A/N – I’m really sorry this update didn’t come as quickly. Things got insane out of nowhere. Extremely newsworthy week around town, which meant lots of work for me, I taught VBS this week at church, my family’s coming down which meant lots of housework, and I found myself with a second job for the next few weeks because my neighbor asked me to fill-in at his shop as a favor.
Next week looks worse. I’m working more, my family will be here so I’ll have to play hostess, and my father is retiring so I have to help with getting his party all around (the reason the family’s coming).
Sorry about that. No help for it. I’ll do my best to have another update for you guys in no more than two weeks, though. Sooner if I can somehow manage it in all that mess.
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Chapter 33 – A New Guest
The hills tumbled out below their feet, lush green and gilded gold in the radiance of sunrise. Small puffs of soft gray chimney smoke rose from the occasional towns and villages dotting the land, tiny from this distance as the inhabitants woke and began a new day. Naomi had seen the sight before, but Ben’s jaw hung open in awe as his big brown eyes took in the view.
She kneeled down next to him on the veranda, taking his tiny hand between hers. “What do you think of Italy?”
He grinned. “I like it here. Can we stay forever?”
Naomi smiled sadly. “No. Not forever.” She looked over her shoulder at Jon’s old villa, quaint and lovely as the day she first saw it. She wouldn’t mind staying here forever, but there were too many memories attached. More importantly, the place was Voldemort’s gift to Jon, and most of the Death Eaters knew about it.
Honestly, she did not believe that Snape would change his mind about letting her go. She would not, however, put it past Lucius to seek revenge through her. He would be angry after his son’s second failed Marking, and without Jon to take his anger out on…. No, she and Ben would stay just long enough for her to figure out a plan.
She sighed and rose to her feet, leading Ben inside. All of her things were still there. Apparently Jon had just left them when he went back to the castle. She fingered one of her old cloaks, thrown over the back of the sofa, and felt her eyes mist. He must have assumed that she left him on purpose. I never got the chance to explain….
“Hey, Ben,” she said suddenly, trying to force her voice to sound bright and cheerful. “Why don’t you run along and play in your room while Mummy makes us something to eat?”
“I’ll help!” he declared, bouncing into the kitchen.
Naomi felt the tears rushing up and had to force herself to smile. I can’t break down. Not in front of Ben. “No, honey, I better do this one by myself. But if you’re very good, maybe you can help me bake some biscuits later, okay?”
That sounded even more appealing. His grin practically touched his ears as he ran off into his bedroom. Naomi waited to hear his door shut, then sank down onto the sofa, putting her face in her hands as the tears rushed down her cheeks. Her whole body shook with them, and she blindly snatched a pillow to press over her face, trying to muffle the noise so Ben wouldn’t hear.
Why did this hurt so much? She had known back at Hogwarts that she loved him, and getting over him had been one of the greatest struggles of her life. But that was supposed to be done with; she had gotten over him. Even these past weeks, she told herself she wasn’t letting herself get too close. Naomi knew now she had been lying to herself. For all her intelligence, a Ravenclaw at the top of her class, she hadn’t been able to see that.
Love makes people do stupid things, isn’t that the saying?
She curled into a ball on the couch, holding the pillow against her face until the fabric felt damp against her cheeks and the sobs slowed to the occasional hiccup. Pushing herself up, she brushed her hair back briskly from her face and got to her feet. Ben was expecting tea soon.
After a little searching Naomi turned up some bread in the kitchen. It was stale but not too badly molded, and there were eggs, so she picked off what small specks of green she did find and made French toast. That softened the bread up enough that with a little syrup and some hot tea on the side, she and Ben enjoyed a decent meal at the kitchen table.
Though, for his part, Ben hardly seemed to taste his food. He stuffed it down, but he barely gave himself time to swallow before trying to relate more of his adventure at Snape Estate. As it turned out, he only saw the man himself once or twice. He spent the rest of the time playing with the House Elves, apparently allowed to wander wherever he wanted as long as he didn’t leave the floor his room had been on. Naomi listened to it all with a forced smile, unable to share his enthusiasm but thankful nonetheless for Ben’s treatment.
Ben refused to speak about his time at Malfoy Manor, though, and Naomi didn’t push him. She hoped he would discuss it some day, if only because it did not seem healthy to hold it in, but forcing him now could only hurt. He seemed well enough, in any case, so Naomi just prayed it would be all right.
Her prayers seemed answered as the days wore on and he only improved. In retrospect, that was both a blessing and a curse. She loved seeing him return to the boy she knew from birth, but that meant his adventurous spirit was rekindled as well. More than once she emerged from a shower to find him missing and ran outside to find him off exploring in the hills.
“I was hunting for dragons!” he protested once, pouting as she carried him back to the villa. “Now the fair maiden will get all eated up!”
“I’m sure the fair maiden has a wand, unlike her gallant Sir Knight,” Naomi had told him.
That made him sulk all afternoon.
Naomi was finding it much more difficult than her son to bounce back from the trials. Every day her anxiety doubled, and she still had no idea of a permanent place to go. The only plans she came up with were temporary, and none seemed much better than where they were now. So they stayed, and Naomi panicked. She hardly ate, which was just as well since the villa itself had hardly any food, and she had no money to buy from a nearby town. Even if no one found them here, they would starve to death eventually.
The thought made her eat even less, and soon her cheeks started resembling hollows.
She woke up one morning after days of that mental torture, exhausted from keeping up a strong front for Ben while inside she deteriorated, mentally and physically. She did not bother getting out of bed until she heard Ben’s door open, and after she did rise, the effort left her feeling drained. The walk to the kitchen felt a mile long.
“Morning!” Ben chirped from the table when she trudged into the room.
She made herself smile. “Morning, sweetie. Want French toast?”
He made a face. “No. We have that every day.”
Pretty much all we have is bread and eggs, and the bread’s too stale to eat alone. She didn’t tell him that, though. “You used to love French toast.”
He shrugged, pouting down at the table.
She sighed. “How about just eggs, then?” She thought they would still have enough leftover to eat the rest of the bread with, anyway. If not…well, she would come to that then. Maybe she would just skip breakfast…again.
Ben perked up right away. “Scrambled?”
“Sure.” She walked over to pantry and had her fingertips on the handle when something thumped against the window. She let out a little squeak of surprise and spun, an image of Lucius flashing through her mind. But it was only a bird that flapped up at the glass a few seconds later.
“It’s an owl!” Ben jumped out of his chair and ran over to the window, craning his neck to see.
“Yeah…” Naomi had never seen an owl quite like it, though. It had to be a runt—did owls have runts, or was that only dogs and pigs and things? She shook her head. She felt a little dizzy, and her thoughts wouldn’t connect right.
Ben hopped down off the chair and tugged at her shirt. “Let him in, Mummy.”
She blinked and looked down at him. She smiled at the excitement on his face and smoothed back his hair. “All right. I’ll let him in.”
Part of her wondered if this was some trap. But a bigger part of her just prayed for help. She unlatched the window and swung it out.
The tiny bird flew in and careened around the room, dipping up and down so that Naomi half wondered if it got into some drunk’s firewhisky. It finally landed on the counter and hooted shrilly. When she neared, it flapped its wings feebly, but its energy looked spent.
Ben must have noticed too. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He must have come a long way.” She noticed the parchment tied to his leg, weather-worn, torn in one place, and covered in dirt. She removed it carefully and smoothed it out on the corner while the peculiar little owl continued to hoot tiredly.
Naomi felt a smile grow on her lips as her eyes skimmed the page. Oh, thank you, Merlin. It wasn’t a permanent solution, but it might work for a while at least. And they would have food. Maybe even help finding something better…
“What’s it say?” Ben stood on tip-toes trying to see.
Naomi looked down at him, wearing her first genuine smile in ages. She crouched down so that they were eye-level. “Ben, how would you like to meet Mummy’s good friend Ginny Weasley?”
He looked at her curiously. “Who?”
Naomi shook her head, smiling. “Just go grab whatever you want to take. Didn’t you say you found some books you liked here?” He nodded, face still showing confusion, but excitement too. That was her Ben—always eager for adventure. “All right, run along. Mummy will get her things too.”
It took them less than a quarter of an hour to get all packed and meet back in front of the fireplace. Naomi thought to hand the exhausted owl to Ben, warning him to hold tight but not hurt the creature.
“He might get scared,” she warned. “But he won’t hurt you, okay?”
Ben nodded, practically bouncing on the balls of his heels. “I know, let’s go!”
Naomi smiled, lifting him up into her arms with one hand and grabbing a fistful of Floo powder with the other. “All right, here we go,” she said softly, then tossed the powder into the flames. They flared emerald, reflecting oddly in Ben’s pale brown eyes, and Naomi shouted the address Ginny had given her. “Number Twelve Grimmauld Place!”
The journey lasted a long time. Everything spun until she felt like she would have retched if she’d had anything in her stomach. When it finally ended, she and Ben stumbled out of a sooty fireplace into a dimly lit kitchen. Two teenaged boys sat at an old wooden table, staring at her with their mouths hanging open.
Naomi tightened her grip on Ben’s hand. “Uh, hi. I just…” she trailed off as she looked closer at the boys. One was as tall and lanky as Jon had been, with bright red hair and a splash of freckles that reminded her of Ginny. But it was the other that caught her eye. He was thin, hair jet black and eyes so green behind round spectacles that they almost glowed…and when he brushed back his bangs, he revealed a lightening-shaped scar. “You’re Harry Potter,” she breathed.
The boys shared a glance. Then the redheaded one suddenly jumped to his feet and pointed a wand at her. “Who are you?” he demanded, deepening his voice authoritatively. “How did you find this place?”
Naomi tore her gaze away from Harry Potter to answer. “I got an owl — ”
“Pig!” the redhead suddenly exclaimed, striding over to snatch the runty owl from her son’s hands. It hooted in protest, flapping his wings. “Where did you get him?”
“I tried to tell you — ”
A new voice joined the conversation. “I invited her.” Everyone turned to see Ginny Weasley standing in the doorway, arms crossed. “Ron, put down your stupid wand. She’s a friend.”
“Ginny?” Harry’s voice was soft and cautious.
She glanced at him, then quickly away. “Ron,” she snapped at the tall redhead again. “I said, put away your wand. I sent Pig to tell her she could come here if she wanted.”
The boy — Ron, apparently — reddened but lowered his arm. “You invited her? Ginny, what were you thinking? This place is supposed to be a secret! What if she tells? Where do you even know her from?”
“She was with me in Snape’s dungeons,” she retorted, not in the least cowed by the taller boy’s anger. “And she got there by stopping a Death Eater plot. Just because she’s not part of the Order doesn’t mean she didn’t fight them. She’s on our side. It’s safe, so for the last time, put the wand away.”
Naomi shot her a questioning look, as they both knew full well that she never stopped any Death Eater plot, but the younger girl only gave the tiniest shake of her head. Ron grudgingly shoved his wand back into his pocket.
“What’s your name?” he demanded, still wary.
“You went to Hogwarts?”
“I was in Ravenclaw.”
Ron set his mouth in a line, eyes still regarding her suspiciously. Harry spoke to her for the first time. “Ginny said you stopped a Death Eater plot?”
Ginny cut in. “A Muggle raid. She found out about it and destroyed their Portkeys, but they caught her afterwards.”
Harry glanced at Ginny, then doubtfully back at Naomi. “How did you find out about it in the first place if you’re not with the Order?”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Harry!” Ginny rolled her eyes. “Look at her. She’s obviously tired, and she doesn’t need an interrogation!”
“I just want to make sure — ”
“I know, but trust me. She’s safe.”
“Who’s the kid?” Ron asked suddenly, frowning at Ben.
“My son,” Naomi answered defensively.
Ginny looked a little surprised at that — Naomi never felt the need to tell her about Ben — but managed to hide it quickly. “Is everyone done harassing her now?” When the boys didn’t answer, she continued, “Good. Naomi, you can follow me.”
“Hermione’s going to throw a fit!” Ron called after her. “And Mum, too! She’s coming this afternoon to stay with us!”
“It’s none of Hermione’s business,” Ginny snapped back over her shoulder. “And just leave Mum to me.”
Naomi shared one last look with the boys, a longer one with Harry Potter, then hitched Ben up onto her hip and jogged after Ginny. “Where exactly am I?”
Ginny slowed and looked behind them as if checking for pursuit, then finding none, she suddenly stopped and threw her arms around Naomi’s neck. The woman froze, caught off guard and unsure what to do. She only grew more uncomfortable when she realized the girl was crying. Naomi patted her back awkwardly, trying to balance a squirming Ben on her hip with the other arm.
Ginny pulled back as quickly as she had embraced her. “Oh, Merlin, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have…I’m sorry. I’m just so happy you came. They have Draco, and they won’t let me see him, and now they’re talking Azkaban — ”
“Ginny,” Naomi interrupted, “slow down. What’s happening?”
The girl swiped furiously at her eyes. “Come on, let’s go to room my first. We can talk there.”
Ginny’s room turned out to be as tiny as the room Naomi had rented at the Three Broomsticks. Back when Jon was alive. Merlin, but that feels like a lifetime ago. It had similar furnishings, too: a small single bed, a dresser, a storage trunk, a battered old desk and a wobbly-looking chair.
She could not imagine that this was Ginny’s home, so she said, “You never did tell me where I am.”
Ginny shut her door. “I didn’t want to put it in the letter in case it got intercepted or something. I took a big enough risk at it was, as my darling brother pointed out.”
So that Ron fellow was Ginny’s brother. Naomi tucked the information away. “So where are we?”
“Oh, sorry. Headquarters.”
Ginny gave a small smile that made Naomi feel vaguely childish. “The Order. Of the Phoenix.”
Naomi raised her eyebrows and gave the place a second look. “Oh.”
Ben finally lost patience and wriggled out of her arms. He walked right up to Ginny, who was sitting on her bed, and poked her knee. “Who’re you?”
The redhead smiled. “I’m Ginny Weasley. I’m a friend of your Mum’s. Who’re you?”
“Benjamin,” Naomi corrected. “My son.”
Ginny pulled the boy onto her knee and started bouncing him, to the boy’s delight. Over his giggles, she said, “You didn’t tell me you had a son.”
“He’s that ‘other responsibility’ I mentioned. It won’t be a problem, will it?”
“Can’t see why it would. Mum will probably warm to him faster than you, I’m sure. She loves kids.”
Naomi sat beside Ginny and smiled as she watched the girl with Ben. She would make a fantastic mum one day. “That’s right, didn’t your brother say she was coming this afternoon? Where is she now?”
“At home. No one can stay here all the time, with all their other duties for the Order and all, so the adults have been rotating who watches us. Apparently they don’t trust us by ourselves.”
Naomi detected the annoyance in her voice. “Can you blame them? You’re young and just got rescued from a Death Eater’s dungeon. Speaking as a parent, that’s grounds for paranoia.”
“Yeah.” Ginny bit her lip and stared off into space. Ben twisted around in her arms, trying to figure out why he wasn’t bouncing anymore.
Naomi got up and took Ben, setting him on his feet and putting a few blocks and books in front of him. “Why don’t you play with these in the corner here? Mummy’s got to have a big person talk with Miss Ginny.”
Ben pouted, but said a grudging, “Okay.”
Naomi brushed a kiss on his forehead and went back to sit by Ginny on the bed. She took her hand and softly prompted, “Okay, what was all this about Draco?”
Ginny’s lip trembled, but she swallowed hard and managed to force back any tears. “After he rescued me, Professor McGonagall, the new Headmistress, you know? She put him under arrest of all things.” And the whole story proceeded to tumble out of her in a rush of words she didn’t seem capable of stemming had she wanted to.
“And now it’s been weeks!” Ginny cried angrily when Naomi was caught up. “And he’s still down in that stupid basement, and I still haven’t seen him once! And…and now…I mean, I overheard Lupin, Mad Eye, and McGonagall talking…and they’re hoping to send him to Azkaban! Well, Lupin at least had the sense to bring up the fact that he did save me, but McGonagall and Mad Eye both say that doesn’t matter. That he’s the reason Dumbledore’s dead, and he used to be a loyal Death Eater, and they can’t forgive that!”
Tears glistened in her eyes, but her rage kept them from falling. Her face was flushed all the way down to her neck, and Naomi could see the girl’s knuckles turning white, she had them clenched so hard.
Then all at once she seemed to deflate. Her shoulders sagged, and she hung her head as she murmured, “I never got the chance to do what you said. I never got to tell him that I’m in love with him.”
Naomi watched Ginny’s face for a long minute, her own mind carrying her back to her youth. She was just about this girl’s age when she knew she was in love with Jon. She wondered if maybe she had fought a little harder for Jon back then, if things might have turned out differently. That was an “if” that could drive her crazy, and there was nothing she could do about it now…but maybe Ginny wouldn’t have to live her mistake.
“You have to see him,” Naomi said abruptly. “Even if you can’t save him, you have to see him — tell him — or else you’ll relive this moment the rest of your life.” Just like I relive the moment Jon broke up with me. I could have changed his mind. If only….
“You think I don’t know that? But they have all kinds of wards, not to mention a human guard. I’ve tried, but it’s no use.”
Naomi frowned. “Do you know what kinds of wards? Specifically?”
Ginny chewed at her lip. “Not really. They just sort of…repel me, I guess. I walk down there, and even if I do sneak past the guard, I just get, I don’t know, turned around somehow. Only McGonagall and the guards aren’t affected, so they must cast something on themselves. But I have no idea what.”
Naomi rapidly went through a mental catalogue of possibilities. Slowly, she said, “I might have an idea. Is it just one guard then?”
Ginny was watching her curiously now, a hint of hope gleaming in her dark eyes. “Yeah. Today it’s this guy with really dark blond hair and freakish big shoulders. He’s maybe 25 or so. I don’t know his name. The Order recruited a bunch of new people in the past few weeks. Ever since Harry came back.”
“And you say that McGonagall doesn’t get that rebound effect like you do?”
Ginny shook her head, glanced at the door, and lowered her voice. “She comes every so often to check on us, and she goes and sees Draco. When she came last week, I nicked Harry’s invisibility cloak and followed her down, but she just walked right on in, and the next thing I knew, I was turned around. It’s so weird, like right when I should get near his door, I black out and somehow I’m not there anymore.”
Naomi nodded slowly. “I think I know what spell she’s using.”
“You do?” Ginny scooted to the edge of the bed. “How do I get past it?”
“Well, see, that bit’s a little tricky. It sounds like a personal ward, where only the caster can get past it.”
Ginny frowned. “But the guards, the ones who bring him food…”
Naomi inclined her head. “There’s always the exception. If the caster for some reason wants another person to have access, it’s possible to…I don’t know how you’d say it. I guess ‘imbue’ the other party with the caster’s ‘essence,’ or whatever you want to call it.”
Ginny made a face. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s sort of like how Polyjuice Potion works, only it doesn’t make a copy. It just…Merlin, this is hard to explain. I guess you’d say it alters the person’s make-up a bit.”
“How do you know all of this? I never even heard of it.”
Naomi’s lips quirked. “I was in Ravenclaw, remember? Reading up on rare spells we’ll probably never need to know about is our idea of a good time. And even my own Housemates thought I was a bit excessive, if that tells you anything.”
Ginny laughed a little. “I know someone like that.” Then she bit her lip, face thoughtful. “So do you drink a potion?”
“Well, no. The easiest, or at least the way with the highest success rate, is for each party to make a small cut and mix their blood. And cast the spell correctly, of course.”
A look of defeat fell over Ginny’s face. “Oh. So I won’t be able to do it, then.”
“Well…there are other ways. They just aren’t as likely to work. It’s a tricky spell to get just right, too complex to even have words. It has to be cast silently.”
“I don’t care. At this point I’m willing to try anything. I have to talk to him. I have to.”
Naomi smiled tightly. “I kind of figured you’d say something like that. But you’ll need something of McGonagall’s. Hair, nail clippings, something like that. Is that even doable?”
Ginny’s face lit up. “Come on.” She stood up, talking as she walked to the door. “She keeps a room here for when she needs to stay overnight. We might be able to find something.”
Naomi went over and scooped Ben into her arms, running to catch up. “We’re not supposed to be going here, are we?”
Ginny smiled in such a Slytherin-like manner that Naomi wondered how long the girl had been around this Draco boy. “Not technically. But everything is legal as long as you don’t get caught, right?”
Naomi shook her head. “Remind me to keep you away from my son.” Reminded, she glanced down at him. “Ben, you’re going to have to be very quiet, all right? Not a single peep.”
“Can I have Bertie Bott’s Beans if I’m really good?” he whispered.
Ginny laughed, but Naomi only rolled her eyes. “We’ll see.”
McGonagall’s room was not much more impressive than Ginny’s. The girl walked round the bed right to an old nightstand with peeling paint, pulling out the drawer to rummage through. She came up wearing a triumphant grin, a hairbrush in her hand.
“Hair,” she whispered.
Naomi nodded, then indicated the exit with her head. She would much rather attempt this in the safety of Ginny’s room. They stole back through the narrow halls quickly, Ben keeping his lips pressed as tightly together as he could. He looked ridiculous, and Naomi had to smile.
When they arrived safely back to Ginny’s room, the redhead rewarded Ben with a bag of Bertie Bott’s she had stashed in her drawer. Snatching the bag, he went off to his corner to munch and play.
Ginny plopped down onto the bed. “Okay, now what?”
Naomi pulled Jon’s wand out of her pocket. “Now we open you up.”
Ginny eyed her warily. “Open me up?”
“I said the easiest way was to mix blood. That’s because her DNA, or whatever you want to call it, has to enter your bloodstream. The process is a little bit scientific. You know, Muggle stuff.”
The girl paled. “So…you have to…to slit my arm or something?”
“I told you it was complicated. But I’ll do it quick, and I’ll heal it right up after. No scar, no trace. Just a little McGonagall pumping through your veins.”
“And it still might not work?”
Naomi nodded. “So it’s your choice.”
Ginny stared at her arm, then set her jaw and straightened. She thrust out her arm. “Do it.”
“Just do it before I change my mind.”
Naomi glanced over at Ben, but the boy was absorbed with his sweets and his toys, so she put Ginny’s arm in her lap with her forearm facing up. She searched carefully until she found a non-vital vein on the girl’s pale skin, raised the wand, and in one quick motion murmured a spell and drew a line down her skin.
Ginny hissed as blood welled from her arm. “Hurry,” she gritted out.
Naomi didn’t waste time answering her. She took the hair, slid it into the cut, all the while going through the spell in her mind. She had never actually tried it before, only read about it in books, and she had no idea if she was doing it correctly. But right or wrong, she concentrated all her will into it. Then sending up a quick prayer, she sealed the wound fast as she could.
Ginny visibly sagged with relief then. “Ow,” she muttered tiredly.
Naomi smiled weakly. “You did brilliant.”
The redhead nodded. “Did it work?”
Naomi shrugged. “Only one way to find out, I suppose.”
Just then they heard a door open and close downstairs. A moment later, a woman’s voice shouted, “She did what?”
Ginny cringed. “Mum’s here.”
Heavy footsteps clomped up the stairs, and then the door banged open to reveal a short, stocky woman with the same vivid red hair as Ginny. Her face was flushed, her hands on her hips and her nostrils flaring. The woman’s formidable gaze settled on Naomi, and suddenly she felt very, very young again.
Thankfully the woman almost immediately redirected her gaze to her daughter. “Ginevra, can I speak with you outside a moment?” As Ginny dragged her feet towards the door, Mrs. Weasley looked at Naomi again and said in a voice full of forced pleasantry, “It will just be one moment, if you’ll be so good as to excuse us.”
Naomi couldn’t find her voice, so she only nodded. When the door slammed shut, Ben was staring at her with wide eyes. “Who was that?” he asked, slightly awe-struck. Naomi only shook her head.
Going out into the hall proved merely a formality as Naomi heard every word of the argument as clearly as if they were standing right in front of her. Mrs. Weasley ranted about Ginny jeopardizing the security of the entire Order, while the girl yelled back about Naomi’s trustworthiness. She repeated that lie about Naomi foiling some Death Eater Muggle raid. Clever, that. Dishonest, but clever. The girl was definitely part Slytherin now.
After a long shouting match, the door opened again, giving the opposite wall another bruising in the process. Mrs. Weasley’s eyes fell on her. “Naomi, is it?”
Naomi nodded. “And my son, Benjamin,” she added in a small voice. “Ben for short.”
Mrs. Weasley’s fury faltered for just a moment when her gaze flicked over to the boy. She clucked her tongue. “Look at how thin that child is!” she exclaimed, horrified. She bustled over and scooped a terrified-looking Ben into her arms. “What have you been eating lately, dear?”
He blinked at her through owl’s eyes.
“Well? Don’t just stare. Why, I could toss you around easier than a kitten! What has that mum of yours been feeding you?”
“French toast,” he finally squeaked, and Naomi had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. It was true.
“Well! A growing boy needs more than that! Come on, we’ll take you to the kitchens and get some proper nourishment in you.” She apparently remembered Naomi then. “You can stay,” she informed her curtly, her entire demeanor changed in a second. “I don’t think I need to tell you how very stupid you would be to take advantage of my generosity, though.” She turned back to the door, then paused and added with a sniff, “Supper is in two hours. I expect to see you there. You’re far too thin yourself.”
Then the woman was gone, Naomi’s son with her. Naomi blinked at Ginny. The younger girl smiled weakly. “Yeah, she has that effect on most people. Don’t worry about Ben. I told you Mum would warm to him fast. She’s got a weakness for children.”
Naomi nodded. “I can see that. Right. Well. Two hours before supper, did she say?”
Ginny nodded. “And it will be right on the dot, too. Mum’s never late with a meal.”
“They feed Draco at the same time?”
“Excellent. Then we have two hours to get in and see him.”
Ginny’s eyes went a little wide. “You really think we should go now?”
“What better time? Your Mum is taking care of Ben, so that’s one less thing to worry about, and we know we have a full two hours before anyone should come poking around wherever Draco is. Do you want to talk to him or not?”
Ginny gave an emphatic nod. “More than anything.”
“Then let’s go.”
Ginny led the way, stepping lightly. They went down a flight of stairs, passed through several narrow halls and a few open rooms, and ended at a battered door.
“This goes down to the basement,” Ginny explained in a low voice. “What are you planning to do about the guard?”
Naomi smiled. “Leave it to me.” She stepped in front of Ginny, opened the door, and started making a careful descent into the dimness below.
She only got a few steps past the stairs when someone called out, “Who’s that?”
She froze, then turned to see a fellow exactly as Ginny had described—dark blond with shoulders so broad he looked barbaric. She treated him to her best smile, wishing she were actually as confident as she made it sound to Ginny. In reality she was a nervous wreck. “They told me you were down here all by yourself,” she said, moving over so that in order to face her, he had to turn his back to the stairs.
“Who are you?” he asked, squinting suspiciously.
“New recruit.” She made a mock salute and smiled again.
“You shouldn’t be down here.”
Naomi leaned against the wall with a sigh. “I know. I just feel kind of like an outsider, you know? They’ve all got their cliques up there. When I heard you were all by yourself…” she shrugged. “I thought maybe you’d want to talk.” She used her softest, most compelling voice. She’d been told by several people that there was magic in her voice. She found that doubtful, but now she hoped it was true.
He looked uncertain. “I’m really not supposed to….”
“Just for a bit.” She touched his arm. “Please? Come on, take pity on a lonely newbie.”
The set line of his mouth wavered just a little. He finally conceded, “Only a little while, then.”
Naomi felt a flush of triumph, then an even greater one when from the corner of her eye, she saw Ginny sneak past the guard’s turned back. She smiled up at the broad-shouldered man. “So when did you start working for the Order?”
- - - - -
A/N – Case and point of what I’ve been saying about unpredictable length right here: I INTENDED Naomi’s PoV to only take up MAYBE half the chapter, if that. We see how well that worked out. BUT I promise next chapter WILL have Draco.
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