A/N – I really am sorry for how long this took. I just can’t believe how fast things got so insanely hectic! I have honestly never in my life been so busy—most days I’ve had about 45 mins of free time, and I spent that making and eating my supper lol. It’s crazy. Anyway, FINALLY, here’s ch. 8.
And as always, thanks so much for the support (and patience, in this case).
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Chapter 8 – An Eventful Evening
Weasley was out flying again. Draco, leaning against a balcony overlooking the Quidditch pitch, decided that she didn’t seem to do much else with her free time, even when it was practically dark out like now. She was either in class, working in the library, eating…or flying. He would know—he’d been watching her lately.
His newfound awareness was unintentional, really. He never made a conscious effort to seek her out, that was for damned sure. Pierce’s infuriating little exercises involved a lot of things, but stalking the girl wasn’t one of them. It was just that whenever Draco walked into a room, something in his brain automatically searched out the signature splash of red hair, and where before if he heard mention of her name he would have ignored it, now his ears pricked up instantly. Draco had learned a great deal about the youngest Weasley in the past few days.
There were the mundane things like her schedule (he knew about half of it), but what Draco found most surprising was how much male interest she kindled. He vaguely remembered Pansy mentioning something about it on the train beginning of last year, but he never really noticed how deep it ran. Even boys in his house snickered to each other over her. With all of her rampaging brothers out of the castle and Potter off wherever he was, more than a few swore they would be “making their move” any day now.
Watching her now, Draco shook his head. All right, so she was …attractive. It took an effort, but he could admit that much, if only ever in his own mind. Even so, the thoughts of lowering himself to one of her social standing and family history were beyond him, looks or no looks.
He shut his eyes and muttered a curse. He wasn’t supposed to think things like that—one of Pierce’s imbecilic ideas. The man’s warning that Draco would believe most of his suggestions were “exercises in stupidity” was a gross understatement. This particular one stipulated that Draco not consider her background at all. It was supposed to lessen his biases and help him to see her as a person. Or some rot like that, anyway.
Sighing, Draco turned away from the balcony and started walking through the halls. His musings of a certain troublesome redhead absorbed most of his concentration, so when a small figure stepped out of a corridor in front of him, he nearly bowled the person over. He swore and only just managed to avoid a collision by rising high on his toes, arms going out wide for balance.
Falling back to his heels, his features hardened as he finally noticed the dark hair and pug-like face. “Damn it, Pansy, watch where you’re going!” he growled, smoothing imaginary wrinkles from his robes.
“Sorry,” she muttered unconvincingly, then crossed her arms. “I was looking for you.”
Draco looked up from his robe-smoothing. “Congratulations, you found me.” He grumbled under his breath, “Unfortunately.”
She either didn’t hear or chose to ignore the latter. “Yes, and it only took me all morning,” she said sarcastically. “You’re never around anymore.”
He shrugged. “I’m busy.”
“That’s none of your concern, now is it?”
She peered suspiciously at him. “It’s her, isn’t it?”
“If I say yes, will you go away?”
“Don’t try and sidestep the question!” Pansy snapped. “Is it?”
Draco started walking and rolled his eyes when she instantly followed. “I don’t even know who you’re referring to, Pansy, so I really can’t say.”
“Her,” Pansy stressed. “That Weasley girl.”
Draco nearly stumbled and only just maintained his composure. He stopped and turned on her. “Excuse me?”
“Come on, Draco,” she said, a hint of anger sharpening the words, “your little obsession is pretty obvious. It’s really pointless to deny it.”
“Obsession? What the hell are you on about?”
“You’re always staring, and the only time you pay attention to anyone is when they’re talking about her. I even saw you follow her once.” Pansy folded her arms over her chest as if to say, So there.
“Have you gone round the bend?” Draco demanded, managing to appear sufficiently insulted even as his insides twisted in apprehension. “How many other people think this?”
Her tightly crossed arms slackened just a little. “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve kept my mouth shut about it, and I haven’t heard anything….”
Draco was honestly surprised. “You mean to tell me you really didn’t run your gob to every girl in your little circle?”
Pansy drew herself up indignantly. “That’s exactly what I’m telling you! For reasons beyond me, I still haven’t quite given up on you yet!”
He rolled his eyes and started walking again. “You really should. I don’t know why you’re so hopeful, anyway. It’s not like you’ll be getting any part of the Malfoy fortune. Last summer made sure of that.”
“Believe it or not,” Pansy almost snarled, “that’s not the only reason I…well, you know.”
Draco chuckled. “Oh, come now. You had no trouble confessing your undying love for me in front of a roomful of our mates, but you can’t repeat it now in private?”
Her cheeks flamed. “That was before—”
“You knew you wouldn’t get filthy rich by me,” Draco interrupted conversationally.
“I already said that wasn’t the only reason!” Pansy protested hotly.
He smirked. “Just the most important one, right?”
She scowled. “Maybe I actually had real feelings for you. Did that thought ever cross your mind?”
“Well, maybe it should.”
“You’re really not going to get any of the fortune,” Draco reiterated.
She glanced up at him with annoyance in her eyes, but didn’t say anything for a long while. When she finally spoke again, she muttered, “I don’t know why I bother.”
“Mystery to me,” Draco agreed.
Ignoring him, she said, “And Lucius might change his mind. You never know.”
“Au contraire,” Draco drawled, “I happen to know perfectly well that he won’t be changing his mind. He’s quite stubborn when it comes to these things.”
“Maybe if you just talked to him, told him you’re willing to reconsider….”
Draco smiled ironically. “Ah, but there’s a flaw in your plan there, Pans.”
“I’m not willing.”
She stopped abruptly, stomping her foot. “Why the hell not? What happened to make you such a damned coward?”
Draco laughed, but it came out empty and harsh. “Coward? You’re joking, right? Pansy, if I was afraid, this is the absolute last thing I would be doing.”
Poorly hidden confusion surfaced on her face. “What do you mean?” she finally asked.
He closed his eyes, impatience beginning to creep up. “I know a lot, Pansy. A helluva lot more than you do, even with that Mark of yours. You honestly think he’s just going to let me stroll about, minding my own business, with all that knowledge?”
Her face blanched as understanding dawned. “You mean….”
“It’s basically only a matter of time,” Draco finished with a shrug.
“Oh, Draco,” she breathed. “How…how can you be so calm about it?”
He smiled coldly. “I suppose that’s just what happens when you stop giving a damn.” He turned his back on her and continued on his way. He scowled when the sound of her footsteps slapped up to him.
“When did you change so much?” she demanded. “Or better yet, why? ‘Cause of Dumbledore? Because the Dark Lord would forgive you for not really pulling it off, you know that. I don’t see—”
Draco spun on her, fists balled. “Pansy,” he said very softly, “I strongly suggest you shut that bloody hole of yours before I eliminate your ability to speak myself.”
Her mouth snapped shut, but her eyes were hard and her face defiant.
He exhaled slowly. “Much better. Now, if that’s all…?”
She shook her head right away. “No, actually, I had a reason for finding you.”
“Brilliant,” Draco groaned.
“There’s a meeting for all the Slytherin prefects,” she went on. “In the common room.”
Draco frowned. “I don’t remember any announcement for a meeting.”
She shrugged. “It’s an emergency one, I guess. Something about improper conduct on patrols. I don’t know the specifics, I just volunteered to go fetch you.”
“How thoughtful,” Draco said dryly.
Pansy sniffed. “Well, I thought it was. Now come on, they’re not going to be happy if they have to wait too much longer.”
“Yes, and what a tragedy that would be.”
Pansy ignored him and started towards the dungeons. Stifling the urge to slip away and skive off, Draco followed sulkily.
The common room looked, in a word, eerie. The only light emanated from the low burning, emerald colored flames in the hearth and a few strategically placed candles, also glowing a sickly-looking green. Several people sat around a deep mahogany table situated dead center in the room, obviously summoned up specifically for the occasion. Draco recognized most of Pansy’s gang, Blaise Zabini, Theodore Nott, Crabbe and Goyle, and a few others of his year. The entire scene struck him as distinctly off. It took less than a second for him to figure out why it seemed so familiar.
“Pansy,” Draco said slowly, “any particular reason you lot decided to take decorating tips from the Dark Lord?”
“Why don’t you just take a seat, Draco,” she suggested quietly.
He blinked, then swept his gaze over the all too recognizable set-up. “I’m sorry, I must be mistaken. I thought you said prefect meeting, not Death Eater meeting.”
“Just sit down, Draco,” Pansy repeated, more firmly.
Draco fought down the urge to wipe his hands against his robes, instead curling his fingers ever so slightly. Was this it, then? The Dark Lord was having Draco’s own peers do the dirty work? It was certainly just sadistic enough for him. “Why don’t you tell me what exactly is going on, first?”
Millicent Bullstrode, sitting furthest away from Draco and looking none too happy about being there, whined, “Oh just sit your arse down for Merlin’s sake. You’re fine, it’s just an intervention.”
Draco’s eyebrows shot up and he turned to look at Pansy, who was currently leveling a truly terrifying glare on Millicent. “An intervention?” he repeated, addressing Pansy.
Reluctantly, she dragged her deadly stare from a nervous looking Millicent and said, “No, not an intervention. A chance to talk things over. Clear some things up. That’s all.”
He crossed his arms. “So you just want a chat, is that it?”
She nodded, smiling in a way that was meant to be charming but made Draco wince. “Exactly. We just thought it might be a good idea to sit everyone down and talk things through.”
“Everyone?” Draco flicked his eyes over the other occupants of the room and guessed the answer to his own query. “Everyone who was there last summer.”
Draco closed his eyes and drew in a steadying breath. His jaw tightened. “Look, you lot are wasting your time…and mine. So I’ll just do us all a favor and cut this little affair short.” With that he turned about, but was stopped by Pansy nearly throwing herself in his path.
“No!” she cried. “Draco, you haven’t even given us a chance!”
“Move,” he snapped.
“I told you it was useless, Parkinson,” Theodore Nott put in from his seat, slouching in a manner that suggested boredom. “Some stupid intervention isn’t going to suddenly change his mind after what he did.”
“It’s not an intervention!” Pansy insisted while Draco nodded in agreement with Nott.
“You should listen to him, Pans,” he suggested. “It sounds like Nott’s the only one who knows what he’s talking about.”
The girl shot Nott a hateful look. “You aren’t helping,” she snapped.
He smiled ironically. “Damn, and you almost had him, too,” he replied sarcastically. Draco snorted in spite of himself.
“Look, Draco,” Pansy tried, a note of desperation straining her voice, “I’m just trying to help. You said it yourself—you’re in danger. The Dark Lord would—”
But a soft cough interrupted the girl, and everyone whipped around to see a familiar, lanky man standing in the doorway.
“Professor Pierce!” Pansy cried, trying and failing to sound innocent. “What are you doing here?”
The man raised an eyebrow. “I overheard a few of the younger students talking about an unscheduled prefect meeting in the common room, and I thought I’d better look into it.” His hazel eyes traveled over the scene. “Though I must admit, this isn’t exactly what I was expecting to find.”
Pansy laughed a little shakily to cover up her nerves, but there was no hiding the sudden paleness to her skin. “Just fooling around, you know,” she shrugged with a falsely sweet smile. “No harm in a little redecorating as long as we put it back when we’re done, right?”
Draco watched the episode unfold with interest. He knew Pansy was betting everything on the hope that Pierce didn’t know the standard set-up for a Death Eater gathering, and by looking at the man, he could understand why she would take such a gamble. Jonathon Pierce did not appear the type to know much of the Dark Lord’s ranks; the idea was almost laughable. Even so, Draco caught a certain glint in Pierce’s eyes—of knowledge, or maybe suspicion, or maybe neither—that made him think twice.
Pierce was quiet a long time before finally remarking, “Odd tastes you’ve got if this is your idea of ‘redecorating.’ I would have imagined something a bit less…dark.”
Pansy shrugged again, regaining much of her composure as the surprise wore off. “We got bored of the same old classic décor. Figured we’d give something new a go.”
Now Draco was positive there was a definite knowing in Pierce’s gaze as he stared Pansy down. He wondered if the man planned on calling Pansy’s bluff, and perhaps even more so, how he knew what the “décor” represented in the first place. The first speculation was answered when Pierce, completely dismissing Pansy, turned to him and said, “Are you very involved in this, Mr. Malfoy, or can you spare a moment?”
“I was just leaving,” Draco assured him hastily, grateful for the rescue. “It’s no trouble.”
“Excellent.” Pierce turned back to address the room’s other occupants. “You can finish up your meeting, but see to it that come tomorrow this place is exactly as you found it, understood?” They all nodded, though Pansy did so stiffly and with fire in her eyes; in return, Pierce flashed a trademark smile of farewell. Draco, more in-tune with the professor’s expressions by now, recognized it as a disguised warning rather than anything genial.
As soon as the portrait swung shut behind the pair, Draco put his hands in his pockets and asked, “So what did you need to talk to me about?”
“Nothing in particular.”
Draco glanced up, a little off-balance. “But you said….”
Pierce smiled again, though this time it was of a much warmer quality. “A blind man could have seen you wanted out of there.”
Draco blinked, a little disconcerted with the thought of being so easily read. He mulled it over for a minute before replying with conviction, “I wasn’t that obvious.”
Pierce chuckled slightly, taking a turn Draco knew led to his office. “All right, perhaps you’re right. Maybe I overheard a bit as well.”
Draco looked at him sharply, every muscle tensing. “Oh?” Then, as casually as possible, he added, “How much?”
Without removing his eyes from the corridor ahead, Pierce answered quite calmly, “Enough.”
A tide of emotion swelled up in Draco—first panic, then anger at Pansy for being so ignorant, then determination not to be carted off somewhere. For just a second he struggled with the sudden intensity of it all, but then years of practice took over and he crushed it all down in an instant. In his mind it felt like hours, but in reality only a few moments passed before he said, “I’m sure whatever you heard, it’s not what it sounded like. I—”
Pierce held up a hand to cut him off. “Spare me the excuses, Mr. Malfoy. I’ve no interest, and quite honestly, I thought you above all that nonsense.” He slanted his mouth in the barest hint of a playful smile. “Wouldn’t want to prove your ol’ professor wrong, would you?”
Draco, quite honestly, was at a loss. All his life, interaction between fellow Slytherins had been a game of cards involving smooth talking, sharp wits, and most importantly, never ever showing one’s hand. Pierce’s frank approach threw the cards out the window completely, and left Draco totally out of his element.
Thankfully, Pierce didn’t bother waiting for an answer before he continued, “It’s not as if I’ll be running to the Headmistress.”
Draco knew better than to ask why not, as that would basically assert his guilt, but the curiosity raged in him. The question kept bouncing around inside his head as the two walked in complete silence, until he was pretty sure this was what madness felt like.
Finally, Pierce glanced down and asked, “You’re not curious?”
It took considerable willpower not to snort at that. “I don’t have any reason to worry,” he said instead.
Pierce chuckled. “Smart boy. I’m sure you really are curious, though, so I’ll do you a favor and save you the sleepless night—I wouldn’t tell because I believe everyone’s allowed at least two major blunders in their life, as long as they try and fix it afterwards.”
Draco just stared straight ahead, unwilling to risk being tricked into accidentally giving himself away.
“You don’t agree?” Pierce inquired lightly, taking his silence for disagreement.
“It’s not that,” Draco said after some consideration. “I mean, I know everyone makes mistakes and all that.”
Pierce nodded. “You’re having trouble with the ‘fixing it afterwards’ part, then?” he guessed.
Draco only shrugged.
“You think you messed up too badly to put things right,” Pierce ventured again. “Am I right?”
“I already told you—”
Pierce rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes I know. You’re innocent.” He sighed. “Just hear me out…even though you ‘didn’t do anything.’ No one screws up so badly that they’re beyond redemption. There’s always a way. Sometimes it’s just harder to see.”
The speech rather made Draco want to retch, so he decided to change the subject. “How did you know what all that was?”
“Pansy’s ‘redecorating.’ You recognized it. I could tell.”
Pierce smiled mysteriously. “You’re not the only one with secrets, Mr. Malfoy.”
Draco could feel his eyes go wide, and honestly didn’t care. “You mean…?”
The man looked over at him and burst out laughing. “No, I’m not a Death Eater,” he assured him through his laughter. It eventually died down to quiet chortles, and he said, “Can you imagine? Me, a servant of the Dark Lord?”
Draco couldn’t hold back his own soft laugh. It was rather preposterous to consider. When it became clear Pierce would volunteer nothing more, he found himself saying, “Look, Professor, I didn’t…I mean, I’m not—”
Pierce held up a hand. “I don’t need any explanations, Draco. Whatever you did or did not do in your past, it’s just that—in your past.” He paused a moment, then added, “Of course, if you ever wanted to come to me with absolutely anything, I would be thrilled to listen. I’m always available. But I don’t want to hear anything because you feel obligated. Understand?”
Draco couldn’t say that he did. They came to a halt outside Pierce’s office, the professor clearly waiting for some confirmation, so even though it wasn’t true, Draco said, “Yes, sir. Of course.”
Pierce nodded once, offered a lazy salute and a friendly smile, then disappeared into his office.
What the hell? was the first thought to cross Draco’s mind, and one that kept running through his head again and again as he walked aimlessly away. People of his house did not behave this way, much less make such charitable offers as Pierce just did. That kind of talk was saved for sentimental sods like Dumbledore. It was totally unprecedented and inappropriate.
The thing that really puzzled him, though, was that he wasn’t totally disgusted by it. In fact, the professor’s stupid talk had actually made him feel better. Did that mean he was getting weak? Desperate? Or was he reading entirely too much into all of it?
He didn’t realize where he was going until he found himself standing in front of the greenhouse. He blinked, a little surprised that this was where he ended up, then decided a little work on Weasley’s “punishment” might clear his head. Technically he was supposed to work with her (as far as she was concerned, so that she could answer any of Pierce’s questions should he ask afterwards, but in reality, it was part of the professor’s plot to tone down the hatred between them) but ah, well. These were extenuating circumstances, after all, and he wasn’t particularly keen on spending time bonding with the littlest weasel anyway.
He took out his wand to unlock the door, but to his surprise, the handle turned easily without it. Debating his next move only a moment, he stepped soundlessly inside to find the place dark, though a dim golden glow in the back told him he wasn’t alone.
Annoyed that someone was mucking up his plans, he pulled out his wand and moved soundlessly past the rows of tables. There was a sort of wall made from the thick leaves and vines that wrapped around a trellis at the far end of the greenhouse, and the light, which grew steadily brighter as he neared, spilled out through the spaces in the vegetation. He walked right up to the living wall and around it to see who already occupied the space.
It was Weasley. Of course it was. Whatever forces controlled things in this world seemed to get a special kick out of watching him suffer, so why wouldn’t it be Weasley? Currently, the girl sat cross-legged and bent over something in her lap, muttering to herself occasionally. He assumed she was trying to figure out the volatile Portable Gardens by herself, and he was proved correct when one exploded around her, followed closely by her cry of frustration.
“That’s why you were supposed to wait for me,” he remarked.
She jumped and twisted around; her wide, momentarily panic-stricken eyes quickly narrowed at him. “What are you doing here so late?”
“I could ask you the same,” he pointed out, moving around to her front and perching on a stool.
“You could,” she conceded, “but you didn’t. I did.”
He ducked his head to hide the tiny smile tugging at his mouth. Lord, did she ever turn off? “I saw the light,” he lied when he could control his features again. “I thought I should probably look into it.”
“What’s the matter?” she asked, falsely sweet. “Didn’t make anyone cry today? Wanted to try and snag someone out where they shouldn’t be?”
Nope, he thought, fighting down another smile, she definitely never turns off. “That’s exactly right, Weasley,” he answered calmly. “You caught me. My day wasn’t complete without making at least one person miserable, so I dragged myself all the way out here—because the greenhouse is such a hotspot for curfew-breaking students, you know—with the sole intent of issuing detention to whoever I came across.” He rolled his eyes.
She glared and opened her mouth. Draco knew that whatever she planned on saying, it would be insulting, so he quickly cut her off by asking, “So what are you doing out here?”
Her mouth snapped shut and formed an angry pout. “Trying to get this stupid punishment over with.”
He appraised the tangled greenery around her. “Not having much luck, I take it.”
She sighed heavily. “None. I should’ve just taken the detention. I don’t care, this isn’t worth it. I’m starting to seriously resent Professor Pierce right about now. I mean really, I’d like to know exactly what was going through his head when he decided that this would be a good idea.”
Before he could think better of it, Draco commented, “He’s really not such a terrible bloke.”
Weasley cocked an eyebrow in a way that Draco found eerily resembled himself. “What happened to ‘never trust a Slytherin,’ and he’s just ‘faking the smile’ to hide something, and all of that?”
Draco frowned. “I’m not saying I trust him…”
“But now you like him?” she persisted. “I thought he wasn’t honest enough about being the dirty bastard you seem to think he is deep down.”
“I didn’t say that either,” he protested, growing defensive.
“Okay. What are you saying, then?”
He opened his mouth, but realized too late he had no answer. As the silence hung between them, a look Draco could only place as actual sympathy crossed her features.
“It’s getting to you, isn’t it?” she asked quietly.
Wary of the foreign expression she wore (or, at least foreign when directed at him), he immediately put up his guard before speaking. “What do you mean?”
“All the mind games. You know, how you said everyone’s just using everyone else and you always have to be on your guard and stuff.”
He stiffened imperceptibly. “Nothing’s getting to me. I’m fine.”
Weasley watched him intently, giving Draco the uncomfortable feeling of being analyzed. “You don’t act like you’re fine,” she finally concluded.
“Oh? And how do I act, Weasley? Enlighten me.”
She shrugged, looking away. “I don’t know. You seem confused…or distracted. Maybe a little stressed out.”
Draco rose abruptly from the stool, crossing his arms and turning his back to her. “Well, you’re wrong. Like I said, I’m fine.”
She didn’t immediately respond, and after a while he heard the rustle of leaves as she assumedly untangled herself to rise. “If you say so,” she said. Then, “I’m going in.” Still refusing to turn, he heard the sound of her footsteps passing him, but then the sound stopped, and she spoke again. “When you’re ready to admit that it is getting to you…well, my advice is to find someone to talk to. Someone you can actually trust for once. People need people, Malfoy. Even you.”
By the time the words fully sank in and he whirled around with an angry retort ready on his lips, Weasley was already walking through the door, leaving him alone in the dimly lit greenhouse. Staring blankly in the direction she’d gone, all the events of that evening replayed in his mind—Pansy’s ambush, Pierce’s rescue and subsequent peculiar behavior, and now Weasley with her inane theories and her “advice.”
He closed his eyes against the onslaught, but still it remained. People need people, Malfoy. Even you. In the silence of the night, an unfamiliar ache settled deep in the pit of his stomach…it took a moment, but he realized it felt a little like loneliness.
Suddenly, he snarled and flung the stool across the room where it crashed against a table and clattered to the floor, and he dropped into a crouch, cradling his head in his hands. She was wrong. Maybe some people needed companions, but Draco wasn’t one of them. He didn’t need anybody. No one.
But the ache persisted, and eyes squeezed tightly shut, still bent over with his head in his hands, Draco knew Weasley was right about one thing—he was indeed confused.
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A/N - Blah. Lol I'm not really happy with this chapter, but just getting this much out took FOREVER, and the thoughts of re-doing it do not thrill me one bit. SO I figure mediocre is better than nothing.
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