A/N – well school is starting up again, which cut my free time drastically. That means I can’t necessarily guarantee frequent updates, but I’ll try my best. Just thought I’d warn you – it may be a bit longer of a wait from now on.
As always, thanks so much for reading and especially reviewing!
- - - - -
Chapter 7 – Unfriendly Competition
“I didn’t say it was a brilliant reason.” Draco was sitting comfortably behind a desk in the front row, his long legs stretched out as Pierce regarded him from behind the teacher’s desk. They were alone in the classroom, the door closed and warded.
The professor shook his head in wonder. “I just can’t believe that so much trouble all boils down to ‘our families have always hated each other.’ There’s nothing else?”
“Well, I mean she’s hexed me a few times, the arguments, mean pranks here and there. We’ve always given each other hell. But that’s not why I hate her. Those things are a result of hating her.” Draco took out his wand and started twirling it between his fingers.
Pierce leaned forward, resting his cheek against one hand. “That’s just mind-boggling. Nothing else? You’re sure?”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’m sure. She’s a Weasley. I don’t need any other reason.”
“Hmm.” Pierce sat back. “Well, actually, that works to our advantage.”
Draco performed a complicated maneuver with the wand. “That so.”
“Yes. It means there’s nothing wrong with her as a person. All you’ve got to do is learn to look past her name.”
Draco snorted. “I’m sorry, no disrespect intended, sir, but you have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Pierce folded his arms. “Oh? Enlighten me, then.”
Draco sighed, tucking his wand out of sight. “I can’t just ‘look past her name.’ She is her name. She is a Weasley, just like I’m a Malfoy, and you might as well tell a dog to look past the fact that the cat across the street is a cat, because there’s nothing wrong with it as a person...animal…whatever.”
“I see. So we’re dealing with some seriously deep-rooted prejudice here.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
“And there’s no particular reason for it other than that’s just the way it is.”
“No more than that dog has a reason for hating the cat. It just does, and there’s no changing it. It’s the same thing.”
Pierce shook his head. “Not quite. For them it’s innate. Your prejudice was learned. Albeit from an early age, but still learned.” He smiled wryly. “And let’s not forget, thousands of homes have both dogs and cats that live together quite peacefully. If those animals can overcome centuries of biological, animal instinct, surely you can rethink your father’s biases.”
Draco frowned. “Why do you say that?”
“Say what, Mr. Malfoy?”
“That they’re my father’s biases. Why not my Mum’s, or just in general?”
Pierce’s expression never so much as flickered, but Draco could swear something passed behind his eyes. “I just assumed, I suppose. Most young boys tend to take after their fathers.”
The explanation was sound enough that Draco chose not to pursue it, but he couldn’t help wondering just how much Pierce really knew about his relationship with Lucius. “Well, I still say it’s hopeless.”
“You’re right, if you keep that attitude. You have to really want it if we’re going to succeed, Mr. Malfoy. I’m not saying it won’t be work, but you can learn to tolerate anyone. Even a Weasley. People do it all the time.”
Draco waved his hand impatiently. “I know, I know. I guess that’s the problem. I don’t want to like her. I quite enjoy hating the bint, thank you. I'm good at it.”
Pierce sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose lightly. “Need I remind you why we started this in the first place?”
“So you can be some outstanding Head of House?” Draco offered bluntly.
Pierce smiled, but his eyes flashed annoyance. “That’s why I’m bothering. You want to beat her. You want to show everyone once and for all who’s really better: a Weasley or a Malfoy?”
Draco scoffed. “As if it’s even a competition.”
“You think? Prove it.”
Draco glowered at the desktop. “I don’t have to delude myself into believing I can stomach her to beat her.”
“Don’t you? Have you ever beaten her before?”
“I’ve never played her before. The only time she stood in as Seeker was versus Ravenclaw. I didn’t even watch that match. I was…preoccupied at the time.”
“She was still trained by Potter,” Pierce pointed out. “And she won the match.”
Draco shrugged. “It still doesn’t mean I can’t beat her. I think all of this nonsense is unnecessary, honestly.”
Pierce hid the impatience in his face well, but Draco still detected a hint of it. After remaining quiet for several moments, the man opened his mouth, but then a knock sounded at the door. Pierce darted a clearly annoyed look in that direction, then bid Draco wait a moment as he got up and lifted the wards. “Yes?” he inquired as he opened the door, revealing a young girl.
Her eyes were wide, growing wider when she peeked past Pierce to see Draco sitting there. “Uh….”
“I’m in the middle of something,” Pierce said, and it was the closest Draco ever heard the man come to snapping. “Can I help you?”
“Um, it’s time for class…” she trailed off uncertainly.
Pierce raised his eyebrows and twisted around to see the clock. Draco noted with interest that he cursed under his breath—he was used to a much easier going professor than this.
“I apologize. You’re right,” Pierce finally admitted, stepping back to let the girl in. Timidly, she inched past him and chose a desk as far from Draco as possible. Pierce said, “Mr. Malfoy, we’ll have to continue this later.”
Draco nodded, rising with no hurry. “Yes, sir.”
As Draco walked past him, Pierce caught his arm and said in a low voice, “If you’re not going to take my advice, I suggest you make sure you’re right. If you were ashamed of Potter beating you, can you imagine what you’d endure if a younger girl did too?”
Draco pulled out of the man’s grip and left without another word.
- - - - -
Ginny’s breath came in ragged pants, sweat making her clothes stick uncomfortably against her heated skin, but she still wore a triumphant grin.
“I made it!” she cried happily, broom still in hand as she ran up to Dean and impulsively threw her arms around him in an exuberant hug. “You are officially looking at Gryffindor’s newest Seeker!”
Dean laughed, pulling her off of him. Ginny stepped back, blushing with momentary embarrassment, but then her excitement took over again and she ignored the lingering awkwardness between them.
“Congratulations,” he said. “You certainly deserve it after that flying. You were a demon out there.”
She grinned proudly. “Thanks. What about you? Do you know if you made Chaser yet?”
He nodded. “Found out just before you came over.”
He showed a wide smile, his teeth shining extra white against his dark skin. “Yeah.”
Something behind her caught his eyes, and he lifted his hand to wave. Ginny turned to see Seamus jogging over.
“Well?” the boy demanded, just a little breathless from the trip.
“I’m in,” Dean announced.
Seamus let out a whoop and slapped his friend on the shoulder. “Then let’s go celebrate, mate!” Dean instantly agreed, but almost as quickly stopped and looked uncertainly to Ginny.
She forced a smile and made a shooing motion with her hands. “Go on, don’t worry about me. I’ve got something I have to do, anyway.”
“Positive,” she said firmly. “Now go. Have fun. Don’t get in trouble.” She gave Seamus a pointed look, to which he grinned innocently.
With a sigh, she watched the boys race each other off the pitch. Her muscles ached a little from the effort at the trials that ended only moments before, and the familiar pang of loneliness stung more acutely than usual, but despite it all she still felt good. A lot of training went into her ambition to become Seeker, and now that she finally had it, a victorious rush was pumping through her veins.
She realized that everyone was already gone now, and that she was alone on the Quidditch pitch. Hoisting her broom over one shoulder, she was just starting towards the locker rooms when a gold blur in the corners of her eyes caught her attention. She stopped, frowning curiously—funny, she could almost swear that looked like a…
The smear of gold flashed on her other side, and with reflexes only hours of training could instill, her hand lashed out and closed around what was, sure enough, the Snitch.
“What the…” she began, but was cut off by a familiar drawl.
“Care for a round?”
She gripped the Snitch tighter and turned. Malfoy stood just a few feet away, decked out in Quidditch gear with his broom at his side.
“I said, care for a round?” He enunciated the words carefully, as if she were either very deaf or very dense.
“You want to play me? Right now?”
“That’s usually what the question implies, yes.” He stepped forward and plucked the Snitch from her hand. “We’ll be up against each other this year, it seems.”
“And you want to find my weaknesses now, before an actual match,” Ginny reasoned.
He only smiled mysteriously. Locking eyes with her, he lifted his hand and, never looking away, released the Snitch into the air. Then he mounted his broom in one fluid motion, and as he lifted off the ground said, “Standard game: whoever gets the Snitch first wins.”
“I never actually agreed,” she felt it pertinent to remind him.
He smirked. “Please, Weasley, we both know you wouldn’t pass this up.”
Then he was off. Glaring fiercely after him, Ginny wasted only a second debating before she hopped on her broom to speed after him, sore muscles or no. In moments they hovered at the same elevation, Malfoy already scanning the pitch. Ginny, never one to stay still, took up a basic grid search pattern, soaring along at a fairly leisurely speed to make sure she wouldn’t miss the elusive twinkle of gold. For his part, Malfoy climbed a few feet higher and simply held position.
A long time seemed to pass, and Ginny began to grow acutely aware of the afternoon sun. She switched up the grid-box pattern for a more intricate, spiral type search that involved flying higher and lower by intervals, while Malfoy continued to imitate an immobile sentry. She was growing bored and just beginning to have trouble keeping her mind on the goal when she spotted it: just a barely perceptible glint on the far side of the field.
Her impulse was to rocket over and snatch it before she lost sight of it again, but she knew Malfoy’s tactics well enough—he was watching for the Snitch up there, but he was also watching her. So, much as it pained her adrenaline fed nerves, she forced herself to continue the pattern she started, keeping track of the tiny ball as inconspicuously as possible as she made her way to the other end of the pitch. The urge to glance up at Malfoy was almost as strong as the one to sprint forward, but she didn’t dare lose sight of the Snitch. She only prayed he wasn’t catching on to what she was staring at.
It was close now, achingly so—only a few yards away. Her fingers reflexively tightened on the broom handle, and the muscles in her thighs kept tensing, craving to push her forward in a burst of speed. But not yet. Malfoy might still beat her to it if she gave up the game now.
Suddenly, a rush of air so strong it swept her a few inches to the side whooshed by, and Ginny cursed loudly as she saw Malfoy speeding past her. Swearing again, she finally granted her straining muscles the permission to thrust her forward as she raced to catch up to the Slytherin. She pressed herself flat to the handle, minimizing wind-resistance as much as she could, and urged her broom on for all it was worth. It gained her a few feet, but not near enough to beat Malfoy to the prize.
Ginny felt her stomach sinking and her temper rising. If she kept this up, there was no way she would get that Snitch. Grimly, she made a quick decision to try something drastic. After all, what did she have to lose?
Still speeding forward, she pulled up on her broom and started to climb. A sweat broke out along her hairline, and she gritted her teeth in an effort not to act too early. The timing had to be perfect. When she was as positive as she could be that she was high enough, she suddenly angled her broom sharply and dove forward and down.
The idea worked. Gravity’s natural pull combined with her exertion on the broom gave her the extra boost of speed she needed to level with Malfoy. For one breathless heartbeat they were exactly even, both reaching forward as far as possible. Then Ginny spotted an ever so subtle shift in Malfoy’s posture and knew he was about to try and knock her aside. She had only a second to react—it was enough.
At the last possible moment she pulled up hard, nearly bringing the broom to a complete stand still. Malfoy had no choice but to follow through with his sideways shift, but without her there to rebound off of, his momentum carried him further off course than intended—just far enough to give Ginny the time to level out her broom and shoot past him with a final, impressive effort. Her fingers closed around the Snitch.
She hovered in midair, sporting a huge grin even as her chest rose and fell rapidly in its labored attempts for breath. She held up the Snitch. “I win.”
He sat on his broom, staring at her with something like amazement. He seemed to recover after a few seconds, and his expression turned hard, eyes narrowing and lips pressing together. “Enjoy it while you can. It won’t happen again,” he snapped, then turned and flew away.
Ginny descended more slowly, exhausted but proud, feeling more accomplished after that one round with Malfoy than she did after an entire day of trials. She idly wondered if he would challenge her again and realized that she hoped he would. The thought immediately shamed her—in her mind, she shouldn’t want to be around him for any reason—but still…there it was, irrevocably and undeniably. He would never go easy on her, which was exactly how she wanted it. And something no one else could guarantee her.
That recognition—that Malfoy had something to offer that only he could—disturbed her more than a little, and by the time her feet finally touched ground, her mind felt like one massive paradox.
- - - - -
Draco barged into Professor Pierce’s classroom with no warning whatsoever, slamming the door behind him.
“I want to beat her,” he announced to the professor who currently sat bent over his desk, quill poised in one hand. “And not only do I want to beat her, I want to humiliate her by it.”
Pierce slowly set down the quill and leaned back. “Yes….”
Draco took a deep breath. “And I’m willing to try your way. Really try.”
The man blinked, regarding him for a silent moment. Finally, he asked carefully, “Something happen to change your mind, Mr. Malfoy?”
Draco made a pfft noise and tossed himself into a chair. “That’s got nothing to do with anything. The important thing is I’ll do it. Any way you say, as long as it bloody well works.” He seemed to remember himself then, straightened up and added a perfunctory, “Sir.”
“Any way I say?”
Draco shifted. “Well, within reason.”
Pierce shook his head. “Not good enough. I want your complete cooperation.”
“Why?” Draco’s internal warning signals were going off again.
“Easy. You’re not going to like a lot of the things I may suggest. You’re going to think it’s idiotic, and you’ll probably spend most of your time resenting me for what you’ll view as inane exercises in stupidity. I’ll need to know you’ll do them anyway.”
“You sure know how to convince a bloke,” Draco remarked dryly.
The corners of Pierce’s mouth turned up just a little. “I’m doing you a favor, Mr. Malfoy: I’m being honest with you. Now, do I have your word?”
Draco appraised the professor for a tense moment, and he had the disquieting feeling of standing at the edge of a very steep cliff; there would be no stopping his fall should he take one more step. He exhaled. “It’s yours,” he finally agreed. He could almost swear he experienced a bout of vertigo from the dive over the edge of the proverbial cliff.
Pierce flashed an almost feral smile and leaned forward. “Excellent. Question for you, Mr. Malfoy: you’re gifted in Herbology, correct?”
- - - - -
Ginny rubbed her forehead against the back of her arm to stop the sweat from dripping into her eyes; there was nothing to be done about the way her uniform clung to her sticky body. She decided then and there that she officially hated greenhouses. Also, she realized she positively abhorred plant care in general, and that she had surprisingly little skill in the area.
She sat cross-legged on the floor in the midst of a miniature garden (the latter part quite unintentionally) with a few tiny spheres all resting on a broad leaf in front of her. She scowled hatefully at the things. Her legs itched from the vegetation that currently buried them. She glanced up out the windows, praying it was time to head in, but the sun had hardly moved since her last check.
“Just brilliant,” she muttered. She picked up one of the Portable Gardens and narrowed her eyes at it. “I really loathe you, you little bugger,” she informed it. As if in answer, the thing exploded in her hands, burying her in another several inches worth of plant life. She screamed in frustration, collapsing back into a bed of daisies.
“Having fun, Weasley?”
She shot up, heart lodged in her throat. She rolled her eyes when she saw who it was. “You know, Malfoy, I’m really getting tired of you.”
“You wound me,” he drawled sarcastically, then put his hands in his pockets and cocked an eyebrow at her. “What are you doing, anyway?”
She glared. “None of your business, that’s what.”
He ignored her. “Looks to me like you’re making a right mess.” He moved closer and crouched down beside her. She instantly tensed, which he apparently noticed by the way he raised his eyebrows at her, but he chose not to comment as he examined a wayward lily. “I’m assuming this is your ‘punishment’ from Professor Pierce?”
She looked at him sharply. “How did you know about that?”
He smirked. “Please Weasley, gossip spreads through this school like wildfire. I’d had to have been deaf not to hear about it.”
Ginny felt vaguely sick to her stomach. “Oh. Lovely.”
“I found it rather amusing,” Draco agreed.
“That’s because you’re a sodding git,” Ginny replied in a falsely sweet voice. She thought she detected the beginnings of a sneer on his lips, but then he seemed to check himself and smiled (albeit tightly) instead. That was odd…she couldn’t help but think.
“Tsk, tsk, Weasley. Show some manners.”
“You first,” she sang. Malfoy rolled his eyes at that and continued to examine the various plant life. Ginny frowned at him. “So did you just come in to make fun, or what?”
“Partly,” he admitted. “But mostly I was just curious.”
“Curious,” she repeated, sounding unconvinced.
“Well, when you walk by the greenhouse, after class hours, and hear someone inside cursing like a sailor, you tend to wonder about it.”
Ginny flushed. “Well now you know,” she pointed out. “So, it’s been just lovely chatting with you, but…”
“Not having much luck, are you?” he observed, ignoring the obvious hint.
Ginny pulled her shoulders back haughtily. “I’m doing just fine, thanks.”
Malfoy smirked. “Ah. Is that why your bottom half is completely covered by garden?”
“Why do you automatically assume that’s not exactly what I wanted?”
“Generally people don’t swear like that when things go ‘exactly the way they wanted.’”
Ginny humphed and primly pulled away a vine of ivy currently wrapping itself around her left arm. “Maybe not exactly as planned, but I’m managing quite all right, Malfoy.” A second later, she added sarcastically, “Though I’m touched by your concern, really.”
Again, he chose to ignore her attempts at getting a rise out of him, which profoundly baffled Ginny. Since when did he ever pass up an opportunity to work out that scathing tongue of his? Instead, he said, “Let me see one.”
“See one what?”
He sighed. “The things that make this disaster.” He gestured to the vegetation.
Ginny’s eyebrows came together in a mixture confusion and distrust. “Why on earth do you want to see one? No, actually, and for the second time, what the hell are you even doing hanging about at all? And don’t try that ‘I’m just curious’ bit again, ‘cause I’m not buying it.”
Malfoy held out his hand impatiently, palm facing up. “I want to see one because I think I might be able to figure out a way to fix it, that’s why.”
Ginny was growing very annoyed with his habit of simply disregarding whatever he didn’t want to address. “And you’d want to do that out of the goodness of your black heart, right?”
He smiled faintly. “You know, it’s not a good idea to insult the person who’s offering to help you.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she studied him for several silent moments. Finally, she bluntly announced, “You’re up to something.”
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. “Am I?”
“I remember your little stunt in the forest,” she reminded him waspishly. “So that’s all this is again. You’re acting because you’re after something.”
He smirked at that memory, then sat back on his haunches contemplatively. “Mm hmm. Impressed as I am that you remember my…lesson, I have one question for you: what could I possibly be after?”
Ginny frowned. “I don’t know. But I’m sure you are. ‘Slytherins never do anything just because,’” she mimicked in his lazy drawl.
Malfoy seemed to measure her up a moment before speaking again. “All right, there’s obviously no reasoning with you. But you’re being far too Gryffindor, I hope you know.”
She glowered. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re stubborn as a mule, for one,” he told her casually, and before her splutters could form a coherent thought, he continued, “and who cares if I’m after something? Not to say that I am, particularly, but hypothetically. Does it really matter?”
“Of course it matters!”
He cocked his head. “Why?”
“Yes, because why?”
She hesitated, and suddenly found herself floundering. “Because…” she saw him smirking, and she suddenly spat, “because I don’t like like you, and I don’t want you to get anything!”
He nodded. “Exactly. See? Too Gryffindor.” He absently picked up a dandelion and blew the fluff of white seeds into the air.
Ginny distractedly waved away the plume of dandelion now in her face. “How is that ‘too Gryffindor?’”
“You’re letting your emotions rule you. You’re missing out on opportunity because you can’t think clearly.”
She scoffed. “What opportunity?”
“I’m good with Herbology, and I’m voluntarily offering to help you. I’d call that one hell of an opportunity, if I were you.”
“Only because you want something,” she insisted.
He made a noise of exasperation. “Okay let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I actually do have an ulterior motive. So what? You’ll still get what you want, and there’s nothing you want to keep from me, so you’re just acting out of sheer spite. That is what I mean by letting your emotions get the better of you. It’s stupid.”
She glared. “And that’s Gryffindor, is it?”
“Slytherins don’t have emotions, then? They never feel?”
He snorted. “Of course we feel, Weasley. Just as much as you do. We’re not dead inside. We just learned how to ignore those feelings if the profit is greater.”
Ginny hated to admit it, but she was intrigued, and all thoughts of the garden started to fade. “So you can just turn off your emotions whenever?”
Malfoy frowned just a little, mulling that over. “Not turn off. More like…push aside. Like when you hurt yourself in Quidditch but you still keep playing. The pain doesn’t go away or anything, but you put up with it to win.”
“And you do this all the time?”
He chuckled. “I can’t believe you’re this fascinated by the concept. You Gryffindors wouldn’t survive a day in Slytherin.”
Ginny drew her knees up to her chest, folded her arms across the top, and set her chin on her forearms. “You always make it sound like you lot are some cult or something. Like you’re separate from the rest of the school. But then you say that you feel just like us. You don’t make a lot of sense.”
Malfoy shrugged, plucked free another dandelion and twirled it. “We do feel just like you. We just think differently.”
“As in, the result always justifies the means. We play dirty if that’s what it takes to win. We ignore impulses and calculate. We use each other on a daily basis, but no one takes offense because it’s mutual.”
Ginny made a face. “Mutual?”
Malfoy flicked the dandelion away, igniting a mini explosion of ivory fuzz. “Right. Everyone’s got a reason. You use a person, but always at the risk of being used yourself.”
“You use each other then, basically,” she reasoned.
“The trick is judging whether or not what you have to gain is worth what you may or may not lose.”
Ginny dropped one arm and started fiddling with a blade of grass. “What do you mean?”
“For instance, in this situation, what you have to gain is a shortened punishment. You’re convinced I’ve got an agenda of my own, but you can’t think of what it might be, and you can’t think of anything you’re especially afraid of me getting in any case. So, based on what you know, you have more to gain by this than you have to lose.”
“And you and yours play this game on a daily basis, do you?”
He smirked lightly. “Well, it’s never laid out quite so nicely, but then we already know all of this anyway. But yes, pretty much.”
Ginny propped her elbow on her knee, resting her head in her hand. “Doesn’t it get exhausting? Always calculating and being on your guard like that?”
“I imagine not anymore exhausting than always riding a wave of unrestrained emotion.”
She smiled. “Maybe we’ve both got it wrong.”
“There is no wrong,” he said without hesitation. “We don’t choose how we react to things. We just are the way we are.”
“Do you really believe that?”
She thought it over. Finally, she answered, “No, I don’t actually. I think there’s always a choice. I think sometimes it’s hard, but you can always change.”
His mouth curved into a small smile, but the expression carried a healthy dose of bitterness. “But you don’t really believe that.”
She glared. “Yes, I do actually.”
“So that means you believe I can change? If I told you right now that I want to give up all my sneaky, underhanded ways and convert to Gryffindor-ism, you would believe me and actually think it was possible?”
She hesitated, opened her mouth, closed it again. Her brow knit together.
“Thought not.” He settled himself more comfortably, then held out his hand again. “Now, are you going to let me see one of those damned things or not?”
Ginny tilted her head curiously. “Why did you tell me all of that just now?”
He just raised his eyebrows and waggled his fingers meaningfully.
Ginny stared at him hard for a long moment, and their eyes met. His were as impenetrable as the steel they resembled, but she detected some underlying layer. She remembered bumping into him her first night back and thinking his eyes were lifeless, but she also remembered his words just now: Of course we feel, Weasley. Just as much as you do. We’re not dead inside. Now, she wasn’t so sure it was lifelessness in his eyes after all. Now, she rather thought it was more like a profound sadness. More confused than ever, she looked away.
Then, digging carefully through the leaves and flowers, she produced one of the tiny spheres and laid it gently in his palm.
She couldn’t help but think, At least he didn’t mention the weather.
Leave a Review