A/N – You have no idea how hard this chapter was to write lol. I haven’t the faintest why, but for whatever reason, it was quite the struggle. Hopefully it’s all right after all that.
And as always, thank you so much for the reviews!!! It’s what keeps me going when I hit the unavoidable rough spots—like this chapter lol.
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Chapter 5—The Idea
The Great Hall filled with tense silence, every pair of eyes turned to the curious, sandy-haired little boy who gave the Sorting Hat so much trouble.
“Slytherin!” the hat finally called out, splintering the quiet so abruptly that more than a few jumped. For a long time, no one responded to the judgment. The little boy could always read people’s faces—Mum said it was a special gift and he could use it to help people; to see when they were hurting when most couldn’t—and now he saw the same thought written across every one: Slytherin? Him?
He was sort of thinking the same thing. Mum would never talk badly about anyone, of course, but he’d still heard things about that House…nasty things. His legs trembled as he slid off the stool, and he had to keep his hands in his pockets so that no one would see them shaking. Scattered applause reached his ears at last, but it just made him sad because he knew they didn’t mean it. He searched the faces of his new housemates, and all of them read the same thing: you don’t belong.
He was just beginning to feel like he might cry when one face stood out from the rest, not looking particularly sympathetic, but not openly hostile, either. Curious, mostly. Eleven-year-old Jonathon Pierce made a beeline for the boy with the unwashed looking black hair.
“Hullo!” Jonathon whispered. “My name’s Jon. What’s yours?”
The older boy regarded him with an amused arch to one eyebrow that Jonathon didn’t understand. “Severus Snape,” he answered at last.
“Happy to meet you!” And young Jonathon stuck out his hand just as Mum taught him.
Severus looked at the hand and rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to survive a day,” he concluded. “Why’d the Sorting Hat put you here, anyway? Did it say?”
Jonathon dropped his hand awkwardly. “Um…it said I was clever. And determined.” He made a face, trying to remember the last part. “And that my talents would be best developed in Slytherin.”
Now Severus looked a tiny bit more interested. “What sorts of talents?”
Jonathon shrugged. “Dunno. That’s all it said.”
Severus was studying him, but then the picture blurred and rippled, and Severus’s face got older, the hair longer and greasier, the nose more prominent and the eyes harder. When he spoke, his voice was deeper too. “You know you’d be perfect for this, Jon!”
Jonathon, who now went by the name of Pierce except to a select few, frowned. “I don’t know.” His voice was deeper too.
“What don’t you know? They say he’s the most powerful wizard alive, and he’s only getting stronger. He wants followers, and you can offer exactly the kind of qualities he’s looking for!”
“He sounds bloody mad, if you ask me.”
Snape waved his hand impatiently. “That’s all relative. Just think of the power, Jon!”
Pierce saw the hunger in his friend’s eyes, and understood he was looking for a way to get even with all his past and present bullies. “What would we even do for the bloke?”
“Spies,” Snape said without hesitating. “Or at least that’s what I’m going to sign up for. I’d be excellent at that, and so would you, even if you never quite got the hang of Legilimens.”
Pierce snorted. “I don’t need Legilimens.”
“Exactly! See? You’d be perfect.”
“I don’t know….”
“What is it? Too soft to handle the thought of killing a Muggle or two?” Snape sneered.
“No!” he denied hotly. “I haven’t been weak like that in a long time, and you know it.”
“So what’s the problem?”
But before Pierce could reply, the image grew watery, shifting and changing again, and now he sat across from his mother in their home with the sunny yellow walls. Her face, by contrast, was grim.
“They’ve changed you, Jonathon,” she said in that soft, lilting voice. “I don’t even know you anymore.”
“It’s nothing,” Pierce muttered.
She shook her honey-blonde head. “No, those people in that House…they made you hard. I can see it in your eyes. You’re not the same person. You’re darker now. Colder.”
Pierce tried to stand up, but she caught his hand and held fast. “You’ve hurt people, Jonathon. Haven’t you?”
“No one who didn’t deserve it.”
The woman’s blue eyes shone with unshed tears, making them look even more crystalline than usual. It gave her a tragic beauty that made Pierce’s soul ache. “What happens when you hurt someone just to get ahead? What happens when you become remorseless?”
Pierce finally broke free and started pacing. “Remorse is for the weak. If people get hurt, it’s only because they weren’t strong enough to protect themselves. It would be their own fault.”
Her face turned angry. “Is that what they taught you? Is that how they define strength? By being merciless and cruel? Did they brainwash you into believing those things are true?”
She kept going, but her voice grew faint so he couldn’t hear, the walls dimmed, and now Pierce was kneeling in front of a cloaked figure, the man’s face hidden by a cowl so that Pierce couldn’t read him.
“Our raid on the Muggle orphanage was hindered, Jonathon,” the man said in a very quiet, controlled voice.
Pierce stared straight ahead. “I know.”
“Of course. And do you also know because of whom it failed?”
Pierce swallowed. “She…she must have found the address in my things and figured it out. She’s smart, she—”
“I don’t give a damn,” the man hissed, then immediately calmed down, his voice returning to its soothing murmur. “She interfered, you see, and I can’t have that. People will think that sort of thing is acceptable.”
Pierce closed his eyes. He knew what was coming, had known since the moment he was summoned.
“She’ll have to be silenced.”
With a powerful effort, Pierce managed, “Yes, Lord.” Then, “What do you need from me?”
“I haven’t given you a task yet to prove that you’re truly devoted to me, Jonathon. And you know how important loyalty is.”
“Yes.” His voice was hoarse.
“I think I just found a way for you to prove yourself.”
Then this scene faded out, and Pierce saw again his mother’s sad, resigned face, and she was telling him that there was something in him that could still be saved…but he knew it wasn’t true. He knew that part of him was sucked dry a long time ago. And then there was just his mother’s dead, staring eyes….
Pierce crashed to the floor, cracking his elbow against the bed frame on the way down and jarring his spine terribly on impact. His sheets were still tangled around his legs, the blanket thrown over the edge of the mattress, and his head felt like someone was whacking it repeatedly with a hammer. Cursing fluently, he rolled to his knees and came up staring at his nightstand and the bottle of Dreamless Sleep he’d forgotten to take. He swore again, using the nightstand as leverage to stand the rest of the way.
It took a minute of blind fumbling in the dark before he found his wand and used it to light several of the torches in their wall sconces. He peered at the clock, groaned when he saw it read only three a.m., and stood for a minute in the middle of his chamber. He glanced at the bed but knew trying to sleep now would be pointless, so he walked over to the liquor cabinet instead. There wasn’t any good Ogden’s in there, but he did manage to dig up a few bottles of wine from the kitchens that would have to do.
Merlin, today’s going to be hell, he thought as he slumped down into an armchair with his wine. He took a sip, then stared at the way the torchlight played off the glass. Last night he’d promised himself today would be the day he would make progress with Draco, too…not that he ever came up with a plan, per se. How did you hurt a man, even a young man, who cared for nothing?
That concept was really just over Pierce’s head, if he was honest with himself. Everyone had something to live for, or else how would they roll out of bed every morning? But as far as he could tell, Draco honest to goodness didn’t give a damn about anyone or anything. It was like the part of his brain in charge of “hopes” and “desires” stepped out on a permanent strike, and the rest of him just went on functioning like some kind of machine. Just going through the motions of living without really doing it. Pierce almost felt sorry for him…almost.
Come to think of it, the only time Pierce saw any kind of reaction at all out of the boy was when he argued with that Ginny Weasley bint. Then his eyes got all aflame and there was some good old fashioned emotion in that face—something Pierce could read, something he could work with. But the rest of the time he was blank and unreadable as plain parchment, which was probably the most infuriating thing of all.
The Weasley girl was getting rather annoying herself. It was nothing she was personally guilty of, but that feeling of something important about her would not leave, nor could he figure out what the something might be. It felt obvious, too, like it was staring him in the face but he was wearing dark glasses that wouldn’t permit him to see. Jonathon Pierce was fast becoming a very frustrated man.
He realized his glass was empty, so he got up to pour himself another. And another. Before he knew it, the clock was chiming that it was time to start getting ready, and Pierce was no closer to any answers. He walked to his classroom in a foul mood.
The door was closed, but Pierce saw through its small window that Draco already sat in his customary seat at the back. Pierce glowered, wondering if the universe enjoyed playing pranks on him like this. The boy had his feet propped up on the table, his fingers laced together over his stomach, and he was just staring straight ahead at nothing at all.
Pierce heard someone walking up behind him and turned to see Minerva McGonagall approaching. He immediately sketched a small bow. “Headmistress.”
She nodded. “Good morning, Jonathon. How are you?”
He plastered on his usual smile with an effort. “Wonderful, thank you. Is there something I can help you with?”
“I just thought I would pop by and see how you were getting along,” the woman explained. “I know how trying teaching can be.”
He inclined his head slightly. “That it can, but no, I’m doing fine so far. Thank you for checking.”
McGonagall looked over his shoulder. “Is there any trouble?”
“Trouble? No, why do you ask?”
“You weren’t going in your room.” She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
“Oh.” Pierce glanced inside. “A student got here early and I just wanted to see what he was doing. Not an issue.”
She moved up beside him to look through the little window, then pursed her lips when she saw who it was. She was quiet a long moment before saying, “Sometimes I wonder if things might have been different with that one.”
Pierce looked at her, surprised by the uncharacteristic admission. “How do you mean?”
“Albus always stressed the importance of love. He said that it was what made a life worth living.” She smiled bitterly. “I’m sure love is something Draco Malfoy experienced very little of at home, and his House here at Hogwarts…well, don’t be offended, Jonathon, but I think you can agree it’s not exactly a nurturing environment.”
Pierce only stared through the window.
“I just wonder if things might have turned out differently if he had known love in his life,” McGonagall continued. “Who knows? Maybe there’s still hope for him. Albus certainly believed in second chances, and if Mr. Malfoy can find a little love in his life, maybe even just some sympathy…” she smiled tightly. “Or maybe I’m just an old woman who’s letting her head drift in the clouds.”
Pierce looked through the window and silently agreed that Draco could use a little love in his life. Not for the boy’s sake, of course, but Pierce’s—he knew from experience that a man in love was almost pitifully easy to manipulate.
“Well!” McGonagall clapped her hands together, all business as usual. “You’re sure there’s nothing I can help you with?”
Pierce shook his head, producing an obligatory smile. “Thanks, though.”
As she walked away, he turned her sentiments over in his head, thinking again what a shame it was that Draco didn’t have himself a girl. It would make things infinitely easier. Unfortunately, the stubborn little bastard didn’t seem to want interaction of any kind with his housemates, including even idle chit chat. It really blew the possibility of romance to smithereens. Besides, Pierce thought himself reasonably familiar with the Slytherin students by now, and he could not fathom a single one of those girls holding Draco’s interest for long. They just lacked a certain essential something—perhaps something as simple as a challenge.
“Professor Pierce?” someone said, breaking through his haze.
He looked around, and it took a mighty effort not to curse when red hair and freckles greeted him. Merlin, he just couldn’t escape his aggravations today! “Miss Weasley,” he said, forcing a smile and knowing that it probably looked forced too.
“Are you alright? You seem a little…out of it.”
There it was again, that nagging idea that something about her should be registering with him. Still distracted by his conversation with McGonagall and now with whatever was amiss about Ginny, he managed, “Yes, I’m fine. Just a little...” he trailed off then, though, because it suddenly hit him. It was like taut rope in his mind that used to hold apart the pieces to the puzzle suddenly snapped, and by doing so freed the pieces to slam into place, making a picture clear as glass. Exactly that abruptly, Pierce knew the solution to the Draco dilemma—and Ginny Weasley was the key.
“Professor?” Ginny asked, her forehead crinkled in concern.
He couldn’t believe how obvious it was. Maybe he was losing his touch—he would be worried if not for feeling so elated. All this time Pierce was thinking that if Draco found someone, it would be in Slytherin. Not once did he consider a girl out of the boy’s House, and especially not one out of his caste. Now though, Pierce remembered thinking how the only time Draco showed any emotion at all was around Ginny Weasley, and he couldn’t believe it took him this long to realize the implications of that. For how many times did adults witness children arguing and smile to themselves, understanding that young love was blossoming?
“Professor? Everything all right?” Ginny tried again, glancing around the hall.
Yes, she had everything—fire, strength, compassion, intelligence, and she would be precisely the challenge Draco needed, because even from the little Pierce knew of her, he doubted she would ever submit to anyone.
He blinked, then an honest grin spread from ear to ear. “Oh, right. I apologize, Miss Weasley, I was just thinking. You know how it goes when your thought process gets on a roll.”
She smiled back a little uncertainly. “Sure. Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt or anything.”
“Not at all,” he waved it off, mind beginning to catalogue everything he could remember of her, and then he realized something. “I thought you had Herbology first?”
She cocked her head a degree. “Yes, that’s right.”
“Then where are you off to? The greenhouses aren’t this way.”
She grinned. “I’m signing up for Quidditch tryouts really quick. They’re in a week, you know, and I’m hoping to take Harry’s place as Seeker this year.” She gave a sad, reminiscent sort of smile. “He helped me practice all summer. He says I’ve got a real shot.”
She made a little sighing sound at the memory, and Pierce remembered hearing rumors that the two of them were involved last year. He wondered idly how that was working out with Potter off traipsing the countryside or whatever the hell it was he was up to (rumor had it that Dumbledore’s murder affected the boy so strongly that he couldn’t bring himself to return—much to Lord Voldemort’s glee. Pierce couldn’t care less one way or the other.)
“Seeker, is it? That’s Draco’s position as well, isn’t it?” Pierce mentioned, watching closely for her reaction.
Instantly her features twisted into a scowl. “Yeah, he’s been Seeker for awhile…ever since his dad bought the entire team top-of-the-line brooms, in fact.” She let the unspoken accusation hang.
Pierce’s soaring spirits fell an inch or two. Here was one little snag—Draco Malfoy and Ginny Weasley hated one another. Draco showed emotion around her, true, but it wasn’t exactly the happy sort. For just a second Pierce’s conviction wavered, and he thought of writing off the idea as a lost cause, but then Snape’s words echoed in his head: “Give him something to care about”. His determination returned tenfold as he decided he would do just that—he would give Draco something, or rather someone, to care about. It couldn’t be that hard. After all, wasn’t it always said that there was a fine line indeed between love and hate?
She smiled. “Your mind went somewhere else again.”
He looked her over, and decided that besides the whole Draco-hated-her issue, she would be perfect. Certainly pretty enough—not gorgeous, but then she wasn’t made-up like most girls her age. Anyway, the unadorned face made for a simple beauty he thought Draco would appreciate, especially when everyone else in his life hid behind so many masks. Her brown eyes, startlingly dark against the pale skin, definitely provided a good measure of appeal, and her smile was brilliant…if she ever gave Draco occasion to see it. That rich, long red hair was unquestionably stunning, and it gave her character as well. And as he already considered, her personality more than qualified—fierce, unrelenting, indomitable, but still sweet and empathetic.
He grinned widely. “Sorry, guess I’ve got a lot to think about this morning.”
“Doesn’t look like bad thoughts, at least,” she observed with amusement, referring to his cheerful face.
He shook his head. “No, nothing bad at all. But you should be getting on if you want to sign up and still not be late for class.”
She gave a start. “Oh, right! Bye, Professor!” She turned and jogged down the hall, bright hair streaming behind her like a banner.
A much lighter Pierce than before turned back to his classroom and pushed inside, mind already busy figuring out ways to implement his plan. Draco, still half-reclined with his feet propped up, didn’t even bother to turn his head, just glanced over and said a wholly unenthusiastic, “Morning, sir.”
“Good morning, Mr. Malfoy. Eager to get to my class, I assume?” he joked.
“I think everyone in the common room was on sugar pills this morning,” Draco explained dryly. “And I’m not a morning person.”
“Ah.” Pierce walked over to his desk, laid down his things, then regarded the younger man. The first step, he decided, was getting the two of them around each other more often—and for longer stretches of time. His mind drifted over his most recent conversation with Ginny, and an idea occurred to him. “I thought you would have been signing up for Quidditch.”
Draco raised his eyebrows. “Why’s that?”
“You said you played,” Pierce reminded him.
“Oh, I just saw a student rushing off to sign up for her trials. I assumed you would be playing again this year, too.”
“I guess I didn’t really think about it.”
“Not interested in Quidditch anymore?” Pierce inquired, silently thinking surprise, surprise.
Draco merely shrugged. “Like I said, I didn’t give it much thought.”
This was no good at all. Quidditch would have been a perfect opportunity for the two teenagers to interact, but if Draco wasn’t even going to cooperate to that extent….
“Well, that’s a shame. I was looking forward to seeing how you held up against the new competition,” Pierce commented off-handedly, betting everything on the spirit of competitiveness that, according to hearsay, once thrived in the boy.
The tease must have sparked Draco’s interest, because he turned his head for the first time. “New competition?”
“Yes. I heard the showdowns between you and Potter were something to behold, so I admit I was a tad eager to see how you handled his replacement.”
“Who is it?”
“Well, I suppose we won’t know until after the trials, will we?” Pierce paused for effect, making sure he had the boy’s attention. “But I do know that Miss Weasley is quite interested in the position…apparently practiced with Potter all summer.”
Draco’s feet came off the table, and he sat up straight. “Weasley?”
“Mmm.” Pierce knew Draco was hooked, and now all that remained was to drive it home. And he knew exactly how to do it—through a quick stab at the ego. “Of course, you two don’t get on very well, do you? And that one is intense when she’s riled up…it’s probably a good idea if you didn’t play.” Pierce chuckled. “It wouldn’t be a pretty sight.”
Draco’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, I’m not saying she would hurt you intentionally,” Pierce hastily explained, pretending to misinterpret Draco’s reaction. “Just don’t want to see you knocked off your broom in the heat of the moment is all.”
Draco’s lips pressed into a very thin line for a long moment. Finally, he asked, “Did you say she went to sign up just now?”
Pierce nodded. “I imagine you could go and still make it back in time.” He showed a sly smile. “Besides, even if you’re late, I’m sure I could…overlook it. For the sake of the House, and all that.”
Draco’s eyebrows rose. “Sake of the House?”
“Let’s put it this way.” Pierce leaned against the wall, folding his arms. “Miss Weasley’s got spirit, and after working with Potter, probably some talent too. I would hate for my team to lose to a little girl from Gryffindor.”
A faint smirk traced itself on Draco’s lips, and Pierce might have been mistaken, but he could swear he detected a glint of approval in the young man’s eyes.
“Well, I suppose I’m off to sign up for Quidditch,” Draco announced, pushing out his chair.
Pierce gave a satisfied nod, watching him stride through the door with a purpose in his step for the first time all year. That, more than anything else, confirmed for Pierce that this idea would work. After all, it was readily apparent that Ginny Weasley already gave Draco something to live for—all that remained was to turn it from hate-inspired competition to passion-inspired romance.
Because after Draco was “in love,” the rest would be almost laughably easy. Just the way Pierce liked it.
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