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Not Quite Fate by Hearts Cadence
A...Slight Complication by Hearts Cadence
Chapter 28 — A…Slight Complication

At least she had a window.

Most dungeons, Naomi knew, didn’t have even that small luxury, so she supposed she ought to be grateful for that much. Hovering at least two floors above her, it was too high up to actually look out of, but she could follow the light through it. She could count the days.

Of course, after enough little tick marks cluttered up her cell wall, she realized her “blessing” only brought despair. Perhaps it would have been better to remain oblivious to time. At least then she could lie to herself and pretend it had only been a few days. Now the horrible truth stared her in the face, scratched irreversibly into stone.

The days crawled by slowly with only the gradual change of sunlight to keep her entertained. She thought mostly of Ben, what Lucius might be doing to him. She thought of Jon, too, though. What did he think of her now? Naomi held no illusions that Snape kept her betrayal a secret, and she doubted he explained about her son, either. He obviously hadn’t believed it himself.

She could say this for the man, though: as far as jailers went, Snape wasn’t as cruel as she first expected. When he initially tossed her in this cell of black iron bars and rough stone walls that stretched several floors up, making the ceiling only a vague presence, her terrified mind had conjured up all sorts of torture he might inflict on her. So far, her fears all remained unrealized, thankfully.

He brought her three meals a day. It was always the same thing — a large portion of bread, a little jam, a hard-boiled egg, and some kind of fruit or vegetable — but variety was the last thing she was concerned about at the moment. It kept her strong, and that’s all that mattered in these circumstances. He only gave her water, though once he had given her a strong wine before he questioned her. She knew he was trying to loosen her tongue, but she didn’t care; she had nothing to hide that he didn’t already know, so she drank freely, taking advantage of the rare opportunity for temporary escape.

She told him exactly what she told him before, that Lucius somehow found out about her history with Jon and stole her child. To get her son back, she was supposed to convince Jon to betray the Dark Lord. Simple as that. Naomi couldn’t tell if Snape believed her or not. He left, and when he returned with her next meal, things returned to usual: he gave her the food without making eye-contact and without speaking. Even when she tried to initiate conversation, he ignored her.

That had been a week and a half ago, according to the tick marks. She tried not to think about that.

She sat on the floor, her knees drawn to her chest and her eyes fixed on the distant window. It looked just past mid-afternoon, judging by the light, and the fact that she’d eaten two meals but not yet received her third. She pretended for a moment that she had wings, and any moment she would lift off the ground and fly through that window. It was a nice dream.

She decided then that the window tormented her in another way. It teased her. It offered her freedom, but just out of reach. It was enough to keep her hope alive, but not enough to actually realize that hope. It was the cruelest form of torture she could imagine. She wondered if Snape knew that, and had it installed for that specific purpose.

Her concentration was so focused on this new revelation that at first the sound of boot heels against stone didn’t register with her. The key turning in the ancient lock finally snapped her out of it, but she still didn’t bother turning. He wouldn’t acknowledge she existed, so why should she do any differently for him?

Only, she never heard the sound of the bars locking up again. She held her breath, counting silently to twenty, and when the sound still never came, she turned to look. Snape leaned against the bars, food in one hand and an unreadable expression on his face.

Naomi burned to ask him what he had planned now, but she kept her lips firmly pressed together. She wouldn’t give him that satisfaction. She was so tired of playing right into this man’s hands.

Jon warned me, she couldn’t help but think. He warned me being with him might end this way. She supposed he knew what he was doing when he ended their romance back at Hogwarts.

Snape regarded her for another several minutes before he finally broke the quiet. “You were telling the truth.”

Naomi wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so she just said, “I told you I was.”

His smile was ironic. “Forgive me, but I tend to be surrounded by liars and schemers. I’m skeptical by nature.”

“So why do you suddenly believe me?” She heard how bitter she sounded, but she didn’t care.

“I spoke with Ben.”

Naomi felt her heart stop. “You spoke with...my Ben?”

He walked over and placed the food in front of her. “Yes, your Ben. Rather charming boy. Bright.” Snape returned to his spot against the bars. “Resembles you, too, except for the nose and chin. I’m assuming those come from his father.”

“He’s not Jon’s,” Naomi volunteered suddenly.

Snape blinked. “Pardon?”

“I knew that’s what you were getting at, and I thought I’d save us a lot of trouble and just tell you right now that Jon’s not the father.”

Snape folded his arms, not at all successful at hiding his relief. Naomi could practically feel it coming off the man in waves. “I didn’t think so. The boy’s too young considering the last time you two were together. Still, it’s interesting.”

“What? That I had a life after Jon?”

Snape shrugged. “From the way he talked, you spent the past several years pining away for him, unable or unwilling to move on.” The man rolled his eyes to show what he thought of that.

Naomi scowled at him. “That’s what I told him,” she mumbled. “It made things…easier.”

“Of course.” The corner of Snape’s mouth lifted. “Jon always said you would have fit right in with Slytherin.”

Naomi didn’t say anything.

“So tell me, Lawson. Who is Ben’s father?”

Naomi stared at the floor, face hard. “Ben’s father is a mistake. That’s all.”

“Does he have a name?”

“Does it matter?”

“I’m a Potions Master and a Slytherin. I’m curious by nature, so to me, yes, it does.”

Naomi leaned her back against the stone, eyes wandering through the dim expanse of open room above and the suggestion of the ceiling there. “I’m sure he does have a name. I just don’t happen to know it.”

Snape raised his eyebrows.

Naomi glanced at him. “Alcohol is a dangerous drug, Sev. I would advise against it when around strangers.”

An amused smile curled the man’s lip. “So precious Ben is the product of a night gone awry. You would risk your life over a drunken mistake.”

Naomi jumped up and lunged at him, but he easily caught her, pinning her arms behind her back. She gritted her teeth and seethed, “He is not a mistake! He’s the only thing I have in the world, and thanks to you he’s probably dead or worse!” All the strength went out of her then, and she sagged in his grip. “I hate you,” she whispered.

Apparently sensing her defeat, Snape threw her to the ground. “Don’t be so dramatic,” he drawled. “Your son is just fine.”

Naomi’s head snapped up. “How do you know?”

Snape rolled his eyes. “I took a little visit to Lucius’s house and did some investigating. He never would have told me anything, of course; he knows I would side with Jon over him. But a few simple spells located the only youth in the manor, and the brat confirmed your story, as much as a toddler can. I brought him back with me.”

The room spun around Naomi, and her fingers clutched at the grooves in the stone floor. “He’s…here?”

“And quite comfortable, I assure you. Certainly better off than you.”

“So…so you’ll let us go?” She could hardly believe it, and the elation was enough to make her heart pound.

Snape crushed all that with a sneer. “I’m not that much the fool. I’ve already risked enough as it is. If Lucius ever found out who interfered…” Snape shook his head. “But Jon never would have forgiven me.” More to himself than to her he muttered, “That idiot will be the death of me….”

Naomi didn’t even hear that last. The elation turned into grief in the blink of an eye, the pain of lost hope too much. “Why? You know I’m telling the truth! You know it! Just let us go, what harm would we do? Now that I have Ben, we could run away, we sure as hell wouldn’t go back to Lucius. Please…”

“You wouldn’t go back to Lucius,” Snape agreed. “But you may go to Jon, and even if you don’t, Lucius may come to you. Either way, you’ll be a hindrance to Jon and his mission, and I can’t have that. I’m merely acting in his best interests, you understand.”

Naomi stared numbly at him a long time, unable to find even the strength to shout anymore. “You’re as bad as Lucius,” she whispered. “You’re all the same.”

“Not quite. At least I’m not threatening your son. In fact, he’s making himself quite cozy in my nicest guest bedroom, and he’s already charmed half of my House Elf staff into sneaking him all sorts of treats they think I don’t know about. You may not be free, but neither you nor your son are in danger. That will have to be sufficient.”

“If it’s not?” she snapped.

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice.” With that, Snape turned and shut the door to her cell, locking it with an echoing clang behind him.

- - - - -

Thump, thump, thump, thump. Ginny’s feet pounded out a steady rhythm as she jogged along, her breathing a different sort of cadence in her ears. She ran her usual route along the Forbidden Forest, ignoring the chill in the air. She needed to be outside again. She needed that openness after the claustrophobia of the castle.

Trees came and went in a blur of brown and green and glittery morning frost. It felt good to be out here again, running free. She ran from her doubts, from the feeling that Nott was always watching her, from her memories, from Draco and from Harry — from her mind. She ran, and she didn’t look back. It felt good.

The feeling faltered as she neared Hagrid’s hut. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, an awkwardness falling over her, and Ginny could have cried at the familiar sensation. Nott was watching. She was tuned to it now, and she feared soon it would drive her raving mad. Draco’s warning rang in her head, Don’t approach him. You’ll be playing right into his hands.

But Ginny didn’t care anymore. She slowed to a jog, and then a walk, and then stopped altogether. Her breathing stayed loud in her ears as her eyes searched the early morning shadows, but she couldn’t see anything out of place. She didn’t doubt her instinct, though. It had received far too much practice lately for that.

Cupping her hands around her mouth and praying Hagrid was out caring for his animals like he usually did this early, she called out, “Nott! I know you’re watching me! Quit being a coward and just come out!”

For a long pause nothing happened, and Ginny wanted to scream from frustration, but then a shadow detached from Hagrid’s back wall and stepped towards her. She flashed back to the night he did much the same from the castle’s shadowy walls, and wondered if he was just that good, or if he used some kind of concealing spell to stay so well hidden.

“Weasley,” he greeted, inclining his head and sporting a particularly amused half-smile.

Ginny didn’t bother with pleasantries. “I’ve had it, Nott! I’ve bloody had it, and it’s got to stop!”

He crossed his arms, looking down on her like a scientist might study a particularly interesting bug. “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about! I’ve been trying to ignore it, just hoping it would go away, but here you are weeks and weeks later still stalking me! I’m done!”

His mouth quirked. “Stalking? That seems a bit extreme, don’t you think?”

“I can’t go anywhere without feeling you staring at me!” she cried, pacing in a little circle. “I jump every time I go around the corner, and now you’ve even ruined my morning runs!”

He shrugged. “I wanted to see where you disappeared to every morning.”

“But why? Why are you always, always following me? Why can’t you just let me have a moment of peace?”

He raised his eyebrows and made as if to speak, then suddenly froze and turned his attention towards the forest.

Ginny scowled, “What — ?”

“Shut up,” he muttered, cocking his head.

“No! You can’t — ”

He was on her in three quick strides, one arm trapping her against his side while the other hand clamped across her mouth. “I said, shut up,” he hissed. He squinted into the forest for a few more silent seconds, then whispered, “Better run along, my darling Weasley.”

He shoved her away and started edging towards the forest, drawing his wand. Ginny watched totally perplexed, caught somewhere between curiosity and lingering rage. What was he doing? She hadn’t heard anything. Or was he just trying to get out of explaining?

Ginny narrowed her eyes and crept into the forest after him. He didn’t turn around at first, but when they were well inside the trees, her foot snapped a branch and he whirled, wand trained right between her eyes. He jerked the wand aside with a muttered curse, his eyes flashing, and he pointed emphatically back towards the castle. Ginny stubbornly shook her head. He pointed again, more insistently this time, and when she only crossed her arms, he made a slashing motion across his throat. Ginny felt a slight flutter in her stomach, but she didn’t budge.

Glaring, Nott shook his head and turned back to the forest, wand held out before him. Ginny experienced a sudden change, apparently in the very air. The temperature seemed to drop, and with it her spirits.

She felt depressed.

How had everything gotten so turned around? She remembered when she was a little girl, and she had it all figured out. Nothing had gone according to plan.

She shook her head, trying to force herself to stay focused on the situation at hand. Nott was edging along even more slowly now. She wondered if he’d felt it too.

Then another wave hit.

Merlin, she was supposed to grow up and have her fairy tale, Harry was supposed to be her prince, and that was the plan. Then Draco had to go and mess it all up with his declarations of love, and she had to ruin it by not feeling attracted to Harry, but to Draco instead.

Because she was attracted to Draco; she knew that much, at least. What kind of person did that make her? A horrible one, that’s what kind. It was terrible, it was a betrayal, but there it was.

Of course, the irony of it all was that there was no option for a “Happily Ever After” in this fairy tale. She could no longer see a future without Draco. But even if she was with him, it would never work. No one would accept it. The two of them would have to go into hiding, they would have no friends, no family, no Sunday afternoon dinners at the Burrow, the word would be black, lonely, empty, black and black…

“Weasley!”

Then Ginny saw a flash of light and a beam from Nott’s wand slammed into her stomach, lifting her an inch off the ground and throwing her back several feet. She hit the ground hard, curling to save her head, but nothing could save her breath, all of it knocked right from her lungs so she felt like a fish out of water, gasping for air. Groaning, she rolled to her side and looked up.

And saw something that no witch or wizard would ever mistake. Where she was just standing a moment ago loomed a tall creature, robed head to toe in blackest black, face a midnight void. Ginny understood the inexplicable depression now, understood the distraction. A dementor was in the Forbidden Forest…and it was coming at her.

Ginny couldn’t move. The thing drifted towards her purposefully like its awareness was narrowed only to her: it never even acknowledged Nott.

“Weasley!” Nott shouted again, voice rough and full of authority. “Run! I can handle it, just go!”

It seemed to be staring at her, but she didn’t know how she could tell with its face just a black wall like that. Besides, they don’t have eyes.

Dimly she heard Nott still screaming at her. Was this how it felt when you knew you were about to die? She wasn’t seeing her life or anything, which disappointed her a little. All she saw was the great, vast, cold blackness where the thing’s face lay hidden. She really would have liked to relive some fond memories before she died…

Damn it Weasley!” Suddenly she felt herself yanked to her feet and shoved back towards the castle. “Don’t you hear me?! Get your arse moving!” Nott commanded, eyes flashing and grip white-knuckled around his wand.

Ginny felt herself come back, her eyes drifting over to where the dementor still approached, slowly, inexorably. Dementors shouldn’t even be able to get on the grounds. It wasn’t right. She heard herself murmur, “How?”

Apparently understanding the rest of her unspoken question, Nott snarled, “How do you think? Pansy can figure out your morning routine easy as anyone, and the damned thing obviously wants you! Now go before I kill you myself and have done with it!”

Ginny felt dizzy. She glanced at Nott, facing the monster with his feet spread and his shoulders back. He seemed infuriated more than scared.

“Weasley!” he bellowed, clearly losing his temper. “Are you daft? Go!” His wand lowered just a second as he seemed to think of something. “Not back to the castle. Go to Draco, I’ll get you when I know it’s safe. Now, move!

How does he know about Draco?

But she didn’t have time to think, only to run. And run she did, as fast as her legs could carry her. Trees tore past her, ripping at her clothes, clawing at her face, but she ignored all of it. She burst through the border of the forest into open air gasping, her heart thudding wildly in her chest.

Fury like nothing she’d ever known came over her. How dare Pansy bring a dementor on school grounds! If she had something against Ginny, fine, but that endangered every student in the castle! Her hands were clenching and unclenching, her breathing heavy, and she could feel a flush from her head to her toes.

She didn’t realize where she was going until she was slamming through the Entrance Hall and pounding down the stairs to the dungeon, Nott’s order to go to Draco be damned. She prayed that they hadn’t changed the password to the common room since last she was there.

When the entrance sprang open for her she knew they hadn’t, and without giving a second thought to who besides Pansy might be inside, she stormed through. Luckily, it was still early in the morning, earlier than most students bothered getting up. There was only a First year with books on his lap, mouth hanging open as he gaped at her…and, as Ginny had hoped, Pansy Parkinson.

The girl’s eyes widened when she saw her. “What are you doing here?” she demanded, outraged.

“Alive, you mean?” Ginny snapped, advancing in a cold fury.

Pansy fumbled her wand out of her robes, but it was too late. Ginny was already on her and ripped it from the girl’s grasp. Then she placed her feet and shoulders as the twins had taught her, pulled her elbow back, and slammed her fist into Pansy’s nose.

The First year shouted in alarm but didn’t move as blood spurted down the other girl’s face. Ginny snapped Pansy’s wand in half, and then half again. She threw it at her feet, and without another word, turned and walked calmly out of the common room to the sound of Pansy’s sobs and shrieks.

And then Ginny ran. She didn’t think she’d ever moved this fast, but she knew it was only a matter of time before professors and probably half of Slytherin were on her. The adrenaline pumping through her veins made her feel inexhaustible, the triumph from seeing the look on Pansy’s ruined face invincible. She ran, and she never slowed until she reached Hogsmeade.

But she faltered outside Draco’s door. Her high came crashing down around her, and she stood there staring at the beaten old door for a long time. She hadn’t seen Draco since they last talked…since he told her he loved her. Then, she had just told him that she needed a few days to sort things out. She’d had the few days, but nothing was sorted out.

She looked around, trying to think of somewhere else to go, but Nott was right to assume that the castle might not be safe, and besides, she wanted to give everyone a chance to calm down after what she did to Pansy. She thought of the Three Broomsticks, but no doubt McGonagall would contact Rosmerta, and that would be the end of that.

So biting the inside of her cheek, Ginny knocked. For a long time there was nothing, then the sound of dragging footsteps and the door opened.

Draco stood in a pair of soft black trousers and a t-shirt, bright blond hair all askew and his eyes only half-open. For just a second she was afraid he was drunk again because Draco never let himself be seen so un-put-together, not even now when she was the only person who ever saw him, but then she remembered that it was barely dawn. He must have been sleeping, and Ginny caught him still in his pajamas. The thought made her smile.

For his part, Draco appeared less amused. “What are you looking so cheery about this bloody early?” he growled in a morning-hoarse voice.

Ginny pushed past him without waiting for an invitation, his comment suddenly shoving her back into reality. “Nothing. Actually, something kind of…serious happened. And I might’ve done a bad thing.”

Draco shut the door. “What is it?”

“Awhile back I kind of…made Pansy mad. Said some things about you and her that I probably shouldn’t have.” She thought about telling him how the girl almost killed her, but decided to leave that part out. It would only get him worked up, just like telling Draco about Nott’s role today would. She decided not to talk about that either. Nott was turning into an infuriating mystery, and she just didn’t have the energy to think about him right now.

Draco’s forehead scrunched a little, clearly trying to concentrate in his half-asleep state. “Ginny,” he sighed, “I told you — ”

“I know, I know. I messed up, okay? Anyway, today I was out running by the Forbidden Forest and…” here she faltered. She had been fine after leaving the dementor, but now remembering it brought back the memory, and it filled her with cold dread. It was almost like the thing was in the room with her.

“And?” Draco prompted, plopping down in one of the chairs.

Ginny swallowed. “And there was a dementor,” she whispered. “And it wanted me.”

Draco was suddenly on his feet, looking fully awake. He grabbed her by the shoulders and held her at arms length, looking over every inch of her. “Are you all right? Did it do anything, or — ”

“I’m fine,” Ginny said wearily. “But Pansy had to have planted it. She must know where I run, I take the same route every morning.”

Draco frowned. “Are you sure? Pansy’s disturbed, but bringing in a dementor just seems a little…extreme.”

Ginny stiffened. He thought she was just being paranoid? “You didn’t see her before, Draco. When I insulted her. She was beyond murderous. She didn’t want to just kill me, she wanted to see me suffer. What better way than sucking out my soul and leaving me dead while I’m still alive?”

He still seemed skeptical. “How would she even do it? Getting a dementor on grounds can’t be easy, especially since last year.”

“I’m sure she said the two magic words: ‘Please, Daddy?’”

“I know Mr. Parkinson. He wouldn’t risk a dementor to help his daughter get petty revenge.”

“Well then she made something up!” Ginny spun around so her back was to him, feeling overwhelmed. He was making her feel like some overreacting little girl! “I’m not paranoid, Draco,” she snapped.

It was quiet behind her for a few seconds, then she felt his hands lightly touching her shoulders. She stiffened, knowing she should pull away, knowing she was just leading him on by letting him continue, but some part of her loved his touch, loved the safety it lent her even as she was hurt by the boy himself. He lightly ran his hands down her arms and back up again.

“I know,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry. You’re right, if Pansy wanted a dementor, she would find a way. It’s not that I don’t believe you, I’m just…” he sighed in frustration, his fingers reflexively tightening on her arms. “Remember when you asked me if I was afraid?”

She nodded.

“Well, I’m afraid again. I don’t…” he seemed to struggle with his wording, “I don’t want it to have been Pansy. I don’t want you a target. Do you understand?”

She smiled to herself. It amazed her how awkward and embarrassed he could sound after the declarations he made last time. But that was just Draco, she supposed. And she did understand.

She turned around slowly, though Draco didn’t let go of her shoulders, and she looked at the familiar face with its sharp cheekbones, its just slightly pointed chin, strong lines and depthless, mercurial eyes. She got the sensation that she was being pulled into him even though she was standing still and quickly jerked her eyes away.

Her gaze fell on an old leather bound book on the table. “What’s that?” she asked, just to distract herself.

He glanced back. “Oh…I found it.”

“What? In here?”

“Yeah. I told you I found the firewhisky in the floor, didn’t I? That was there too.”

She blinked. “You were serious? I just thought you were talking nonsense. You weren’t exactly coherent at the time.”

He smiled. “No, there’s a compartment.” He backed up a few paces and stomped his foot against the floor. “See? Hollow.” He shrugged. “Anyway, that was in there. Just some old housewife’s journal.”

“What are you doing with it?”

He mumbled something under his breath.

“What?” she asked, trying not to smile at his discomfort.

“Drawing,” he said more loudly. “Pictures of the manors I’ve been in. Mine, Snape’s, the Parkinson’s, all those.”

She raised her eyebrows. “You draw?”

“Not really, but it’s better than staring at the wall.”

“Can I see?”

He frowned. “I…guess….”

Ginny walked over and flipped open the book, glancing over the ramblings of the woman who first owned the journal before finding his first picture. “Wow,” she said softly, turning to the next page. “Draco…these are good.”

He didn’t say anything, just walked up behind her.

“Why did you only draw manors?” she asked, marveling at the ornate architecture and attention to detail she found in each picture.

“I don’t know. I guess drawing live things sounds too hard, and manors aren’t as plain as, say, this excuse for a hovel.”

Ginny smiled to herself. She turned the page and instead of a room sketch, she found what looked like a blueprint. “What’s that?”

“Oh. I got bored of rooms, so I did a map. I actually did a few maps. That’s my house.”

Ginny stared. “All of that?”

“Oh, Merlin, no. That’s just the first floor.”

Ginny felt a little sick. No one should have that much space. She flipped past the pages of his home, not wanting to think about what he must have thought of hers after growing up in that, and encountered a new set. These seemed at least a little more humble in comparison to his monstrosity of a manor, but they still dwarfed her own home. “Where’s this?”

“Snape Estate.”

Snape is rich?”

“No. The Dark Lord gave it to him after a particularly difficult mission. He does that, sometimes. Gives out rewards. Not as much as punishments, but I suppose he likes something of a balance, at least.”

Ginny studied the maps carefully, fascinated by the secret passages on all the floors. “How do you know about all the trap doors and hidden doorways and stuff?”

“Father had a particularly long meeting with Snape one day. I explored. I’m sure that’s not even half of them.” He carefully took the book out of her hands and closed it. “Ginny, why are you looking at drawings?” he asked, his tone suggesting he knew she had an ulterior motive for it.

She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “It…it was taking my mind off everything.”

He put his hand on her arm and gently turned her to face him. “Are you sure you’re all right? Dementors…even if they don’t get near you, they can do damage.”

She stared at him, and she wanted to say that no, she wasn’t sure at all that she was okay, but it didn’t have anything to do with dementors. Looking at him now, she couldn’t ignore that she wanted him. She didn’t know what exactly wanted him for, but she did know that friendship wasn’t enough anymore. She had no idea why it scared her so much, but it did. It terrified her.

She glanced towards the door, wondering if she should try and find somewhere else, racking her brain for anywhere she could flee to. But as she did, she realized that scared her more. She wanted to be with Draco; she wanted him touching her and shielding her. She wanted it more than anything, even if it frightened her beyond belief. She wondered why it never scared her at all with Harry, but let the thought go. She didn’t want to think about Harry right now.

“Draco?” she asked softly. “Can I stay? I’m so tired…I just…I just want to stay.”

He nodded at once. “Come on.” Taking her hand, he drew her towards the bed and pulled back the sheets for her. She knew it was probably inappropriate, but the past weeks had been so long, and she was so exhausted; she didn’t want to fight anymore. She lied down.

Draco pulled the covers back up around her and turned to walk away, but she stopped him with a soft, “Draco.”

He turned back.

“Don’t go.”

He smiled a little ruefully. “I can’t, remember? I’m stuck in this ridiculous little hut whether I like it or not.”

Ginny shook her head. “No, I mean…don’t go over there. Stay here. With me.”

His eyebrows had a little line between them as he slowly walked back. “What?”

In answer, Ginny scooted over and pulled back the sheets for him.

The line vanished as understanding dawned, but she couldn’t read the expression that replaced it. “Ginny, I probably shouldn’t…”

“Draco, please,” Ginny didn’t care how much like a little girl she sounded. She just needed someone; she needed him.

The internal war he waged showed through his eyes. Then he visibly swallowed and gave a curt nod. Carefully, he slid in beside her, taking care not to let any part of their bodies touch.

“Draco, I…” Ginny trailed off, biting her lip. She didn’t know how to tell him what she wanted, that she needed him to hold her, to make her feel safe. She needed him to make it all go away.

He seemed to understand, though. He reached out and smoothed the hair back from her face, then let his hand run down her arm to her waist. “Turn around,” he ordered quietly.

Ginny didn’t question the soft command, just turned her back to him. She felt his hand slide down to her stomach, and then he moved closer, pulling her back against him at the same time until they were pressed back-to-chest.

“You’re safe,” he whispered. “Get some rest.”

How did he know? Ginny wondered somewhat distantly. His breath was a faint reminder against her neck, his arms and chest strong and steady and comforting. She was warm and protected and she almost felt like crying because finally she felt at peace. The relief of it overwhelmed her.

“Draco?” she asked softly.

“Shhh. You’re all right. No one knows you’re here.”

Nott does.

She remembered that as sudden as a knife’s stab, and at least as brutal. She opened her mouth to tell him, but then his fingers flexed against her stomach and she felt an inadvertent wave of comfort flow through her, and she couldn’t bring herself to ruin the moment. She would tell him. She would tell him all of it. Later. She let her eyes fall shut.

Brilliant sunshine that could only mean mid-afternoon flooded her eyes when they opened again. For a second she was disoriented, very aware that this was not her dormitory and that there was an arm slung over her waist. When she remembered, she turned over in the loose circle of Draco’s embrace and looked at his face. The sharp lines seemed softer in the warm afternoon glow, or maybe it was just in the peace of slumber. Either way, he looked more angelic than ever. The thought made her giggle quietly.

His eyelids fluttered, then blinked open at the sound. “Bloody girl,” he muttered. “I was having a good dream.”

“What was it?”

He smiled and tightened his arm around her. “I was in bed with a beautiful redhead.”

She rolled her eyes and pushed him back, crawling out from beneath the covers. She felt stiff all over as she hobbled over to the window, not minding the feel of Draco’s eyes on her. She could feel a slight flush building from it, but it was a pleasant sort. Carefully, she peeled back the curtains and peeked out.

The sun hung directly overhead, they sky uninterrupted by a single cloud. You would never know there was a dementor hanging about just this morning, she thought bitterly.

For the first time, it occurred to her to wonder what happened to it. Nott said he could take care of it, and after witnessing enough of his unsettling little tricks, she had taken him at his word, but what if he got hurt? And more importantly, would that really be a bad thing, as long as the dementor got hurt first? Her first reaction was no, but she couldn’t help but remember how many times he’d saved her now. For himself, true, but still…

A cluster of dark shapes coming up the road against the backdrop of brilliant sunshine interrupted her thoughts. She squinted, picking out three people. There was something familiar about the way the one in front walked, but she couldn’t place it. When the person drew nearer and the glare from the sun dimmed, Ginny’s heart nearly stopped.

“Oh, my God,” she whispered.

The young man trudging so wearily up the beaten down dirt road looked spent and old beyond his years. Dark blue jeans and a charcoal sweatshirt covered his thin body, contrasting with skin so pale it looked like it hadn’t seen the sun in weeks. A tousled mop of unruly jet-black hair fell over his forehead and brushed the tops of rounded spectacles.

“What is it?” Draco asked, coming up behind her.

Ginny’s blood pounded in her ears, and she had to grip the windowsill for support. When she spoke, her voice sounded numb, her mind snared by so many emotions it couldn’t seem to decide which one to convey. “It’s Harry.”

Potter? That’s impossible. He’s — ”

Ginny didn’t wait to hear the rest. She ran to the door and flung it open, darting out into the bright afternoon and sprinting after the already receding shapes of Harry, her brother, and Hermione Granger.

“Harry! Ron!” she shouted, waving her arms. “Hermione! Ron!

All three abruptly stopped and watched her approach. Disbelief and something else, an indefinable expression, crossed Harry’s face when she got nearer, and she heard him say, “Ginny?

He closed the distance between them in three great, quick strides and swept her up into his arms, lifting her right off the ground and spinning her around. She threw back her head and laughed, feeling as much relief pour over her as did sunshine, making her just as warm. They’re all right, all three of them. Oh, thank God. They’re all right.

Harry set her back on her feet, and she turned her head to look for Ron, but suddenly Harry was pulling her close again, and Ginny had only a moment of confusion before his mouth was on hers.

His kiss had the same effect as a massive rain cloud swallowing up the sun; her elation deflated in a second just like that, turned into dread and discomfort. She wanted to shove him away because this didn’t feel right, not anymore, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Not when he just came back; not when he still looked so worn.

He finally pulled back, and apparently having missed her lack of enthusiasm in the kiss, buried his face in her neck and whispered, “Ginny, Ginny. I missed you so much.”

Ginny hesitated, then said softly, “I missed you too, Harry.” But not the way you wanted me to miss you, she thought miserably. Despair snaked through her like the dementor was there all over again.

And the worst part of all was that from the run-down old shack behind her, she could feel Draco’s eyes watching.

Harry brushed her cheek with his thumb. “Why are you crying?”

Ginny forced herself to smile. “Happy tears,” she lied.

- - - - -

A/N – Well, one little tidbit you might find interesting: a little less than a year ago I was out for my morning run (yup, I run just like Ginny haha), listening to Matchbox Twenty though I can’t remember the song anymore, and this scene (Ginny FINALLY admitting her feelings for Draco, only to have Harry return) popped into my head.

This entire story formed around this one scene.

I wanted to write it that badly, but I wanted to do it justice too, and I knew for that I would need more than a one-shot. And thus, NQF (along with Jonathon Pierce and all else it entails) was born. (Unfortunately, now that I’ve actually written the stupid scene, it’s fallen depressingly short of what I envisioned almost a year ago. *sigh* What a bummer.)

Anywho, we’re still fairly far from the end. I would say it’s about 2/3 of the way done. Give or take, of course. Oh, and sorry if it’s taking longer, but finals are coming up in about a month, and the projects and research papers are piling on. All the librarians pretty much know me by name now haha.


This story archived at http://www.dracoandginny.com/viewstory.php?sid=4529