“And I want at least a foot and a half on the Simple Healing Charm,” Professor Flitwick called over the noise of the class.
“Come on, Ginny,” Anya said, brushing her dark hair out of her face. “Let’s get out of here before he gives us any more homework.”
I nodded as I stuffed my books in my bag and rolled up the parchment I’d been taking notes on. “They say sixth year is easier than fifth, but that’s an outright lie,” I muttered.
Anya laughed, a soft throaty chuckle as she pulled me out of the classroom. “If we start right now, we might be done before Quidditch practice tonight.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. “Are you serious? Merlin, I forgot! What was Demelza thinking? She knows Thursdays are the worst homework nights!”
Anya just smiled and tugged on my arm. “You’d rather be playing Quidditch than revising any day.”
I made a face. “Flying is great and all, but…” I trailed off, suddenly not wanting the conversation to go any further. Flying just hadn’t been the same for a long time. It wasn’t just because I hated playing Seeker, either.
Anya knew me too well. “Have you heard from them all?” she asked softly.
I looked away. “Not a word. For months.”
It was common knowledge that Harry, Ron, and Hermione hadn’t returned for their seventh year at Hogwarts, but no one knew the real reason why. I knew I was probably the only person in the entire school including the professors who knew of the Horcruxes my friends were hunting for, and only because I had made use of some of Fred and George’s inventions to spy on their whispered conversations at the Burrow. I guess their crazy inventions did come in handy, huh? Among the students, however, a plethora of stories were circulating, the wildest of them claiming that the trio had joined the Weird Sisters and were now touring in Australia. It was probably a good thing, though The more stories there were, the less likely Voldemort would be to figure out the real reason for the their absence from school.
The Order had been searching for the trio for months, with no success. The only comfort in this fact was that most likely the Death Eaters wouldn’t be able to locate my friends either. But if they were dead…
“Earth to Ginny…” Anya’s soft voice cut back into my thoughts. “Are we going to work on that essay now, or later?”
“Huh? Oh, let’s do it now. If I put it off, I’ll be pulling another late-nighter to get it finished. And heaven knows black shadows clash horribly with my hair…”
We both laughed. It felt good to laugh. For a few fleeting moments, I could forget about the load of worry that had been pressing down on me ever since Harry, Ron, and Hermione had disappeared just after Harry’s birthday.
We began to climb the staircase to the dorm. Suddenly, I stopped. “Oh darn,” I muttered, slapping my forehead.
“I left my favorite quill in the classroom.”
Anya rolled her eyes. “Again? Want me to come with you?”
“No, it’s okay. I’ll just meet you in the Common Room,” I told her.
I scampered back down four staircases, cursing my forgetfulness. Fortunately the classroom wasn’t locked, and I found the quill quickly. I started towards the door, but something drew me back. I paused and looked back at the classroom, torn between two choices—the Charms essay with Anya, or a quiet, empty room all to myself? I had secretly been craving solitude for months—just a quiet place for me to think. But another part of me didn’t want the solitude. It was much easier for me to try not to think Ron, Harry, and Hermione and how their lives might be in danger when I could surround myself with my classmates and friends.
An empty desk seat was beckoning. I lingered only a moment more before my decision was made. I willingly slipped into the desk and leaned forward, taking in the room. Harry, Ron and Hermione had been here. Maybe one of them had sat in the very same chair I was currently occupying. Ron and Harry had struggled with new charms in this room while Hermione always got them right the first time. Maybe the three had even had their low-key conversations here, using the normal Charms ruckus to cover their whispered chats. Maybe it had been here that Ron first noticed that Hermione was maybe even more than just “a girl.”
I slumped back into the chair and tried to think about something—anything—that didn’t involve Harry, Ron, and Hermione. But their faces kept pressing themselves into my mind. Ron and Harry laughing wildly at a lame joke while Hermione uselessly admonished them to study from behind a large pile of library books. Ron’s brotherly jabs at Quidditch practice, his loyalty and sense of humor, the look on his face when he found Dean and me snogging, and then again when Harry I had shared their first kiss. The late nights Hermione and me had spent talking, first at the Burrow, then during the school year all those times when Hermione had slipped into my dorm to sleep because Parvati and Lavender were getting on her nerves. And Harry…
I didn’t want to think about Harry.
The tears I’d been holding back for months began to flow. I fought them back for a few moments before surrendering. No one was here; no one would ever know. I buried my face in my hands, my body shaking with sobs. Why were they doing this to me? Especially Harry. I had thought he had cared about me, but he couldn’t just leave me hanging like this. I felt like I was dying without him.
“Weaselette, if you don’t stop sobbing all over the bloody floor, we’re going to need Bubble-Head charms to breathe.”
I froze in horror and rage. I knew that voice. Slowly I turned, holding my wand our carefully.
Malfoy was leaning casually against the door, his cold eyes taking in the scene.
“What are you doing here?” I spat, furiously wiping the tears from my cheeks.
“Free country, Weaselette.”
“Leave,” I commanded, standing and extending my wand threateningly. “I was here first.”
“Tut, tut, I would have thought you to have more etiquette than that, Weasley,” Malfoy drawled.
“I have more manners than you’ll ever even dream of having, Malfoy,” I said contemptuously.
I knew that the Order had tracked Snape to his home in Spinner’s End the previous summer after Dumbledore’s death. They had captured Narcissa and her son, but Snape had slipped away somehow in the confusion. No one really knew where he was, but the best guess was that he was reunited with Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Narcissa had been sent into hiding, Draco back to Hogwarts, where the teachers kept a close eye on him. He was magically imprisoned within the school’s boundaries, and forbidden from sending owls or communicating in any form with anyone from the outside world. Most people didn’t know that he had tried to murder Dumbledore, and I guessed that he hadn’t shared that bit of information with his ever-shrinking group of Slytherin followers. Ever-shrinking, because more Slytherins left every week, it seemed. Only half had come back after the summer.
I pulled my mind back to the present. “What do you want?” I asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
Malfoy licked his lips as his eyes wandered up and down my body. I suddenly felt naked, exposed, as his gaze took me—all of me-–in. A feeling of utter revulsion washed over me, and I shrank back. “I think you know what I want,” he said, finally meeting my eyes again.
“Dirty-minded rodent,” I cried, clutching my robes closer to my body. “I’d rather…I’d rather…”
He smirked as I struggled for a sufficient comparison. “The giant squid would make a better companion than you,” I finally sputtered. “I’ve wasted enough time already. I’m leaving.”
My hand had touched the doorknob when I heard his chilling laugh. “I wouldn’t leave if I were you, Weasley,” he said coolly.
Without wanting to, I paused and slowly turned. “Give me one good reason to stay in this god-damned classroom with the person I detest more than anyone else in the entire world.”
“Three words, blood traitor. Potty, Weasel, and Mudblood.”
Goosebumps appeared on my arms, unrelated to the drafty Charms classroom. What did Malfoy know? “Why would you care about them?” I said slowly.
“I don’t, Weasley. But you do.”
“They aren’t at school this year. Potty probably got it into his overlarge head that he is the blasted Chosen One and took it on himself to single-handedly defeat the Dark Lord.”
I twisted a lock of hair impatiently. What was he getting at?
“He’s probably being pursued by Death Eaters this very moment. Your precious boyfriend’s life is in danger.”
“I know that, Malfoy. Stop wasting my time,” I snapped.
He rolled his eyes. “You don’t get it, do you? Damn, Weasley, you’re thicker than I thought.”
I glared at him, but said nothing, knowing that eventually he would get to the point. Draco Bloody Malfoy liked to take his time, drawing out the performance.
“I’m just saying, I’ve noticed you moping around the last few months and thought you might like to feel useful for a change.”
“Useful? Useful to you?”
“Heck, no,” he said. “Well, maybe…” Once again, he eyed my body, and I took another step back.
“Get to the point, Malfoy.”
“I might be feeling generous tonight,” he hinted. “Generous enough to strike a deal.”
“What kind of deal?” I said warily, edging away, but suddenly finding myself against the wall.
“God, Weasley. Do I have to spell it out? I have information that might be useful to Potty and his tag-alongs…information about the Horcruxes.”
“How…how did you know?” I gasped, horrified. It felt as if someone had just punched me in the stomach. Malfoy knew about the Horcruxes. Would he tell Voldemort if I didn’t do what he wanted? What did he want?
Malfoy snorted. “My home practically used to be Death Eater Headquarters. Let’s just say that it’s not hard to overhear…certain things.”
I shivered. “Do they know? The other Death Eaters? About the Horcruxes?”
He regarded me coldly for a long moment, then spoke. “I don’t think they do. But I heard enough from them and my parents to wonder why the Dark Lord was guarding certain objects so carefully. I did some research, and discovered the truth for myself.”
“The Hogwarts library doesn’t have any information about Horcruxes,” I said, looking desperately for holes in his story. I knew because I had overheard Hermione telling Ron that during the summer.
“Why would I use the Hogwarts library when I’ve got a library of dark magic books at Malfoy Manor that would make Durmstrang’s collection look small in comparison?” he sneered.
“And why would you be willing to suddenly spill information?” I challenged. “Why the sudden change of heart?”
His eyes narrowed. “The only connection I’ve got with that world anymore is this blasted mark.” He shoved up his sleeve to reveal the Dark Mark on his forearm, and I bit my lip and tried to stomach my revulsion. “They have given me nothing. My mother’s in hiding, my father in Azkaban. From now on, I’m working for only one person…me.”
“How very noble of you.”
“I don’t see you doing anything brave and noble to help Potty. Little Weaselette’s just sitting at school, pretending nothing’s happening. Bet you’ve forgotten all about your so-called friends.”
“I have not!” I cried, my voice rising furiously. “I have not forgotten them! I…I…just don’t know what to do.” It hurt to admit it, especially to my worst enemy.
“Now you know.”
I felt a chill fill the room that hadn’t been there before. “What do you want in return for information?” I said slowly, already knowing the answer, dreading his response.
Malfoy paused. “Let me see…” he said, scratching his chin sarcastically. “Um… I want… Galleons? Naw… plenty of those in my Gringotts account. Information? Nope. Help with revising? No…. Now that Granger’s gone I’ve got the best scores in my year. What do you think I want, Weasley?”
I cringed as he took a step closer, his eyes traveling hungrily over me. “I want you.”
He was too close now… I could feel his hot breath on my face, and his arms gripping my shoulders.
With a mighty shove, I freed myself. Malfoy landed hard on the floor. “Never,” I screeched at him feverishly. “I would never lower myself to such a level! Never.”
As I made my escape, I heard his words echoing behind me. “You’ll come around, Weaselette. Just think about it.”
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