hufflepuff girl’s body about matched her modest height. “Come on, I’ll show you my room.”

She led him inside and up the crazy stairs to the next floor. Any embarrassment she might have felt for her home drained away as soon as she stepped inside, a tide of memories washing over her and that comfortable, safe feeling enveloping everything. Maybe it was smaller than Draco’s Manor, but where she imagined his as cold and indifferent, her home was just that — a home. She felt no shame, and realized she really didn’t care if Draco approved or not.

The realization lent her a boost of confidence as she opened the door to her bedroom and motioned him inside. It was a small space, of course, with a twin bed she was very nearly too big for and a battered wooden desk, but she beamed at it and tossed herself happily onto the bed. “This is it,” she told him. “I know it’s nothing like the suite I’m sure you’ve got, but I like it, so you can just hush up if you’ve got anything mean to say about it.”

He chuckled, though again it came out as that soft feminine laugh, and leaned against the door frame. “It’s you,” he told her.

She narrowed her eyes. “I’m trying to decide if you just insulted me.”

He shook his head. “I just mean there’s no pretense about it. It’s a change…nice.”

Ginny smiled, secretly pleased. “Even though I’m sure you’re just lying for my benefit — thank you. Here, I better show you where the treehouse is so you know where to apparate to.”

Draco’s eyes never stopped soaking in everything around him as they walked, from the house to the garden and the field out back. Ginny wondered what he was thinking but didn’t ask. When they reached a line of trees, she showed him one that had a marking carved into it, and how to follow other ones with a similar mark until they arrived at one particularly impressive-sized tree.

“Here she is,” Ginny announced, pointing up to a slightly ramshackle, cabin-looking structure nestled in the upper limbs. “My baby.” She laughed at Draco’s face and lifted up her wand, pointing at the entrance. “Chudley Cannons.” A rope ladder instantly unrolled and fell at their feet.

Draco raised his eyebrows at her, and Ginny gave a helpless shrug. “I told you Ron and I built it together. He got to pick the password.” She shoved her wand into her back pocket. “Come on.”

She grabbed onto the first rung and started climbing, feeling the ladder quiver when Draco began his ascent as well. They had to crawl inside, and then Ginny stood up and dusted off her clothes.

“Merlin, it’s been ages since I was in here,” she said, wrinkling her nose at the dust. She pulled out her wand again and went to work Scourgifying the whole place. When she finished, the two of them were standing in a neat, one-room wooden house with a window, a single bed, and a miniature table, cluttered by a few old toys scattered on the ground and decorated with Chudley Cannons posters. “Well? What do you think? You can take down the posters.” She smiled.

He suddenly winced, squeezing his eyes shut.

Ginny frowned. “It’s not that bad…”

“No,” he shook his head. “It’s not that, I’m just…” he trailed off in a groan, and then suddenly his hair was shrinking, his shoulders growing broader as he grew taller, and moments later, Draco — really Draco — stood in front of her. He took out his wand to undo the voice spell, and in his familiar, drawling voice complained, “That stuff hurts like hell, you know.”

Ginny smiled sympathetically. “I would think so. All right otherwise?”

He nodded, then looked around the treehouse. “I guess it’s tolerable. At least it’s warm.”

“I told you it would be. I was really good at charms when I was little, so I did all the heating spells myself. You’ll be as toasty here as you ever were at Hogwarts.” She crossed her arms as she looked around her old childhood playhouse, a smile suddenly tugging at her lips. “It’s just so weird to have a Malfoy in here. Who would’ve guessed?”

“I sure as hell wouldn’t have,” he muttered, bending down to examine one of her old dolls.

She laughed. “Come on, Mum’s probably about got supper ready. Better take your next dose so we can get back.”

His mouth formed something suspiciously like a pout, but with a resigned sigh, he took out the next vial and tipped it back.

Ginny’s guess proved correct as they stepped back into the Burrow, Draco once more Lizzy. Delicious smells from the kitchen floated through the whole house, and Ginny breathed in deeply with a content smile. “You’re going to love Mum’s cooking,” she promised.

The meal went without a hitch, and when Draco complimented Molly’s cooking Ginny thought it actually seemed sincere. Only one tense moment occurred when Draco suddenly stopped eating and kicked Ginny under the table. She glanced over and saw his hair starting to grow shorter.

“Do you need to go to the loo?” she asked quickly. “It’s right down the hall there.”

Draco wasted no time in jumping up from the table and disappearing around the corner. He tossed her a wink through one of Lizzy’s sky blue eyes when he returned. Thankfully, dessert didn’t take quite as long, and “Lizzy” was on her way home before another hour came to a close.

“It was just wonderful having you, Lizzy,” Molly enthused, wrapping Draco in a big hug. Ginny wanted to laugh again at what must have been running through Draco’s head. “You’ll have to come by again sometime.”

Ginny saw her opening and grabbed on. “Oh, can she come over for breakfast before we go back? That way she can just ride in the car with us again on the way back to the train.”

“I don’t see any reason why not,” Arthur agreed. “As long as your mother doesn’t mind, of course.”

“Of course I don’t mind!” Molly exclaimed. “Just be sure and make sure your parents don’t mind, Lizzy.”

Draco nodded dutifully. “I will, but I doubt they’ll have a problem with it.”

“Right! And you’re sure you’re all right apparating back by yourself?”

“I’ll be fine, Mrs. Weasley. Thank you again, it was a wonderful meal. You more than lived up to your reputation.”

Molly beamed. “Oh, stop. It was nothing. Well, we’ll just let you girls say goodbye, then.”

Once her parents were safely away, Ginny shook her head. “Do you know how hard it is not to laugh when you start in on her?”

Draco smirked. “Hey, you told me to be polite.”

Ginny just laughed. “Go on,” she told him. “I’ll come by in the morning with breakfast.”

Draco nodded and cracked into thin air, making her parents believe he’d gone home, but really just traveling the small distance to the treehouse. Ginny looked out in that direction, absently pulling the necklace he gave her out from where she had it hidden beneath her shirt. She knew that the heart-shaped pendant would raise more than a few questions if her parents spotted it, so a little regretfully, she reached back and undid the clasp. She carefully slid it into her pocket along with Harry’s locket, her fingers pausing momentarily over the latter. Then she pulled her hand empty out of her jeans and turned back to the Burrow.

- - - - -

“Are you just utterly impressed, my lady?” Pierce joked, offering Naomi a mock bow.

Holding a coat around her to ward off the chill present even in southern Italy, Naomi took a step forward, her eyes bright with awe. “It’s beautiful, Jon.”

They stood on a hillside in front of a one-story Italian villa, the roof made from cinnamon-colored shingles and the smooth walls the color of terracotta. Pierce led her around back to the veranda that sat at the hill’s very edge, and from there the land seemed to fall away into an infinite stretch of rolling plains, dotted here and here by clusters of rustic buildings that made up the surrounding villages.

Naomi reached out and squeezed Pierce’s hand. “This is amazing. I’m not even going to ask how you could afford it.”

Pierce didn’t say anything, but he thought that was probably a good idea. He hadn’t been entirely honest when he told her he’d bought this place. More like he’d assumed ownership after the last landlord, an influential and outspoken opponent to the Dark Lord, met an unfortunate end at the point of Pierce’s wand.

“It’s even better in the summer,” he assured her. “All of that,” he gestured to the hills below them, “is greener than anything you’ve ever laid eyes on, and it’s absolutely covered in flowers. The house, too. Plants and blossoms grow all over the thing. It’s something you just have to see.”

Naomi smiled playfully up at him. “Maybe I will one day.”

He smirked. “You think so? I don’t know. I might tire of you by then,” he teased.

She ran a hand up his chest. “Well, I’ll just have to make sure and keep things interesting.”

Pierce reached back and tossed away the clip securing her hair, watching as the light wind blew it forward across her shoulders. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well,” she entwined her fingers with his, “I was thinking we could go inside and have some tea to warm up and unwind, and then maybe go down and have supper at one of those charming little villages. But first, I think maybe we should make sure the bedroom is all right, don’t you?”

Pierce chuckled. “You’re going to wear me out, you know that?”

“Oh, I think you’ll be all right.” She dropped one of his hands, keeping the other to pull him after her through the back door. It led directly into a tile-floored kitchen, the table and chairs made from dark, weathered wood and filled with rustic iron ornamentation. Naomi went over and turned on the kettle for tea, smiling at her surroundings.

“I love this place,” she told Pierce with a happy little sigh. “It’s just gorgeous.”

He smiled, watching her move around and brush her fingers over an old brick oven, the cast iron pots and pans hanging on the wall, the tile counter. Her white sweater showed her figure without looking overly tight, her gray trousers fitting her hips just right, and her hair still fell windswept around her clear face.

“I think you’re rather gorgeous yourself,” he told her, voicing his thoughts aloud.

She flashed him a brilliant smile and walked over, holding out her hands to him. “Dance with me.”

Chuckling, he spun her around and pulled her back to him, dipping her down low and just barely touching his lips to hers. He felt her give a little sigh, and then he pulled her upright again. They waltzed around the modest kitchen to music only they could hear, and when Pierce pulled her close for perhaps the dozenth time, he murmured, “Why are you with me?”

“I want to know everything about you,” she whispered back, swaying against him. “I want to be yours, and you to be mine, and we can live here forever and forget the rest of the world exists.”

He smiled faintly. “It’s a nice dream.”

“It doesn’t have to be.” She spun gracefully away and back into his arms. “Why couldn’t we do it?”

“These nasty things called obligations, for one. Responsibility.”

“What obligations do you have, Jon? The school? You couldn’t care less for teaching.”

He sighed, turning them about and changing direction. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Right. Of course not.” She sounded bitter, so Pierce tipped her back again for another teasing kiss. She straightened again and leaned her head on his shoulder, squeezing his hand to indicate she wanted to slow their pace a little. “They’re ruining your life, you know? Just leave. We’ll run away together. Jon, we could start over, just the two of us.”

“Where would we run to, Naomi?”

“Here. It’s so lovely here. And it’s secluded, too. No one would ever find us.”

Pierce smiled wryly. “Except the Dark Lord knows about it.”

She frowned. “All right, somewhere else then. I don’t care. Just as long as we’re together. We could do it, Jon. It’s a wide world out there. It doesn’t even have to be Europe. We could go to the States, or…I don’t know, China or something.”

Pierce suddenly stopped their dancing, stepping back to stare at her. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

She stared stubbornly back. “Why shouldn’t I be?”

“Do you hear yourself? You’re talking treason against Lord Voldemort.”

She flinched at the name, but didn’t drop eye contact. “And? Loyalty to him is killing you! I can see it, every time I look in your eyes. And it kills me too. Please. Just…just think about it. At least this way you’ll have a chance to live.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying, Naomi.” He turned around and strode into the other room where their trunks sat. He tugged them into the bedroom.

“Jon, don’t be like this,” Naomi pleaded, following.

He flung open the lid and started stuffing his clothes into the empty dresser drawers.

Naomi walked a little closer. “I’m sorry, all right?” she said quietly. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. I just…I want so badly for you to be happy. And I want to be with you. I’m…I’m so afraid he’s going to take you away from me. That’s all.”

He slowly stopped his furious unpacking, hanging his head. He didn’t want to give in to her, but like always, that magical voice poured over him like warm honey and melted away his walls. He hated it almost as much as he loved it.

He lifted his head towards her. “Don’t worry about that,” he told her quietly. “He won’t ever take me away from you. I’m too important.”

“For now,” she said softly.

He took her hand and pulled her close. “Forever,” he corrected.

She buried her face against his chest, her words coming out muffled. “But he does make you sad,” she insisted.

Pierce sighed. “Ever hear that old saying, nobody likes their job, that’s why they call it work? Well…this is my job. And I’m good at it.”

Naomi tilted her head back to look at him. “Promise me you’ll at least consider it? Even if for just a minute in the shower or something?”

He gave a pained smile. “Would that make you feel better?”

She nodded.

“Then I promise.”


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