A/N – I bet y’alls thought I died, didn’t you? Lol I really am sorry for the delay (yet again). I could get into all the stress at school/work, and hectic finals, and the myriad other time-sucker-uppers, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll just get on with the chapter…
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Chapter 15 – Guilt
“You told Nott what?”
Draco flinched despite himself, suddenly wishing that he hadn’t suggested they sit down for this chat because it would make dodging her hexes that much harder. The old oak by the lake spread its boughs over himself and Ginny, most of its leaves already having fallen in shades of gold, red, and brown on the ground, cushioning their seats and allowing the dawn’s pale, pink and gold light to reach through. Ginny’s fiery hair shone with it, dark eyes reflected gold, her cheeks still rosy with the recent exertion of their morning jog.
Draco took in all of this, entertaining a brief fantasy of bearing her down to the bed of springy leaves beneath them, but as soon as he realized what he was thinking he ripped his gaze away, dismayed with himself. Ever since Nott’s damned comments in the common room, absurd thoughts like that kept popping up at the most inappropriate times. It was enough to drive a bloke mad.
“I didn’t have a choice,” he insisted to the ground, unwilling to risk looking her in the face again. Or worse, looking at other parts of her again.
“What do you mean, you didn’t have a choice? You could have said anything!” she sputtered. “You could have told him Professor Pierce was making you tutor me, or we were practicing Quidditch, or that it was part of a bloody hippogriff conspiracy! Anything but that!”
Draco thought that over a minute. “I didn’t think of any of those things. Well…not that the third one is very good anyway….”
From the corner of his eye, he saw her head drop into her hands. “Oh, Draco,” she moaned miserably, shaking her head, and he experienced an odd twinge in his midsection at the sound of his name falling so drawn out from her lips. “What is wrong with you?”
“It’s really not so bad…”
“Not so bad!” she exploded, twisting around and rising up on her knees to face him, incredulity on her face. “You told Nott that you were shagging me! And you made it sound like I’m some love-struck, air-headed little girl who would actually believe that you might really settle down with someone!”
For reasons beyond him, that last comment stung, and he scowled at the ground.
She groaned and flopped down on her back, throwing both arms over her face. “Why, why did you have to do that?”
“I didn’t technically say we were shagging, you know,” he felt the need to point out in his defense. “It was just implied. All I really said was that you were…tolerable to look at.”
She removed her arms, propping herself up on her elbows to glare at him. “Oh, thank you ever so much for that compliment,” she said sarcastically. “And you said more than just that. You said that I fancy you.”
He shrugged uncomfortably. “I said I was sorry. I couldn’t think of anything else on such short notice.”
She rolled her eyes, pushing herself into a sitting position once more. “You’re such a man. It figures that this is the one thing your perverted mind could come up with.”
She was beginning to offend him now, so raising his chin self-importantly he drawled, “You know, if not for me, you might be rotting in someone’s dungeon right now.”
At that her face instantly softened, and she sighed in defeat. “You’re right,” she admitted grudgingly, making a little pile of leaves in front of her. Then, with obvious effort, she added, “Look, I’m sorry. I know you were just trying to help. I just…I don’t want the whole school thinking I’m some na´ve tart.”
Draco blinked, amazed at how quickly he’d guilted her into compliance. He would have to keep that in mind. It would never work in Slytherin, that was for sure. “I was just trying to help,” he agreed, “and I wouldn’t worry. Nott’s pretty quiet; I’ve never heard him take part in gossip.”
“I hope so,” she muttered. She looked up at him, her deep brown eyes wary as they reflected the remnants of dawn’s early golden light. “So…what now? I’m supposed to act all…adoring?”
An image of Ginny looking worshipfully up at him flashed through his mind, and he quickly shook his head, just barely holding in a curse. “No,” he answered instead. “You don’t have to pretend to be taken with me. Just…try not to advertise how much you hate me and my family where it might get back to him.”
She smiled lightly, crunching up a brittle leaf in her fingers. After a long, quiet moment of hesitation, she asked, “You know I don’t hate you anymore, right?” She rushed on, “I mean, after everything you’re doing for me, hating you is sort of impossible.” She smiled wryly at him. “Believe me, I’ve tried.”
He laughed dryly. “I’m honored.” But despite his sarcasm, he enjoyed the feeling her words gave him.
The corners of her mouth tilted up again, then she let out a long, exhausted exhalation. “Can you please just go and tell him something else?” she tried hopefully, not sounding very optimistic but trying anyway.
“Remember yesterday, when you made me go and ask Pansy about the stupid sprite, and I had to miss my soak in the prefect’s bathroom and therefore went around the rest of the day miserable and sore, just like I’m positive I’ll be doing today?”
“Oh!” she looked up, suddenly expectant. “You found time to talk to her, then? What did she say?”
He waved his hand. “In a minute. You remember that?”
She huffed impatiently. “Yes, Draco, I remember.”
“You remember how I didn’t want to but did anyway, and I told you to remember that next time I wanted a favor?”
She scowled at him. “This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
“But that’s the way it turned out.” He leveled a serious gaze on her. “Look, we both know I can’t go and change my story now. He was already suspicious. That will just make it ten times worse. I’m not even asking you to do anything, I’m just making you aware of the situation.”
She frowned, then sighed dramatically. “Fine, fine, you great prat.” Giving one last, obligatory hmph she reminded, “Now, about your talk with Pansy….”
He smiled a little, amused at her theatrics, then nodded in answer to her prompt. “There’s not much to tell, really. She doesn’t know anything about it specifically.”
“Her dad wrote her and told her that there’s some increased Death Eater activity on account of the Dark Lord having his knickers in a twist about something.” He shrugged. “She thinks it might be big, but can’t really say for sure what it is. She said she’ll keep me updated.”
“So You-Know-Who is angry about something?” she asked, a suddenly worried expression crossing her face as something seemed to dawn on her. “And there’s more activity?”
He studied her with interest, wondering what in such vague news inspired this anxiety. “That’s basically it, yes.”
Ginny hugged her knees to her chest. “Oh.”
Finally unable to stop from wondering any longer, he asked, “What is it?”
She shook her head quickly. “No, nothing. Just…nothing.” Her eyes turned away from him, staring off into the distance, past the borders of Hogwarts. Her hand rose to fiddle absently with a locket around her throat, and when he squinted at it, he made out the initials “HP & GW.” Then it all fell into place, and for some insane reason, it made him angry.
“It’s Potter,” he practically spat.
Her eyes snapped over to him, surprised, then lowered guiltily. “I haven’t thought about him in awhile,” she murmured.
“But now you’re afraid this has to do with him.” Draco’s voice came out tight, and he ignored the little voice in his head telling him that the sick knot in his stomach felt a lot like jealousy.
Ginny dropped the locket, lacing her fingers together in her lap. “It might.”
Draco didn’t answer, face blank as he stared up at the nearly-bare limbs of the tree. He couldn’t understand the emotions burning him up right now, but he didn’t enjoy them one bit. To be honest, he didn’t understand much of anything that he had experienced since Jonathon Pierce walked into his life and gave it a good, hard shake.
“We’d better head back,” Ginny suggested into the quiet. “Breakfast will be over in a bit, and we still need to shower first.”
He glanced over at her, noting the little strands of hair that surrounded her face, having escaped her ponytail when she ran. Part of it, he knew, was also due to bed-head, as they waited until after running to wash. He fleetingly wondered what her hair looked like when she first woke, before a brush or a hair-tie got to it. He wondered if bloody Potter knew. Then he gave himself a hard mental smack for the inane thought and hauled himself to his feet.
“You’re probably right,” he said, just because he felt like he needed to say something or risk exploding.
They walked back to the castled in silence, Draco brooding, angry and then perplexed at himself by turns, while Ginny looked deep in thought. Occasionally, her fingers would come up to play with her locket, but then she would seem to realize what she was doing and drop her hand again.
As soon as they reached the castle Ginny turned to him, eyes not really seeming to see him. “There’s something I have to do,” she told him. “I’ll see you later.” She left him standing in the Entrance Hall, half-jogging towards the stairs. At the base, she paused and turned back to him. “I’ll at least see you again tomorrow morning for our jog, yeah? You haven’t wimped out on me yet?” She treated him to an impish smile.
A smile of his own found its way to his lips, and he shook his head. “No, not yet. I’ll be there. I promised myself that one of these days I’m going to leave you in the dust.”
A challenge like that normally would have drawn some fiery comeback from her, but now she only laughed a little distractedly and went on jogging up the steps. He watched her go with a small frown and chose not to examine his reactions to their talk. A shower. That was all he needed. A shower and something to eat.
That conviction firmly in mind, Draco Malfoy started his way slowly towards the dungeons, definitely not thinking about a certain redheaded Gryffindor. And definitely, definitely not jealous of her concern for Potter.
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Ginny sat jiggling her foot through the last class of the day, eyes darting over to the clock every few seconds, each time expecting at least five minutes to have passed.
She couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought about Harry these past weeks. She’d just been so distracted by…things. But now, with all clues pointing towards a rise in Dark activity, it was all she could do to concentrate on anything but Harry. She’d wanted to run straight to the candle after she left Draco, but she had needed to make sure she got in a shower first, and by the time all that was finished, classes were about to start. So she’d gone, and all day had been torture. Now there were ten minutes left, and the seconds seemed to slog by as if wading through a pool of molasses. She sighed, scratching out little doodles on her parchment.
To compound on her guilt over Harry, she felt bad about how she’d acted towards Draco this morning. She still thought he was absolutely mad for telling Nott that brainless excuse, but his intentions at least had been good. Yet again, he was protecting her for no good reason…and she hadn’t exactly been very gracious. He’d seemed a bit miffed, too. Still doodling, she penned an elaborate “DM” on her paper, deciding grudgingly to apologize later.
The final bell of the day rang, making her jump as it jarred her out of her thoughts. Then she scooped all of her things into her bag with one sweep of the arm, shouldered the load, and pushed her way out the door with the rest of the hurried students. The halls teemed with raucous youths, and Ginny grew increasingly frustrated until she finally managed to break free of the crowd and slip down a little-used side hall. From there she met almost no one and could move along as fast as her heavy books would allow. The winding corridors and steep, worn staircases fell away behind her in a rush, but it still seemed to take forever to arrive.
The door to the tower room and the candle inside seemed foreboding in a way it never had before. All day Ginny had been dying to get here, but now that she stood only feet away, she discovered she was afraid. What if she didn’t want to know the answers? What if the candle wouldn’t even show Harry? She felt almost positive it would, according to what she’d read about how it worked, but still…what if?
She set her jaw, tossing back her hair stubbornly. Like Bill always said, nothing would destroy a man faster than asking what if.
She grasped hold of the handle, gave it a hard twist, and swung the door open wide. Late afternoon sun flooded through the wall of windows, momentarily blinding her and leaving her skin bathed in an orange-yellow glow. She inhaled one last steadying breath and stepped into the room.
This time when she uncovered the candle, she sat with her back propped against a window, knees bent and feet planted firmly on the stone floor. She held the candle up before her, staring and waiting; it didn’t disappoint.
The wick flared into life, instantly drawing her into its depths, and soon the crushing, suffocating oblivion fell over her. The period of nothing seemed to last far longer than it ever had before, but then it was hard to tell because all sense of time drifted away in this terrifying limbo. Even so it didn’t feel right to her, and panic mounted by the second before a change finally occurred. She expected Harry’s face to emerge from the blackness. If that failed, she figured Draco would appear. Neither happened.
Instead, what might have been two emerald eyes started to form, and relief washed through her, but then white-blond hair began to fall over them the way it did over Draco’s gray eyes. A face started to take shape as well, but it couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to be sharp and fine-featured, or tan with softer lines to it. A lightening-shaped scar etched into the forehead, but stopped only half-way completed, and then started to fade again.
Ginny realized Draco and Harry were competing in her mind for the spot of “most preoccupying.” Summoning up a good dose of willpower, she concentrated all of her thoughts on Harry, on his warm eyes like green fire and his wonderfully messy hair and his lean seeker’s body, so much like Draco’s.
At that last thought the budding image of Harry flickered just a little, but she quickly shoved thoughts of Draco to the very back of her mind and redoubled her efforts on Harry. Minutes later, a full picture formed, the scenery building slowly around the boy who sat before a small fire, the flames reflecting off his glasses and blocking his eyes. Ron and Hermione lay on the other side of the blaze, already asleep in their respective blankets. Ginny wondered for a moment why the sun had already set, but then realized he was underground. Damp cavern walls the color of red clay sloped up around him, the floor beneath him hard stone of the same color. By all appearances, the Trio camped in a tunnel.
Ginny moved forward through the scene, swallowing thickly as she tried to stamp down her phobia of closed in, below ground spaces. She distracted herself with questions. Why in the name of everything magical did Harry feel the need to venture underground? Did the Horcrux lie at the end of this cramped passage?
She sat down next to Harry, wishing she could ask all her questions, that he could hear her. Just sitting so near without being able to touch him was torture in itself. Studying him in the unsteady light, though, she discovered something that unsettled her to her very bones: the need to hold him, to kiss him again and feel his arms around her…all of those desires didn’t press on her. She missed him surely, but in a way disturbingly similar to the way she missed Ron. Like a brother.
Her stomach churned sickly, and she gave her head a slow shake of denial. Had it really been so long? Could feelings fade so quickly? Or was it something else? Were they indeed gone, or was it just her fear of being underground preventing her from feeling more romantic?
She was convincing herself of that last possibility when Hermione stirred and lifted her head, blinking blearily. She rubbed at her eyes and crawled quietly over to Harry.
“What are you still doing up?” she whispered.
Harry didn’t look away from the flame. “Couldn’t sleep.”
Hermione frowned a little. “You should try. Tomorrow morning we’ll be—”
Harry’s lips quirked. “Tomorrow morning? For all we know this is morning, we’ve been down here so long.”
“You know what I meant,” she said quietly. Then, “You’re afraid, aren’t you?”
Harry didn’t answer, but he did look over at her.
“It’s all right, you know. We’re close to finding it now, and after that…well, we don’t rightly know. It is scary.” She laid her hand on his arm. “But Harry, that doesn’t make you any less brave. If you weren’t scared, well, you wouldn’t really be doing anything very courageous, would you?”
“I know. It’s just…what if I mess up?”
Hermione gave a little sigh. “You’ve got to stop putting the weight of the Wizarding world on your shoulders. If you mess up, then someone else will make it right again. You’re not obligated at all to be doing this. You’re doing it by choice because you want to do your part. It’s not your responsibility.”
Harry took off his glasses and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. “But it is, Hermione. I’m the one who has this weird connection with him, and I’m the one he’s constantly after. That made it my responsibility…whether I want it or not.”
“Harry—” Hermione started to protest, but he just shook his head.
“Look, I know you’re trying to help, but…I think you were right. I just need to try and sleep. G’night.”
With that, he turned away and wrapped some blankets around his thin frame, curling onto his side with his back to her. She looked at him with a worried expression, eyebrows all cinched together and lips pressed tight, but then she just sighed and shook her head, scooting back to her own blankets.
Ginny’s mind spun with information. They were close to finding it, and Ginny could only assume “it” was the final Horcrux. And You-Know-Who was in a snit over something, so did that mean he knew? Not possible. But still, if he somehow guessed...well, it could be very bad for Harry. But even if all that were so, what could she do?
Nothing. Ginny sat back, defeated with the realization. She would just have to trust in Harry to take care of himself.
The creepy-crawly, panicky feelings brought on from her surroundings started to overwhelm her, and quickly deciding she had learned all she could, she wasted no time in blowing out the flame. The candle’s oblivion closing around her offered no relief, but soon enough it cleared away, leaving her in a wide-open, warm glowing tower room of windows, and she breathed out slowly.
Leaning her head back against the windows, Ginny closed her eyes and forced herself to stay calm, to give herself time to absorb everything. The scene played over again in her mind, and again, until Ginny knew without doubt that she had it committed to memory. A trickle of excitement thrummed through her veins when she realized what this meant — besides a very real possibility for danger. It meant the war very well could stop any time now.
Her thoughts instantly switched gears, turning to Draco: she needed to tell him. This latest development and the hope for an end would thrill him more than anyone else in the castle right now, she could almost swear it.
She pushed herself to her feet and started to hide the candle again, wondering where to start looking for Draco, but stopped when she had it half-way lowered into its hole. An idea came to her, and curiously, she pulled the candle back out, sat down with her legs crossed in front of her, and again willed the flame to burst into life. It did, and the nothingness swallowed her up a third time that afternoon, but this time she bent all of her concentration on Draco.
She had no way of judging for certain, of course, and maybe it was just paranoia, or guilt, or both, but she could have sworn Draco appeared to her much faster than Harry had. The blond stood out by the lake, tossing in rocks and making them skip across the water. The afternoon sun she knew surrounded her physical form stories above this scene flooded him, bouncing off his platinum hair.
Just to experiment, she called his name softly. As she expected, he didn’t respond, but to make sure, she walked right up to him and round to his front. He stared through her, eyes unreadable and pale in the sunlight as they followed the paths of the pebbles he threw. Tentatively, with the breath-holding excitement of getting away with something forbidden, Ginny lifted her hand up to his face. She couldn’t feel the sharp angles of his features, of course, and neither could he notice her touch, but it still looked so out of place, so…weird for her hand to hover in that position, poised over his high cheekbones, brushing against his temple and running over his thin lips.
Suddenly realizing what she was doing, she yanked her hand back as if scorched. She stared disbelievingly at her fingers for a long minute, as if blaming them for the inexplicable whim, then she shook her head slowly and quickly blew out the candle flame before she could dwell on it too much longer.
This time the oblivion of transition hardly affected her, thoughts so distracted by everything that had just transpired through the candle, both with Harry and Draco. When the tower materialized around her again, she willed herself not to brood on either and went about the task of hiding the candle. That done and still holding resolutely to her resolve of ignoring the candle’s visions, she took off at a brisk walk down the winding passages that would bring her to the Entrance Hall again.
Only a few students milled about when she arrived in the more populated areas of the castle, but she only offered them a brief nod or a smile and managed to make it outside without being stopped. Recalling the candle’s picture of Draco, she searched out the spot he should be by the lake and sure enough, there the Slytherin stood, still skipping rocks.
Now her pace slowed, allowing her to approach slowly, to study his tall, lean frame as it hurled out pebble after pebble. She figured he must be summoning them or something, because she didn’t remember that many rocks, especially that many just the right shape for skipping, lying around the lake. He executed each toss perfectly with a powerful throw, and it made Ginny wonder how many afternoons he whiled away in just such a fashion. It made her wonder why someone like him would need to waste away his time in such a pointless pursuit. He seemed simply resigned to existing.
That troubling thought in mind, Ginny started to speed up again, praying that this news would inspire a little hope in him. All at once, though, a realization brought her to an abrupt halt. Telling Draco would require explaining the candle.
She bit her lip, uncertainty stalling her. It was a stupid thing to worry about. After all, why not tell him? But deep down, she knew she wasn’t prepared to do that. Even though it wasn’t really her own secret since Colin showed her in the first place, it felt personal, and she didn’t want to lose that.
And besides, a voice whispered in the back of her mind, she sort of enjoyed the idea of being able to spy on Draco without his knowledge. Did she really want to give up that handy advantage? She immediately felt guilty for such a…Slytherin-like thought…but there it was nonetheless.
So she stood there in the brood afternoon sunlight, staring at Draco and trying to decide what to do. He kept on tossing his stones, oblivious to her stare, and Ginny shut her eyes, riding out this latest wave of guilt for withholding the information that might just make him feel a little better.
“Enjoying the view, are you Weasley?”
Ginny jumped at the voice and spun around. Her heart sank when she recognized Theodore Nott.
“What are you talking about?” she snapped, perhaps a bit nastily, before she could think to ignore him.
He moved up beside her and nodded towards Draco. “I’m talking about him.” He cocked his head towards her. “I must say, it came as quite the shock to discover the youngest Weasley has an interest in the only Malfoy heir.”
Ginny could feel her cheeks flame but stared resolutely forward, clamping down on the urge to shout that she did not have an interest in him. Thanks to bloody Draco, if she didn’t play along, Nott would start to wonder at it and she would compromise her safety all over again. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to act the love-sick girl, so instead she gritted out, “Leave it alone, Nott.”
His lips quirked. “Is that an admission?”
Refusing to look at him, she glared at some distant point. “No, that is me telling you to leave it alone.”
“Sounds like an admission to me.”
She finally looked up at him and pasted on a falsely-sweet smile. “Well maybe you should get your ears checked, because I’m telling you to shove off. I’m sure Madam Pomfrey would be happy to oblige.”
One side of his mouth curved into a half-smile. “I can certainly see why he would take a liking to you.”
Ginny blinked, caught off guard by the statement and wondering what exactly he might mean by it. Her stomach started to tighten and her heart pound a little faster at the implications before she realized he was only referring to Malfoy’s lie about finding her attractive and all that rot. She didn’t allow herself to wonder at her initial reaction as Nott kept talking.
“But I still can’t figure your reasons out. It truly baffles me, honestly.”
Ginny looked away stubbornly. “Lucky it’s none of your business then, isn’t it?”
She heard Nott sigh very quietly, and then for a long time neither of them spoke. Finally, Nott said matter-of-factly, “I’d be careful with him if I were you.”
She glanced up, surprised. A small smile flickered over her lips. “Because he’s such a womanizer?”
The Slytherin snorted. “Please. He’s only ever dated Pansy, and maybe fooled around a little with Greengrass. I still don’t know where he gets that reputation….”
Ginny tucked that interesting tidbit away for later consideration. “So what exactly are you warning me from?”
Nott gave a careless shrug. “Things with Malfoy are complicated. Always have been, always will be. Comes with the title. It’s not too late to get out before you get wrapped up in all the games they play. But that happy state might not last for long.”
He gave her an ironic smile. “I think we both know which group I’m referring to.”
Ginny frowned. “What are you after?”
She crossed her arms. “I’m not stupid. You’ve got no reason to help me. In fact, you’ve got quite a few reasons to hurt me. I know how your lot works, so what’s your motive? What are you getting out of this?”
Nott showed that mysterious half-smile of his again. “Sounds like you’ve already spent too much time around Malfoy.”
“Or just enough to know better than to trust a word you’re saying,” she retorted sweetly.
Nott sighed a little. “Do what you like. It really doesn’t matter to me. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He nodded towards Draco. “Because a bloke like him, there’s always going to be trouble.”
Ginny frowned, looking back to Draco who still stood obliviously skipping stones. Of course she knew that nothing with him was simple, but she could handle it. After all, things had never been simple for her, not since Tom Riddle first used her to get to Harry all those years ago. If she could survive that, she could certainly deal with a little Slytherin corruption.
She turned to tell Nott just that, but the boy was gone. She turned a complete circle, eyes sweeping over the grounds, but found no sign of him. She frowned and shook her head, annoyed with how cloak and daggers everything felt these days. Sometimes it got to be just too much.
She jumped, spinning around so fast that she nearly fell. Draco’s hand reached out to steady her by the arm, lingering just a moment before falling away. He raised an eyebrow.
She breathed out slowly, then forced a weak smile. “Yeah, guess so.” She tilted her head up to see him and had to raise her hand to shield her eyes from the sun. He seemed far less imposing in broad daylight, the expanse of the grounds making him look somehow smaller. He appeared almost normal, like any other student instead of the “Rich and Powerful Malfoy Heir.” He really was just a person, and that meant he deserved happiness just as much as anyone else, didn’t he? It would only be right to tell him. But she couldn’t forget the reason she hesitated, and felt about ready to scream with the indecision.
“Something the matter?”
She hesitated once more, then relaxed into a smile. “No. Just thought I’d see what you were up to.” She struggled against the urge to squirm under his piercing gaze, positive he would see right through the excuse, positive he could see right through all of her to the core of her guilty conscience.
Finally, he informed her, “It seems like you’re upset.”
“I told you I’m not,” she said a little defensively.
His eyes searched hers again, and she reflexively crossed her arms over her chest. “Why are you lying to me?” he asked at last.
She huffed impatiently. “That’s not fair. Why do you get to be so good at that?”
He smirked. “It’s not that I’m good at finding things out. It’s that you’re very bad at hiding them.”
She scowled at him. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”
He shrugged. “It really wasn’t supposed to. I was just being honest.”
“Never thought I’d hear that from you,” she teased.
The corners of his mouth quirked. “And you probably won’t hear it again any time soon, so savor it.” He started to turn and motioned for her to follow. “So are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
Ginny trailed along beside him as he walked slowly in the direction of the Quidditch pitch. “A lot of things,” she admitted truthfully.
She looked up at him quizzically. “Curious, since when do my problems matter to you?”
He shrugged, his hands going into his pockets. “Since I was bored and nothing else more interesting presented itself, I suppose.”
“Oh, well, in that case.”
“Ginny,” he sighed, all long-suffering exasperation. “Just spit it out, would you?”
They reached the Quidditch pitch and Draco stepped up into one of the seats, lounging back and looking at her expectantly.
She retuned the look uncertainly for a beat, then grudgingly moved over and sat next to him. “I feel bad about Harry. I feel bad for not being more grateful to you for at least trying to help with Nott. I feel bad about…” she hesitated, “about being so selfish.”
“Guilt,” Draco summed up with a shudder. “Utterly useless, that.”
“It keeps people morally in check so the whole world doesn’t deteriorate into chaos. I’d say that’s pretty useful.”
“It clouds reason,” he argued, so self-assured it sounded like a statement of fact rather than opinion. “And nothing productive ever comes of it.”
“Apologies do.” She smiled a little at him. “Are you saying you don’t want me on my knees begging you for forgiveness about this morning?”
He met her eyes and she thought she caught an unfamiliar glint in them as they darted once, fleetingly, down her body and back. Then he quickly snapped his gaze away and said dryly, “I doubt you would get on your knees. I’d wager you’ve got at least as much pride as I do.”
She laughed. “True. And nice evasion, by the way.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now, about that nasty conscience of yours, my advice is to just forget all of it.”
“Oh, is that all?”
“Obsessing over Potter isn’t going to help him. I understand your reaction this morning, so you can stop worrying about that. If something so little got to me that much I would never make it in Slytherin. And what else were you worried about?”
She hesitated again, not wanting to talk about this, the knowledge that she should bringing on a fresh wave of guilt. “I’m selfish,” she mumbled.
He looked down at her quizzically. “How?”
Ginny looked down at her lap, twining her fingers together and apart again over and over. “I…well, I’m sort of…keeping something from a friend.”
He lifted one pale brow. “Oh good, I was afraid you might be vague.”
Ginny shot him a brief glare. “I can’t rightly tell you either. Just…trust me. I’m being selfish. I’m a terrible person.”
Draco slouched down a little, folding his hands over his midsection thoughtfully. A bird somewhere off in the distance called out, and a breeze blew autumn smells to them — dry leaves and crisp air and wood smoke from the fire Hagrid was beginning to need for warmth. Finally, Draco said, “Well, what are your reasons for being selfish?”
She blinked, pulled out of a trance. “What?”
“To be selfish is to gain something at someone else’s expense.”
“I’m aware of what it means.”
“So what are you gaining?”
Ginny thought it over. She would like to think it was just that the candle felt personal to her, and that was a big part of it, but if she were honest, she knew what really kept her from telling him. “Leverage. If I tell, I also have to tell how I found out…and I don’t want to lose that advantage.” She leaned forward and put her head in her hands, shaking her head. Now that she spoke the words out loud, she felt sick to her stomach and hated herself even more. What was she becoming?
She looked up to the sound of Draco laughing softly.
“What’s so funny?” she snapped.
“You,” he chuckled. “Ginny, that doesn’t make you selfish, that makes you smart.”
She looked at him incredulously. “I’m holding back information that might make someone’s life better, and you’re telling me that’s not selfish?”
“You’re withholding information so that you can stay a step ahead,” he corrected. “And that is smart.” He tilted his head at her. “I’m rather proud of you, actually.”
She rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t be saying that if I was hiding things from you.”
Draco shrugged. “If you were hiding something from me, and I couldn’t figure it out for myself, then that’s my own fault, isn’t it?”
She shook her head impatiently. “It’s not like that, you don’t understand.”
She sighed, defeated. “I can’t.”
He nodded. “Well, from what you’ve told me, you’re just learning to control your emotions.” He offered her a small, mocking sort of smile. “Congratulations, you’re starting to think like a Slytherin. Welcome to the world of using your head.”
And she realized he was right. That thought disturbed Ginny more than she cared to acknowledge, so she said nothing, just stared out over the empty Quidditch pitch and heard Nott’s words again in her mind: It’s not too late to get out before you get wrapped up in all the games they play. But that happy state might not last for long.
Ginny couldn’t help but wonder if maybe she should take that advice after all.
- - - - -
A/N – well, this actually wasn’t going to go up for another three days or so, but it’s the night before finals start (when I should be getting plenty of good rest), and I’m wide awake. I figured I’d at least use the time productively lol. Well…actually, using the time productively would be studying…but ah well.
Anyway, thank insomnia for this one.
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