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Not Quite Fate by Hearts Cadence
Watching by Hearts Cadence
A/N – IMPORTANT (meaning, not my usual ramblings and excuses lol). Two things:

1) A lot of people have expressed concern over Draco’s whereabouts, but actually, that’s already been covered. In case you forgot, in ch. 24 right before the kiss Draco and Ginny decide he’ll hang out in the abandoned shack I first introduced in ch. 12 (NOT the shrieking shack). Might not hurt to do a quick re-read of that.

2) A few people think that McGonagall was too harsh last chapter. I admit she was a little vicious, but keep in mind two things. First, she loved Dumbledore very much (not necessarily romantically, but certainly platonically), and Draco brought about his murder. Think of someone that means everything to you. Got it? Okay, that person was murdered, and the killer got off. Regardless of usual behavior, don’t you think you would be a little less than gracious too? Finally, she hasn’t seen the slightly more moral Draco presented in this fic, so she still maintains the image of him as a vile brat who craves his Dark Lord’s approval. I think all that constitutes grounds for a certain degree of uncharacteristic hatefulness, personally. But then…I’m also biased, being the one who wrote it and all haha.

ANYWHO just wanted to clear up the confusion with number 1 and defend myself a bit there with number 2 lol. On to the story!

- - - - -

Chapter 26 — Watching

Ginny could still hear her heart thudding in her ears even after Pierce was well behind her, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t swallow down the lump in her throat. She couldn’t decide whether or not Pierce believed her or not, but judging from the near wild look in his eye and his distracted manner, she didn’t think so. Was he that upset over Draco’s absence?

The corridor stretched before her like a void, the soft slap of her shoes the only disruption to the emptiness. It made her feel very small, and she found herself wishing Draco wasn’t so far away, holed up in some hut on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. She felt safer with him around, even though she would have committed herself to St. Mungo’s just a few months ago for thinking that.

She felt an uncomfortable, prickly feeling at the back of her neck; her shoulders instantly tensed, but she forced her feet to keep moving. Only half the wall sconces were lit this late, creating large gaps of darkness between them. She walked faster through those spots. Stupid little girl, she scolded herself. Quit letting your imagination get to you. It was just the close encounter with Pierce. It had her all on edge.

Then a shadow detached itself from the wall, fast and fluid as a dancer. Ginny would have screamed had the shadow not shot out a hand and covered her mouth, reducing the sound to a muffled gurgle as the shadow’s other arm wound around her waist, trapping her.

Her eyes were open so wide it felt like they would fall out of her head, but when her captor inched them both closer to another torch, she recognized the shadow as Theodore Nott. Her eyes narrowed to slits.

“Know me now, then?” he asked softly. She couldn’t answer with his hand still clamped across her mouth, so she only glared. “Good,” he said anyway. “Don’t scream.” She thought he was probably the only Slytherin who wouldn’t follow that command with a threat. But when he removed his hand, she didn’t scream.

“What are you doing up here?” she hissed instead, pushing him away from her as his arm unwound from her waist. “Shouldn’t you be a few floors down in your snake nest?”

Nott treated her to his favorite half-smile, part mocking, part amused…and always part dangerous. “I feel I should remind you that your boyfriend comes from that snake nest, too.”

She felt her cheeks heat up. “He’s not my boyfriend.”

“You’re kidding. Still? I would have thought you could have seduced him by now, especially after having him all to yourself over the hols.”

Ginny felt the blush spread down to her neck and folded her arms over her chest, her jaw tightening. The kiss flashed through her mind, but she forced it down. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

His expression turned amused. “Oh, well, that explains it, then. You see, seducing is what one does when — ”

“Not that, you complete arse,” she snapped. “About the hols. I haven’t seen him since the train ride out.” Merlin, she knew there would be questions, but two attacks on her first night back? And by two Death Eaters, nonetheless. Despite all her bravado towards Nott, she could feel her stomach churning.

“Weasley,” he said in a sigh, “I’ve spent the past week and a half listening to Parkinson harp on and on about poor missing Malfoy, and how that dirty old Order must have kidnapped him because they realized the greatest heir to the Dark Lord’s throne, her betrothed, though I’m quite sure Malfoy has no idea about that last, was planning on claiming his rightful place again.” He rolled his eyes, the tenseness in his usually relaxed posture emanating waves of annoyance. “So please, spare me the denials. He ran away with you to avoid the Mark. I know he never truly changed his mind.”

Ginny straightened out her robes to buy herself time, mind racing, but when her clothes were all perfectly in order, she still had no brilliant comeback. So she settled with flippancy. “Think what you want. I’m too tired to care. You can keep your barmy notions, just as long as you let me go to bed.”

Nott never blinked, eyes roaming her from head to foot. Ginny had the uncomfortable sensation of standing in front of him starkers. “I don’t know what it is about you,” he remarked. “You are attractive, but the school’s filled with girls a great deal prettier than you.” Before an affronted Ginny could react to the insult, he continued, “And pure blood or no, you’re still a blood traitor. I suppose you’ve got spirit, but that just doesn’t seem enough.” He sighed. “I suppose it doesn’t matter why. Just that it is.”

Now what are you on about?” Ginny had a feeling she was playing right into his hands, but she couldn’t beat down her curiosity either. “That what is?”

Nott’s half-smile came slower this time, secretly pleased. “Why, that he’s in love with you.”

It felt like a horse kicked her in the gut, but she remembered to at least try and keep her face a mask. She wasn’t sure that she succeeded, and wished she could master the trick as well as all the Slytherins she knew seemed able. Well, except Pansy. That girl was just hopeless all around. “Do you even hear yourself?” She gave a derisive laugh, though it sounded forced even to her ears. “He’s not in love with me!”

“Oh, I assure you that he is, my darling Weasley. There’s no other reason for him to risk his life, and even more dangerous, to risk the attentions of Parkinson again. He’s a rather selfish git, you see.”

“He’s not in love with me,” Ginny snapped again.

“Mmm. Compelling argument as that is, I’ll still have to disagree.” He slipped his hands into his pockets, tilting his head at her. “I’m just curious, though, do you really believe that, or is all the denial simply for my benefit? Because his feelings are embarrassingly obvious, so if you still don’t see it…well, it’s a bit pathetic, really.”

Ginny only glared at him, not giving him the satisfaction of a response, but somewhere in the back of her mind, a niggling doubt started to crack her resolve. The idea of him loving her was utterly ridiculous…but the way he’d kissed her….

She closed her eyes, remembering. In the blackness behind closed lids, she heard Nott’s amused voice murmur, “Or, I suppose the bigger question: does my darling Weasley love him back?”

Ginny’s eyes flew open, heart pounding. Her fingers balled into fists. “I’ve just about had it with you! Get out of my way before I move you out of the way!” She shouldered past him roughly, but she needn’t have. He didn’t put up any resistance.

His taunting laughter followed her down the hall, though, and he called, “I think that answers that!”

She ignored him, but the jeer still rang in her mind long after she’d slammed into her dormitory. She couldn’t love him. It was bad enough she no longer felt that way for Harry; she couldn’t betray him so completely as to give those feelings to one of the people he hated most in the world. She wasn’t that cruel.

And besides, it didn’t matter, because this was Malfoy and she didn’t love him. She didn’t even think she knew what love was. She’d had fuzzy feelings for other boys, most of all for Harry, but if that was all love ever amounted to…well, it fell a bit short of all the songs. Even with Harry it was never as spectacular as everyone made it out to be.

But Draco’s kiss was pretty spectacular… she couldn’t help but think guiltily. Every time she remembered it her toes curled. But that didn’t necessarily mean love or even fuzzy feelings. Draco must be a good kisser, that was all. She didn’t want to mistake love with lust.

But that still doesn’t explain why I kissed him in the first place. The decision to do that certainly hadn’t been lust. She had no idea about his kissing abilities then. Why did she do it? She had been racking her brain every single day since she did it, but she could find no answer. She’d just…done it. And honestly, she couldn’t say that she regretted it. At least, not now that she knew things wouldn’t be awkward. Draco seemed to understand her desire to just forget it ever happened.

But all of this was stupid to worry about anyway because he didn’t love her! She yanked her covers over her head, biting back a scream. So he kissed her back. Big deal. He was a healthy male with all the hormones inherent in that condition, and she was a female practically throwing herself at him like some common scarlet woman. Of course he would react that way. It was only instinct.

Ginny fell asleep without ever resolving anything, and not even her slumber could lend her any respite.

In her dream, she was back in the treehouse. Draco was there, sitting on the bed with his back propped against the wall. The smell of tree sap and newly blooming wild flowers filled her nostrils, and when she glanced outside, she saw the branches bursting with fat green leaves, the sky a brilliant blue backdrop for a blinding sun.

It was beautiful, but uncomfortably hot. She glanced down and realized she was still wearing her winter robes. Confused, she slipped them from her shoulders and let them fall to the ground. She could see Draco watching her every move like a hawk, clear gray eyes never blinking. In the bright sunshine pouring through the windows and the cracks in the wood, his eyes looked even paler than usual, almost surreal.

When the robes hit the floor she gave a little sigh of relief, then glanced down and squeaked when she realized all she wore underneath was a bathing suit. She bent to scoop up her robes again, but in the blink of an eye Draco was beside her, holding her wrist.

“Don’t,” he said. His strangely pale eyes locked on hers, then meandered over the rest of her. He leaned forward until his lips were against her ear. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered.

She felt a shiver from the crown of her head to the tips of her toes. “What are you doing?”

He pulled away with a smirk, but a kind one. Affectionate, even. “I’m looking. I’m appreciating.”

She swallowed. “But…why am I in this?” She looked down at her attire.

“Don’t ask me. I voted to go skinny-dipping. The bathing suits were your idea.”

“What? But…we don’t have a lake.”

He raised an eyebrow. His hands slid down her arms, rested on her waist, and Ginny’s breath caught as her mind frantically tried to decide if she should stop him or not, but he only steered her towards the window. He pointed with one hand, keeping the other on her waist. “Then what do you call that?”

Ginny’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. Just outside the window, a huge lake glittered in the sunlight, soft ripples disturbing the surface as the occasional breeze swept over it. Had that always been there? She couldn’t remember…

Draco’s lips were on her neck. She gasped, but he only chuckled, sliding his palm around to her stomach to press her back into his chest. His lips brushed along her jaw, her ear.

“What are you doing?” She sounded breathless, but she couldn’t help it. She barely noticed the way her fingers dug into his arm for support.

His breath was hot in her ear when he whispered, “Why do you keep asking me that, when it’s perfectly obvious what I’m doing?”

She twisted around in his grip, eyes searching his face. “I don’t understand.”

He smiled a little mockingly, but still warmly. He ran a hand through her hair and brushed the very tips of his fingers down her spine until his hand rested at the small of her back. “Ginny,” he murmured. “I’m loving you.”

Ginny woke with a gasp just before she fell out of the bed. She groaned, rolling up into a sitting position. The blankets tangled around her feet on the floor, leaving the rest of her exposed to the icy winter air, but sweat made her pajamas stick anyway. She lifted her hair off her neck and leaned against the side of the bed.

“Shite,” she muttered.

“All right there, Ginny?” she heard one of the other girls — Audrey Hamilton, it sounded like — call.

“Yeah.” She kicked off the blanket and crawled back onto her bed. “Just a dream.”

Audrey wandered out of the loo, combing her hair. “Must’ve been one heck of a dream to knock you right out of bed.” She grinned.

“Yeah…one heck of a dream….”

Audrey gave her a strange look, then shrugged and warned, “I wouldn’t get too comfortable. You’ll want to start getting ready if you don’t want to miss breakfast. They’re having Belgian waffles today!” She grinned again and bounced back into the bathroom.

Ginny watched her go, then fell back heavily onto the mattress. She took her pillow and covered her face with it, trying unsuccessfully to forget the feel of Draco’s touch. Would he ever really touch her like that, look at her like that…say those things? Did she want to find out?

Throwing her pillow on the ground with the blankets, she scooted off the bed and padded into the bathroom. When she reemerged, everyone else was already gone and her bed was still a wreck. She decided to fix it later.

When she walked into the Great Hall, she automatically looked to the Slytherin table for Draco. She glanced away when she caught herself. Merlin, had he really become such a central part of her life that quickly? She sat with her back to the Slytherin table.

The waffles were stacked on a plate in front of her, so she speared one with her fork and plopped it onto her plate. She was reaching for the maple syrup when she felt eyes burning into her back. She paused, slowly lowering her hand and waiting for the feeling to go away. It didn’t. She twisted around, gaze flicking over the other students until it fell on the Slytherin table and Nott.

He never so much as blinked, not even when she boldly met his gaze. He offered her his damnable half-smile instead. Ginny frowned and turned her back to him with a toss of her hair, promptly drenching her waffle in syrup. She cut off a small bite and chewed it slowly, refusing to let him see her squirm. She sat there and ate the whole thing that way, but every second of it she wanted to jump up and scrub at her crawling skin.

After she swallowed down her last bite and drank her final sip of milk, she realized she couldn’t follow her plans anymore. She’d intended to grab a waffle to bring Draco, figuring if she wrapped it up with a cooling charm it would keep all right, but she couldn’t very well do that now with Nott staring a hole through her back. She knew better than to underestimate the Slytherin, and he would doubtless catch on quick if she started nicking extra food.

Annoyed, she shoved away from the table and made a point of walking leisurely out of the room, not giving Nott even the small satisfaction of sparing him a passing glance. But she could still feel his eyes following her all the way through the door.

That night she crept down to the kitchens and coaxed Dobby into giving her portions from the day’s meals. The next night found her doing the same, Nott’s ever-watching gaze rarely seeming to shift away from her anymore. It kept up all week, and soon it became habit to ignore the creepy-crawly feel of Nott’s analyzing by day and to sneak down to the kitchens by night.

“It’s getting out of hand, Draco!” she cried when she visited him for the first time that weekend.

He was tearing into his food, the small supply Ginny had managed to filch from home having run out a day too soon, but now he stopped with concern showing in his eyes. “Has he tried talking to you again since that first night?” he demanded.

Ginny collapsed into the chair across from Draco, a week’s worth of food piled on the tiny, rickety old table between them. “No. He just…stares. And stares, and stares.” She rubbed her arms. “It’s disturbing.”

“He’s trying to intimidate you.” Draco ducked his head down until he was in her line of vision, catching and holding her eyes. “Don’t try and approach him, understand? That’s what he wants. You’ll just be playing right into his hands.”

Ginny looked away. “But I don’t know if I can take it much longer, Draco…”

“You can. You will.”

She looked back at him, but could only keep eye contact for a few seconds before she felt her cheeks heat up and had to shift her gaze away. Every time she looked at him she remembered the dream, and it was all she could do to keep from fidgeting.

“Right, Ginny?” he prompted.

“Right,” she agreed reluctantly.

Draco sighed, leaning his elbows on the table and running both hands through his hair. It was clean thanks to the daily charms he cast on himself for the purpose, but not even magic could completely replace the benefits of a good shower, and the blond sheen was starting to lose its luster.

By contrast, the one-room hut showed enormous improvement. Draco kept the curtains drawn for caution’s sake, but even in the dim light the shack fair sparkled with nary a speck of dust in sight. Ginny knew that Draco had little else to do with his time but tidy up and think. She didn’t know if she could stand that without going nutters.

“I just wish I knew what that bastard’s angle is,” Draco groused. “There must be something he’s looking to gain. He’s just always been so quiet, not the ambitious type at all. Of all the sneaky good-for-nothings in that house, I never dreamed I would have to worry about him.”

“People have a way of surprising you sometimes,” Ginny pointed out quietly, letting their eyes meet for a heartbeat. She swallowed and glanced away, tracing the whirls in the wood of the tabletop. “Uh…Nott, he um, he said that Pansy doesn’t suspect any betrayal on your part. She thinks the Order found out you were ‘claiming your rightful place’ or whatever, and that they kidnapped you because of it.”

“I figured she would think something like that. She wants it to be true so bad she’ll convince herself of anything.”

“She thinks you two are engaged.” Ginny watched his reaction from beneath her eyelashes.

Draco’s nose wrinkled up. “Oh, Lord.” He looked at the plate of bread and cold chicken in front of him. “I think I just lost my appetite.”

Ginny felt oddly smug at that, then berated herself for it. If she started getting jealous of Pansy Parkinson, then she knew she was in trouble. “I don’t think Pierce suspects anything, at least,” Ginny offered, trying to give him some good news. “I already told you how he asked about you, but he seemed so worked up over it that he didn’t even question what I said. At least, I don’t think.”

Draco nodded. “That’s good. Just don’t get too comfortable with him. That one’s Slytherin to the core, and more dangerous than Nott ever will be. At least with Nott you know when he’s up to something.”

“Yes, Mum.”

Draco reached out and covered her hand, instantly spiking Ginny’s pulse. She looked up, startled, and got caught in Draco’s stare. He wasn’t smiling. “I’m serious,” he told her. “These aren’t the type to mess around with. If I could somehow help…”

Ginny pulled her hand free before he made her heart gallop right out of her chest. He frowned slightly, a strange expression crossing his face, but he hid it before she could decipher it. Hesitating a second, she dismissed the look and scolded, “Don’t be ridiculous. You put yourself in danger for me before. Now it’s my turn. Trust me, all right? I can handle myself.”

“Just promise me you won’t underestimate anyone. Not even Pansy. She’s clueless most of the time, but she’s vicious too, and much as I hate to admit it, she has an edge sometimes. And she absolutely hates you.”

“I know, I know.” Ginny looked at the failing light filtering through the drapes. “I should probably get back.”

He nodded, scooting back his chair and standing to hold his hand out to her.

She hesitantly accepted his help and let him pull her up. They stood there for a minute staring at each other, less than half an arm’s length away with their joined hands between them. “When did you turn into such a gentleman?” she kidded to break the tension. “I remember a day when you would have just grunted towards the door.”

Draco dropped her hand and lifted his chin. “Malfoy’s do not grunt.”

She laughed. “I see none of this has hurt your ego any. It’s a miracle you can fit that monster in this place.”

He went and sat gingerly behind the table again, buttering a slice of bread. Never looking away from his task, he said, “Door’s right there. Do feel free to use it.”

Ginny grinned. “Now there’s the Draco I know and love.” She stopped short, realizing what she just said, then scolded herself for being so ridiculous. It was just a saying, for heaven’s sake. How paranoid could she get? “I’ll be back next week with more food.”

“Hey, Ginny.” She stopped and looked back at him. He seemed to fumble with words a moment, then he mumbled, “Thanks. For the food…and dealing with all those lunatics in my House.”

“I’m only returning the favor, Draco.”

“Still. And remember not to underestimate them.”

“I’ll remember.”

“Promise?”

“Swear.”

He studied her a moment, then nodded. “It’s getting dark. Better head out.”

Ginny bid him a final goodbye and slipped out the door where the dusk swallowed her up. The last of the sun’s glow spilled across the village, all shades of orange and pink and purple, and in that moment, Ginny wondered how a world of such beauty could be corrupted by people so ugly at heart.

Shaking her head at the folly of it all, she looked around to make sure no one was watching, then snuck from shack to shack until she reached the more populated parts of Hogsmeade and could melt into the crowd. She reached Hogwarts without incident, but it was getting dangerously late, so as soon as she caught sight of the castle she broke into a jog.

The physical exertion felt good, and it reminded her that she missed her run this morning, being so frazzled over having to sneak into Hogsmeade later. She decided to keep going even after she reached the steps, which she realized probably wasn’t the most brilliant idea when she slammed right into someone leaving the castle. Her heart stopped for a second when she looked up into familiar hazel eyes.

“Professor Pierce!” She scrambled for something to say, and finally settled on, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you.” She wasn’t sorry at all. In fact, the way he was rubbing his gut where one of her elbows had connected made her feel rather good.

“Not a problem, Miss Weasley,” he said, still wincing slightly. “Just next time try walking.”

“Right, sorry. I’ll keep that in mind.” She tried to slip past him, but he caught her elbow as she went by.

“Where were you coming back from in such a rush?”

He asked it mildly enough, and his unsuspecting face with its exaggerated features revealed nothing, but Ginny still felt her lungs constrict. Did he guess something? It was impossible to tell with him, as Draco was always drilling into her head.

“Flying practice,” she lied. “I’ve got some things on my mind, and flying always helps me forget everything…but I guess I let myself forget too much. I didn’t realize how late it was getting.” Let him believe I’m worried about Draco. Please let him believe that.

As if in answer to her silent prayer, he asked, “Still no word from Draco, then?” His eyes showed sympathy that Ginny didn’t believe for a second.

“No.” Ginny looked away, wishing that she could cry on cue. She couldn’t, though, so she gave a little sniff and bent her head so that her hair fell as a barrier between the two of them. She could at least make it look like she was crying.

She felt Pierce’s hand rest on her shoulder, and it was all she could do not to slap it away like a bug. “We’ll find him, all right?”

She nodded, wishing he would just stop touching her. It wasn’t so long ago that she couldn’t help but adore this man, but now, knowing the truth, everything about him felt like slime and filth. Especially his easy, completely fake smile.

“You and I, we’ll work together,” he promised, giving her shoulder a light squeeze. Ginny forced herself not to squirm away. “If I hear anything I’ll come to you before anyone else. And you’ll do the same for me, right?”

Not even if you held a wand to my head. Ginny gave another little sniff and a tiny nod, keeping her hair in front of her face.

Pierce gave her shoulder one last squeeze, then finally let go. Ginny exhaled quietly. “Goodbye, Miss Weasley. Good luck getting some sleep.”

“Yes, sir,” she murmured in a small voice. She watched him turn and walk away, her mouth instantly dropping into a scowl when he did. Night had pretty much won the battle over dusk by now, transforming the world into a midnight blue sea just barely tinted with pink. She watched the land’s beauty envelop the equally handsome Jonathan Pierce, and she thought it was like he had tricked nature itself into accepting him and his easy charm.

- - - - -

Draco stared at his meticulously portioned piles of food. Seven of them, enough for one week until Ginny could come back with more. He wondered how long he would have to live like this, measuring the time by the number of meals he had stored up, just existing from week to week. The thought depressed him.

He gazed about his new home, a sour smile curling his lips. From a Manor to a one-room shack. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. But it was freedom, and that was something his Manor had never afforded him. It didn’t matter how big a place was when a man like Lucius Malfoy lorded over it.

He tapped his fingers on the tabletop. He’d already organized his food, and the stupid hut shone from all the times he’d scoured it with wand and old fashioned elbow grease alike, the latter simply because it took longer. All that remained was to think, and he was getting bloody well sick of thinking.

Mostly, he thought of Ginny. He mused on the irony of going from having no relations with the girl, feeling only distaste for her when she did happen to cross his mind, to her being his only source of human contact. And, of course, that little matter of being in love with her. Couldn’t forget that. He shook his head. Oh, hell, he was going mad. The fates, he decided, definitely had a sense of humor. A sick, perverted one, but there nevertheless.

He still didn’t know what to make of what she was feeling, though, and today’s visit had him more flummoxed than ever. She barely ever made eye-contact, and when she did, she looked away so fast he was tempted to ask if it gave her whiplash. And the one time he’d touched her hand, she’d yanked away like he burned her. Did she detest him now for some reason? What could he have done when he never even saw her all week? It made absolutely no sense.

But since when did anything make sense with her?

He had to stop brooding over this. It was turning into a habit, and he wanted to break it right now. He got to his feet, pacing restlessly. He walked to the windows and pulled back the curtains just enough to peek out, but all he saw was a great pool of black, so he let them fall shut again in disgust.

He started practicing old fencing lessons. His father made him take them as a child, but he hated every second of it. He wasn’t anymore fond of the sport now, but if he didn’t want to lose his mind and have his body deteriorating to the point of muscles like a twelve-year-old girl, he needed to do something physical.

Wielding an imaginary foil, he thrust and parried, danced back and lunged around the room. After awhile he could feel a fine sheen of sweat break out along his hairline, and smiling grimly, he only picked up the tempo. Miming a particularly brutal stab, he lunged forward, falling heavily on his right leg.

He heard a hollow thump.

Draco froze, looking down at the wooden floor. Thinking maybe he’d misheard in the heat of the moment he stomped again, but there was no mistaking that sound. The spot was hollow.

Casting about for something to mark the spot, his eyes fell on an orange sitting on the edge of the table. Careful not to move his foot, he stretched his whole body to reach for it, but the tips of his fingers only just touched. Frowning, he steadied himself, then used his fingertips to flick the orange in his direction. It fell from the table, and quick as the blink of an eye, he snatched it out of the air before it fell beyond reach.

Wearing a smug smile, he replaced his foot with it, then stepped back. He started stomping around the rest of the room, but just as he’d thought, it only gave off the dead thud of solid ground underneath thin wood planks. Just that one spot was hollow. He went back and knelt in front of the orange, rolling the fruit out of the way. It was too dark to see well, so he muttered a Lumos charm and bent down closer, squinting as he moved his wand slowly over the area.

He paused at a spot above his knee, bending down even closer. Sure enough, there was just a hairline seam in the wood. It could easily have just been a crack, a sign of old age, but Draco doubted it. He inserted the tip of his wand into the fault and wiggled it around, using it as a lever to try and pry up the plank. It was stuck firmly in place, though, and Draco was afraid to put anymore pressure on it in case it broke his wand.

Annoyed, he sat back and stared at it a second. Then he remembered the silverware Ginny had brought him. Rolling the orange back into place, he climbed to his feet and scooped a butter knife off the table. He returned to the seam, jammed in the knife, and heaved.

With a groan and a puff of dust, the plank shifted and dropped down about an inch. He gave it an experimental wiggle, and it grated forward. He pushed harder on the second go, and this time the plank slid underneath the plank in front of it. Feeling a flush of triumph, Draco fumbled around for his wand and held the lighted tip down to see what he’d found.

It was nothing fancy, just a clumsily dug hole in the clay-like earth, but it wasn’t empty, either. Two full bottles of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey sat side by side beneath a fine coating of dust. He laid his wand aside and lifted them out, smirking. Some peasant wanted to hide a vice from the rest of the family, obviously. He set them aside, and when he looked down again, he found more.

A leather bound book, brown, battered, and stained, had been serving as a pillow to the bottles of firewhiskey. Draco picked it up and sat back to prop it on his lap. When he opened it up he found a quill stuck inside and a page filled with an uneven scrawl. Draco took a few minutes to read, but it was incredibly dull stuff, just some housewife’s diary. He flipped through the pages, but whenever he stopped to skim through, he found nothing more interesting than on the first one. Whoever she’d been, she only filled up about a third of the book, though.

Draco found an inkwell down in the hole too, still sealed and miraculously not dried up, but nothing else. He slid the plank back into place, then carried his boon back over to the table. He sat down and twirled the quill around in his fingers, head cocked at the old journal. Too bad he hated writing. I might have composed love poems for Ginny, he thought sarcastically, smiling wryly to himself. Wouldn’t that just be the ultimate?

He leaned forward on one elbow, resting his head in his hand. He wanted to do something with the book though. He found it; he might as well use it. It wasn’t as if he had anything better to do. Flipping to a blank page and opening up the inkwell, Draco dipped in the quill and scratched a random line. From that he flicked out another stroke, and so on until somehow, he ended up with a rough sketch of his old room back at the Manor. He sat back to admire his handy work. It wasn’t that terrible, actually.

His eyes started feeling buggy so he set the book aside for now, deciding that he might do some more drawings like that tomorrow. His bleary gaze came to rest on the bottles of firewhiskey. He didn’t necessarily have any plans for those just yet, but they might not be so bad to keep around either. Just to be on the safe side. Better drunk than insane, he told himself.


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