Everyone but Ginny seemed to be familiar with travelling by Portkey and landed on their feet steadily. Ginny, however, landed sprawled on her back with the air knocked out of her. She watched noiselessly, trying to fill her lungs with air as the others stealthily scattered, intent on doing their respective jobs. She noted that Katie at least had sent her a sympathetic look as she left the room.
Some team I’m on, she thought.
She was staring up at the ceiling, drawing her first breath since falling and her gaze met a pair of amused grey eyes.
She didn’t move, she couldn’t yet, but she nodded. “I’m perfectly fine.”
“Yes, I see that.” He extended his hand down to her.
Ginny had the suspicion that if she took his hand to be helped up he’d either let her fall again or jerk it back just as her hand met his and, either way, make her look like a fool.
“Weasley, get up.”
Reluctantly, she took his hand. It was cool and dry as he applied just the right amount of pressure to her smaller one. He made it seem as if it took no effort at all to haul her up off the floor, and she met his eyes again.
“Thanks,” she murmured, and began to move away, but he squeezed her hand and kept her there.
She was forced to look at him again. “Yes?”
“Weasley, I just wanted to make sure that you were going to be alright, here,” he said, a concern etching his features that looked out of place.
“Yes,” she retorted, taking back her hand.
“Fine. Meet back here in twenty. Send up an alarm if you need help,” he said as he stalked away.
Ginny watched him go. Good riddance, she thought, and took her first look at the destruction that lay around her. The Longbottom cottage was a shambles. She was sure that the others wouldn’t be able to find anything; the snug home in which Ginny had spent so many hours with her friend was a shadow of its former loveliness. The cleanup crew had already been in, so blessedly there were no casualties to see. Tears blurred her vision as she made her way through what had been the kitchen to the greenhouses. She gingerly picked her way through the decimated back door and was horrified at the sight that met her eyes. Neville’s greenhouses, his pride and joy, where he’d spent years cultivating new and different species of magical plants, were a jumble of broken glass and stripped leaves, empty stalks and scattered earth. Her hands gripped reflexively around the handle of her bag and a sob escaped before she could stop it.
“Not now, Ginny. Do the job first. Do the job you’ve been sent to do. React later.”
For the third time that day, she was startled by the voice and presence of Draco Malfoy.
She started to form an acerbic reply, something along the lines of “Fuck off, Malfoy,” but never got the chance.
“What’s worth saving? What can we use?” he asked quickly.
He continued interrupting her thoughts, making her think less about hating him and more about the task at hand. “Tell me,” he said. “Come on, I’ll help you.”
“Erm, the aconite, there, in that pot, of course,” she replied hesitantly. “There’s some dittany in that corner, as well.” He moved to dig up the plants she’d mentioned. “Mind that Fanged Geranium; he doesn’t look happy, does he?”
She took out a pair of gardening shears as Draco produced a pocket knife and began gathering several samples to put in her bag. They worked silently until Marcus came to ask her about removing a veil of ivy covering the front door of the house. Malfoy accompanied them as they exited the greenhouse.
The larger man had his hand splayed, outstretched, to the ivy.
“Do you feel that?” he asked.
Ginny looked at Draco. “Feel what Marcus?”
“The magic,” Marcus replied simply.
Ginny frowned. “Is it dark?”
Marcus nodded. “Yup.”
“Care to expand on that?” she asked, tucking her shears into a pocket of her robe. When he didn’t answer her she thought, Yeah, impressive. He knows it’s magic and he knows it’s dark. Wow. She wondered briefly if Katie was the half that spoke for them. “I suppose this is what you need me for, then?”
Draco bowed low and swept his hand in front of him.
Ginny rolled her eyes, pushed past him and came to a stop before the curtain of ivy. She felt nothing, admittedly. It looked like a mundane species of the plant. She pulled out her wand and prodded a leaf or two.
Ginny frowned. Plants reacted. Even Muggle plants reacted when exposed to magic.
She shrugged and turned back to the two men. “It’s definitely Muggle ivy, but there’s something wrong with it.” She murmured, not noticing a tendril of the plant creeping towards her foot.
“Weasley,” Draco warned.
“What, Malfoy?” She asked, turning back around. “I’m trying to figure it out. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know. These things take time.”
Marcus pointed at her ankles which were completely entangled in ivy. “Weasley, look.”
Ginny looked down and pointed her wand quickly at the ivy. “Diffindo!” she shouted.
The plant reacted by speeding up the leaves that were enclosing her legs.
“Terminus!” roared Draco.
Evansesco! Diffindo! Impedimenta! Reducio! Finite Incantatem!” Marcus exclaimed.
After each spell the ivy only grew thicker and stronger, wrapping itself around Ginny’s waist and throat, pinning her arms to her sides. “Quit using magic!” she commanded. “It only makes it stronger!”
Marcus and Draco looked at each other for a split second and then began trying to break the stalks with their bare hands.
“Curmpt int,” Ginny snapped through the fronds wrapping themselves around her mouth.
Draco caught her as she fell to the ground and Marcus forcibly pulled the vines away from her lips. “Cut it!” she gasped. “Shears – pocket.”
Draco reached into Ginny’s robes quickly and felt around.
“That is not a pair of scissors,” she whispered fiercely, glaring at him.
His expression was unreadable as he managed to find her shears and handed them to Marcus. He pulled out his own knife and began hacking away at the ropes of ivy that held Ginny captive.
Once they freed her from the now wounded ivy, she rooted around in her bag until she found the herbicide that she’d brought. She fiercely sprayed the malicious plant thoroughly, its shoots withering and turning brown, wilting before their eyes into dead pieces on the ground. She continued spraying until her face glistened with a sheen of perspiration, and her hair came loose from its ties.
“Remind me not to cross Weasley,” Marcus muttered.
Ginny surveyed her work grimly. “They cursed it. It was just ivy,” she said, picking up a piece of it and throwing it down again in disgust. “The more we used magic the more malevolent it got.”
Draco sneered. “Not exactly ingenious.”
“It worked, though,” Marcus commented.
Blaise kicked at some of the dead plant as he exited the front door. “I guess they didn’t think we’d go in through the back way,” he said, waggling his eyebrows.
Ginny rolled her eyes and set off to the back garden where she leaned against the potting table and squeezed her eyes shut. It was a little overwhelming, this day. First getting thrown into a group of Slytherins with Malfoy leading, then her first job at the Longbottoms’ of all possible places, and finally getting attacked by something that she supposedly had control over. When she opened her eyes again, Malfoy was standing no more than a foot away, staring at her. She forced herself to remain impassive, not acknowledging much it startled her when he did that.
“Yes, I’ll be bruised. No lasting damage, though.”
He craned his neck down to look at the purple marks on her neck, bringing his hand up to gently touch them. She could feel the heat radiating from his body and his warm breath on her neck.
“You need to have Pansy look at these. Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“Yes, but you’ve already had a grope today. One per week for my boss, that’s the limit.”
She was surprised to see that his cheeks pinked, but he smirked and said, “Right. I’ll remember that. Now, what else needs to be done?”
She directed him to some more samples, and despite her earlier warning, Draco sustained quite a bad bite off the Fanged Geranium. A short while later, they sat in a corner of the demolished greenhouse, while Ginny put a spray on Draco’s hand to reduce the swelling.
“Ouch!” he hissed.
“Don’t be such a baby, Malfoy.”
“Well, it bloody well hurts.”
“You shouldn’t have called it names, then, should you?” she admonished.
“I had to,” he replied. “It was taunting me.”
“Taunting you? You made disparaging remarks about that poor geranium’s parentage. I can’t say that I blame it one bit,” she said, repressing a smile while holding the injured hand, making sure to frown sternly as she assessed his wound. “I would’ve bit you, too.”
“Really? And what would I have to do to get you to do that?”
Ginny tired to suppress a smile. Is Draco Malfoy chatting me up?
Draco craned his head down and studied her. “Are you smiling? Weasley, I’ll have you know I never tolerate levity at all. Twenty points from… something.”
Ginny gazed at him briefly and then back down at his hand again. She ran her fingers over the healed bite, satisfied at what she had done for him. “I shouldn’t be smiling,” she said. “Not in the midst of this.” She looked around. “He was my friend. And now he’s gone, and his life’s work, or what’s left of it, is being confiscated by the Ministry--”
“To help the right side of the war. He would want to help win the war, wouldn’t he?” She gave a small nod, and he put a finger under her chin to force her to look him in the eye. “We’re the good guys, right?”
“We are. Know it.” He was very close to her, his grey eyes studying her carefully. This close to his face, she could see faint lines around his eyes, proof that he did indeed smile every now and then. There were even tiny lines at the corners of his mouth, not quite dimples, but definitely laugh lines. Despite everything, or perhaps because of it, she wanted to kiss that spot at the corner of his mouth very badly.
“Well, isn’t this cosy?” Pansy Parkinson crowed as she approached them. “Trying to do my job, Weasley?”
Ginny sprung away from Draco as if burned, dropping his hand. “He got bit by the plant-thing,” she sputtered. “I gave him an anti-swelling solution, that’s all. You’ll want to check it, of course, “ she continued, muttering “medi-witch”, “leader”, “geranium”, and “bastard” under her breath.
Pansy frowned as she watched Ginny join the rest of the team on the other side of the room. “Plant-thing?” she inquired. “Isn’t she a Merlin-Class Herbologist?”
Draco smirked at Pansy’s arched brow, his eyes never leaving the redhead. “Yes. I believe she is,” he said smugly.
They spent the rest of the day at the three other residences. When she hadn’t run into Draco for the rest of the day, she found herself disappointed. Once they returned to the Ministry and debriefed the team members took their respective items to the departments they now belonged to.
Pansy had found some rather nice pieces of furniture that could be used. After Katie had disarmed some rather clever wards, Blaise had found some Late-Victorian erotica that had evidently belonged to Neville’s gran. (“Just goes to show,” Blaise said, “that you can’t judge a book by its cover, or an old woman by her vulture hat.”)
Marcus found secrecy sensors, a magical compass, and some poisonous candles that would be of benefit to the Aurors, and Ginny, with Draco’s help had gathered quite a few helpful herbs and magical plants to help to Professor Sprout. Ginny walked slowly back up to the office. She’d planned on gathering up her bags, going home and having a good cry, but when she got up to the communal office, the sight that met her eyes was distracting, to say the least.
The other five members of her team were sitting in a circle around the office, passing a bottle of Firewhisky between them, glasses raised in the air.
“To the Longbottoms.”
“Ginny!” Katie chirped. “Come and sit. We’re drinking to Neville.”
Numbly, Ginny sat in the empty seat between Blaise and Pansy. Katie spoke.
“I didn’t know him well, but he was brave and sweet, and smart. He’ll be missed. To Neville.”
Blaise continued. “I remember him as a fellow student from Potions. An abysmal student, really, but a likeable chap none the less. And hurrah for his granny, who liked pornography! To the Longbottoms!”
Pansy drank and said, “I forgive him for getting shrinking solution on my blouse in fifth year, but I’ll never forgive him for not asking me out. To Neville.”
Draco looked down. “I was horrible to him for many years, and made his life a living hell occasionally for very little reason. I realize today that he was a brilliant Herbologist and a good friend to many. To Longbottom. And the Abercrombies, the Evanses, and the Edgecombs.”
Ginny watched as all of the others turned expectant eyes on her. She raised her glass and the words caught in her throat. Faces swam in her vision through teary eyes, and fat, wet drops fell on her shirt. She put her glass down in front of her, drew her knees up to her chest, put her forehead down and sobbed.
She heard people leaving, murmured soothing words, and the rustling of cloaks. Someone had a hand on her shoulder, rubbing it back and forth, and she supposed she should be grateful that Katie had stayed to comfort her. She felt a handkerchief being forced into her hand, and after several minutes of sobbing, proceeded to dab at her eyes and blow her nose.
“Thanks for staying with me,” she hiccoughed.
“You’re welcome,” came a distinctly non-feminine voice. Her eyes flashed open and she jumped.
“What are you doing here?”
Draco sighed heavily. “I’m staying with you. Did you want to be left alone?”
“Well, then, here I am.”
She looked up at him with a tear-stained face. “I didn’t think it would be you.”
He stiffened. “Do you want me to get someone else?”
She cocked her head to the side, looking at him, and decided that it might not be prudent to answer that particular question. She used the handkerchief he’d apparently given her to wipe the smudged makeup from underneath her eyes. “I didn’t expect it be so hard.”
“At the risk of not ingratiating myself to my newest team member, I did try to tell you where we were going, beforehand.”
She nodded. “Yes, I suppose you did.” And you helped me in the greenhouses, and you’re comforting me now, she thought. She looked up at him, utterly confused beyond measure. “Malfoy?”
“Wait.” She paused. “Is it possible that you’re not a bastard?”
“It’s possible,” he replied.
“Not probable, though.”
“That was a joke, Weasley.”
“Of course. Sorry, I didn’t know you were capable. And I thought it wasn’t allowed.”
“Hmm. Well, I am capable on occasion. And I’ll make an exception for you.”
She gave a weak smile. “Where did everyone go?”
“Probably to a pub to finish off the evening,” he said gesturing to the empty bottle in front of them. “This job requires a certain amount of drowning one’s sorrows.”
“I see that.”
“We drink to remember the lives that were lost. We drink so we don’t remember the lives that were lost.” He shrugged as he stood. “Are you feeling better?”
“No, not really.”
“I wouldn’t have expected you to be. None of us really are. We’ve all lost good friends, and people we went to school with, and distant family. It’s hard to go into their houses and be dispassionate about rifling through their things.”
“Good Merlin,” Ginny breathed. “Not a bastard and you have a conscience?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I’m a veritable cornucopia of surprises, don’t you know,” he answered wryly.
“I guess so. Are you going to the pub with them?”
“Yes, I am.”
She stood, sniffing, and brushed off her robes. “Then let’s go.”
It didn’t even really seem odd when he offered her his arm as they left the Ministry.
Well, not that odd, she thought.
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