A/N – thanks for all the support!
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Chapter 6 – Schemes and Confessions
Ginny finished her last sentence with a flourish and sighed in relief. She glanced up at Professor Pierce, who sat at the front of the classroom fully absorbed in some text or another, and thought that for such a friendly personality he definitely held no qualms over assigning work.
Forestalling the sluggishness she felt coming on after all that writing, she leaned down and plopped her bag in front of her. In went the newly completed essay, not actually due until tomorrow, followed by her quill. Most of the other students were still furiously scratching away, which Ginny took as a sign that there was still a bit of time left before the period ended, and she debated for a moment what to do. Finally she settled on a bit of recreational reading, since she didn’t think her brain could handle getting that head start on Transfiguration.
Ginny had to force aside all the day’s assignments and textbooks to reach the novel buried at the bottom, and when she pulled it out, she noticed a small, round object fall onto the desk with a light ping! It only took a second for her to realize what it was, and her breath stuck in her lungs. She relaxed a fraction after two pounding beats of her heart, but just when she was about to release her pent up breath, the entire table and surrounding floor exploded into brightly colored vegetation.
Everyone jumped, and someone even screamed. Several seconds of stunned silence passed, then a boy near the back snorted in laughter, and soon more students were joining him. Ginny could feel her cheeks blazing with embarrassment.
“Miss Weasley,” Pierce said, standing now with eyebrows raised, “what on earth just happened?”
Words falling out of her mouth so fast they sounded jumbled, she said, “Sorry, sir! I promise I can clean it up!” She frowned. “I think….”
Pierce gazed at the array of plant life surrounding her, nonplussed. “You’re going to have to stay after class, I’m afraid.”
She nodded meekly, pointedly ignoring the sniggers of her classmates. The end of the period couldn’t arrive fast enough, and Ginny stalled while everyone else packed up their things to leave, throwing looks both sympathetic and amused her way. When only Pierce and Ginny remained, the former walked over to the wide variety of greenery sprawled over desks and floor, arms crossed loosely.
Mutely, Ginny held out her hand. Nestled innocently in her palm was an identical, tiny sphere.
Treating it like a bomb, Pierce took it. “What exactly am I looking at here?”
Ginny gestured miserably to the impromptu greenery. “This. In condensed form.”
His eyebrows rose.
“They’re called Portable Gardens,” she explained. “A variation on the original Portable Swamps Fred and George invented.”
Pierce held the miniature ball closer, brow creased. “Fred and George…I’ve heard of them somewhere.”
“Founders and owners of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes…and my brothers,” Ginny admitted.
“Ah, of course. The infamous Weasley twins. You said this was called a Portable Garden?”
She nodded. “The Portable Swamps were so successful that they decided, for Mum’s birthday, to make her a Portable Garden. They figured she’d appreciate that more than a swamp.” She grimaced. “Anyway, they couldn’t quite get it right, so they gave me what they had and decided to put the project on hold.”
Pierce still studied the object between his thumb and forefinger. “What was wrong with it?”
Ginny smiled wryly. “Too unstable.”
Pierce chuckled. “Yes, I would say so.” He lowered his hand, staring once more at the miniature garden in his classroom. “Did you say you could…reverse this?”
“Um, I could try.”
Pierce waved her on. “Please do.”
It took several attempts and one curse slipping out, which Pierce thankfully chose to ignore, but she finally managed to clear up the mess. “Sorry,” she said afterwards, hanging her head. “It won’t happen again.”
“Let’s hope not,” Pierce agreed. Ginny stared at him expectantly, and when he didn’t continue, he shifted awkwardly and asked, “Something the matter?”
She blinked. “Oh, no, I was just, uh, waiting for my punishment.”
“Oh,” he frowned, “right.” He considered a moment, taking out the Portable Garden and gently rolling it around in his palm. “Tell you what,” he said suddenly, closing his hand around the little ball, “I’ll make a deal with you.”
Ginny hoped her incredulity didn’t show on her face. “A deal?”
“That’s right. I won’t assign a detention or take away any points, and in return…you fix whatever’s still not right with these for me.”
“Fix them?” This time Ginny knew her surprise showed. “But…why?”
“My Mum’s a gardener herself.” He said it lightly, but Ginny caught the strange look that passed over his face and wondered at it. Maybe he and his mum had an awkward relationship or something. “I think she’d like one.”
“Do you think you could do it?”
She nibbled on the inside of her cheek. “I might,” she finally offered. “I don’t know how much luck I’ll have if the twins couldn’t figure it out, though. I’ve got a lot of their knack for inventing, but they’re still much better.” She smiled. “’Course, they really weren’t giving this their all either…they’re more interested in stuff that’ll make a nuisance.”
Pierce smiled. “Excellent. Will you need anything? Like a space to work?”
“Uh…I guess I’d probably need permission to work in the greenhouse. And maybe the Potions lab.”
“Done,” he said without hesitating. “What time, do you think?” She wondered why he would need to know that, and it must have showed, because he was quick to explain, “Sprout and Slughorn may want to know.”
That sounded reasonable enough, so Ginny said, “Um, well, I could do homework before supper…and I usually try and get in a little flying practice right after while it’s still light…sooo probably anywhere from seven thirty on. On weekends anytime between lunch and supper would work.”
Pierce strode to his desk and scribbled the times on a scrap of parchment. He slipped it into his pocket, walked back to her, and stuck out his hand. “Then I do believe we have a deal, Miss Weasley.” She accepted his hand, and he added, “In the future, just try and refrain from spontaneously growing gardens in class, hmm?”
A light blush bloomed on her cheeks, and she gave an embarrassed smile. “Yeah, of course. I really am sorry.”
He took back his hand and waved it in dismissal. Just then a knock sounded at the door, and they both turned to see Malfoy walking in, a wrapped and bound stack of parchment tucked under one arm.
“Ah, Mr. Malfoy!” Pierce greeted. “Right on time. You can set those on my desk.”
Malfoy glanced at Ginny, and she got the uncomfortable feeling of being measured in some way. Then the moment passed and he moved to unload his pile, leaving her wondering what that was all about.
“McGonagall said these are just copies, so you can keep them as long as you need to,” Malfoy told Pierce.
“Fantastic.” He walked over, took out his wand and, touching the tip to the knot holding the wrapping in place, murmured a word under his breath. The coverings fell away, and he picked up the top sheet to scan. “Fantastic,” he repeated, nodding his approval. “I’ll just pop these in the back. Don’t need other students stumbling across their peer’s records.” With that, he scooped the stack up and lugged them into the office attached to the classroom.
Draco kept facing the door even after Professor Pierce disappeared behind it, trying very hard to ignore the fact that Weasley was staring at him. It drove him crazy, though; he didn’t even have to look to know she was doing it. He could feel her eyes burning into his back.
Finally, he whirled and boldly met her stare. She blinked in surprise, but to his disbelief, didn’t so much as glance away.
“Problem?” he snapped.
Her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed together. For a second he thought she was going to say something, but then she simply turned around and started shoving things into her bag like the thing offended her. The last book wouldn’t fit, and he could see by her rather violent efforts to mash it in that she was getting frustrated.
He rolled his eyes. “Weasley, aren’t you forgetting something?”
She looked up, and a fiery tendril fell in her face, framing the one side. She blew it away impatiently. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re a witch.”
She seemed to wait for him to expand, and when he didn’t, she replied sarcastically, “You don’t say.”
He sighed and walked over, taking out his wand. Hers instantly flashed out as well, held warily before her; he raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Instead, he pointed at her bag and said, “Engorgio.” Instantly, it expanded just enough to fit the offending book, which he took from her slack hands and placed neatly on top before closing the bag.
She stared for a minute, cheeks coloring a not entirely unattractive rose shade. “Oh.”
He smirked. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? Almost like magic.”
She ripped her bag out of his hands, creating a short burst of rope burn-like pain in his fingers. “Very funny, Malfoy. I just have a lot on my mind, all right?”
He leaned back against the table, arms braced at either side of him. “I can’t imagine what could possibly be that distracting in your life.”
“What are you talking about? You don’t think I have things to worry about?” Her dark eyes seemed to catch on fire.
“Not like,” he caught himself, “…some people do.”
“What’s so anxiety-inducing in your life? You’re bloody rich, your marks are good, you get everything handed to you on a silver platter, and your boyfriend isn’t miles away!”
He smiled dryly. “I should certainly hope not. That would make me a pouf.”
Ginny glared. Draco decided that for someone so slight, she certainly could manage to look fierce. Probably growing up with that uncivilized brood of, how many brothers was it? Twenty? That would toughen anyone up. “You know what I mean. And the rest apply.”
Draco crossed his arms. Oh, if only you knew, Weasley, he thought. Aloud, he said, “Whatever you say.”
She stood for a minute, staring and looking on the verge of shouting with annoyance. He met her intense eyes coolly, but he experienced an odd sensation—an urge to prove himself. He couldn’t fathom why, but for one, crazy moment, he almost blurted out everything, just to show her, just so he could say, So there! The muscles in his jaw tightened, and his fingers on the table gripped tighter, but then the impulse faded and he relaxed. The clock chimed in the new hour.
“You’re going to be late,” he said into the silence that followed.
She spared one last second to give him a truly hateful look, then stomped off. He had only a second to wonder why she was bothering to walk all the way round behind him, since it would have been much faster to just go straight for the door, and then the question was answered for him when the desktop suddenly jerked out from beneath him. He threw his arms out, but it was no use and he connected with the stones square on his tailbone.
“Sorry!” she sang, then skipped out the door.
Draco seethed for a couple minutes on the floor, struggling to regain control, then climbed back to his feet cursing heavily through the whole process.
“Something the matter, Mr. Malfoy?”
Draco spun and was struck with the sudden feeling that Pierce had just witnessed everything somehow. The man certainly looked amused enough.
“Nothing,” Draco mumbled, pulling the desk back into place.
Pierce raised his eyebrows, but didn’t comment. He looked to the door. “She’s certainly something, isn’t she?”
Draco looked up. “Who?”
Pierce nodded towards the door. “Miss Weasley.”
Draco snorted. “Oh, yeah, she’s something, that’s for sure.”
The older man cocked his head. “I’m curious, what happened between you two?”
“What do you mean, what happened?”
“It seems like something must have made you hate her so much.”
Draco studied the professor, suddenly alert. Pierce was actually beginning to grow on him lately. He still doubted the man was really as cheery as he put on, but everyone had things to hide. Now, though, suspicion flared at this new line of questioning. “I don’t know. Does it matter?”
Pierce shrugged. “Not really, I suppose. I just thought it might be wise to figure out what’s behind this whole affair with her.”
Draco sat down, dropped his chin into his hand. “Why would it be wise, sir? If you don’t mind my asking.”
The professor stared at him for a long time, and Draco thought it looked like he was trying to make his mind up about something. Finally, he too sat down and said bluntly, “I’m going to level with you. Remember I said I lived for challenges?”
Draco nodded. He did.
“I said that’s why I took this position in the first place. Well, I want to go one better than just adequate. I want to carry our House to the top. I’m rather determined to, in point of fact.”
Such fierce resolve shone in the man’s pale hazel eyes that Draco found it difficult to be skeptical of that. He didn’t really share the ambition, but he supposed he could understand it coming from this man. “All right. What’s that got to do with me, and especially Weasley?”
“Well, for one, if you two keep getting into spats, we won’t have very many points left, will we?”
Draco couldn’t help but show the ghost of a smile, and he inclined his head.
“And then there’s Quidditch.”
Pierce nodded, leaning forward. “You could never best Potter. Or so I hear.”
Draco tensed, his fingers curling. “Potter’s not here, in case you forgot.”
“No, but the girl he spent all summer training is, and according to the grapevine, she wasn’t half bad before that. Apparently she stood in as Seeker a time or two already?”
Grudgingly, Draco admitted all that was true. “So you’re saying I’m doomed to failure? Thank you for your overwhelming confidence, Professor.”
He chuckled. “Never said that. I just think you need to come to terms with your emotions before you’ll ever be able to clear your head enough to play a decent game.”
Draco was skeptical, and it must have showed.
“Look, you were always brilliant except when it came time to play Gryffindor, am I right?”
“Did you ever wonder why? Or did you just assume it was because they were better?”
“Well, here’s what I think. I think you were so distracted by your hate—justified or not, it doesn’t matter—that it took your focus off the snitch.”
“Been thinking about this a lot, have you?”
Pierce sat back, lifted one shoulder and let it fall. “A bit.”
“So what do you suggest?”
“Start by getting to the root of the problem. Figure out why you hate her so much. We’ll go from there.”
Draco considered this. “Where are you hoping to go?”
“Ideally, we’ll at least bring down your loathing a few notches.”
He made a face. “Why would I want to do that?”
“It’s like fibbing,” Pierce said. “If you make your face a mask, even if you manage to hide the truth, the other person still knows you’re hiding something. If you can fool yourself into believing the lie first, though, and let that show through, it’s much more convincing.”
Draco was beginning to catch on. “You don’t think just suppressing my emotions is enough. You want me to actually not hate her.”
Pierce grinned. “Right in one. If you can train your brain into thinking she’s not despicable after all, then all that extra energy you used to use fighting down hostility will be free for other things—like pounding Gryffindor into the dust.”
Draco settled back, crossing his arms. The man had a point…or at least, it sounded logical enough in theory. “You do realize you’re asking a lot. This is century old family dispute you’re dealing with. Might as well convince Peeves that torturing the First years isn’t amusing after all.”
“Not quite. You and I have one advantage over that particular challenge. Or, I believe we do, in any case.”
“You’re willing to try. That’s the most important thing. Wanting it.”
Draco frowned. “I don’t know about that.”
“You want to destroy her on that pitch, don’t you?”
“So if you want to destroy her, first you’re going to have to like her. Or at least trick yourself into tolerating her.”
Draco, despite any lingering doubt, couldn’t help but feel his admiration for the sly professor climb a degree or two. “Easier said than done.”
“One step at a time,” Pierce said, all easy confidence. “Just a step at a time. First, figure out what’s behind all this enmity. Don’t worry about anything beyond that.” He paused, letting that sink in. “What do you say?”
Draco frowned slightly, staring at the space between the desk and his knee. He remembered her hexing him a few years back, and pulling the desk out from under him minutes before, and a hundred other such instances. He exhaled very slowly. “Okay.” He met Pierce’s eyes. “For the sake of crushing one’s enemy, right?”
Pierce flashed his teeth, but Draco thought uneasily that it looked more like a dog baring its fangs than a smile. “My sentiments exactly, Mr. Malfoy.”
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“Quidditch trials are in a few days,” Ginny told Harry’s sleeping form. She lay stretched out on the ground beside him, the candle standing in the grass between them, its yellow glow illuminating Harry’s face. It seemed like she only saw him at night when he slept, but slipping up to the tower undetected was just so much easier for her after curfew. It wasn’t like he could hear her anyway, so it was just as well, she supposed. Right now, the Trio was apparently traveling by foot again, as they were camping in this meadow beneath the stars.
“I think I’ll be fine, especially after all the practice last summer, but you know me,” Ginny smiled weakly, “always nervous about these things.”
She always talked to him like this. Once she reflected that the practice wasn’t much better than talking to a stuffed animal or something, as both the toy and Harry were equally oblivious to her stories, but she shrugged the thought away. Ever since the incident with the Chamber she couldn’t bring herself to touch a diary again, but keeping everything bottled up made her edgy. Letting it all out this way helped significantly.
“Let’s see, what else?” She plucked free a few blades of grass, rolled them between her fingers. “Oh, yeah, you remember those Portable Garden things Fred and George played around with for awhile? One of them went off today during Defense Against the Dark Arts.” She laughed and tossed her elbow over her eyes as if to block out the memory. “Oh, Lord it was humiliating. Everybody laughed. Professor Pierce didn’t give me detention or anything, though. And get this—he made a deal with me instead.” She outlined the agreement to an unaware Harry.
“Weird, huh?” she concluded, propping herself up on her elbow. “But then, he’s just an odd sort all around. You would have liked him. Even if he is a Slytherin. He definitely doesn’t act like one.” Ginny fell silent then, wondering at the peculiarity of that truth, and remembering with a frown Malfoy’s lesson about Slytherin agendas. She shook her head and collapsed back down flat on her back.
She was quiet a long time before she finally broached the subject that really brought her here this night. “I’m just so lonely without you,” she said tremulously, the stars blurring into snowflake-like patterns above her from unshed tears. “Colin seems to understand, and he’s been great about trying to keep my spirits up—he’s the one who showed me this whole candle thing in the first place, you know—and Dean and I are talking more, especially since we’re both trying for Quidditch. But it’s awkward with Dean still, and Colin…I don’t know. I just don’t see us ever being more than casual friends. And that’s how I feel about my roommates too.”
She paused, swallowing back tears. “I understand why you had to go. I’m not saying I need you to come rushing back to keep me company, but…,” she closed her eyes. “I just need somebody I can talk to again, really talk to. Like I said, everyone’s been great, but if I have to sit through another conversation about the weather, I think I’ll scream. And I definately can’t take any more sympathy. It makes me feel like a freak. I know that’s horrible; they’re just trying to be nice, but,” she sighed, “maybe that’s the problem. They’re too nice. I just want to be treated like normal again.”
She wiped angrily at her eyes, annoyed with her own weakness, helpless against it. “I’m just so lonely,” she repeated in a whisper.
Ginny waited, but the only reply to her secret admission came from the whisper of the grass and the song of some lone cricket. She imagined that cricket out there in the field, isolated and calling for company but totally ignored, and thought, You and me both, little guy. Then she leaned over and blew out the candle.
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