The Sugar Quill
Author: Arabella (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The More is My Unrest  Chapter: The More is My Unrest
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

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This story is an ENTIRELY joint effort between

Arabella and Jedi Boadicea.

And when we say entirely, we mean that we literally wrote it

Over each other’s shoulders. It was incredibly fun – especially when we

got to make up insults together.

 

 

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The Great Hall

The pitch of noise in the Great Hall bothered Draco. It was too loud, as usual – people practically yelling at each other down their tables. Laughing. Especially those Gryffindors. For a group that was supposed to be so respectable, they generally made a ridiculous noise. Tonight was no different, and it was with irritation that he pushed his golden plate toward the kidney pudding. Crabbe spooned a heap of it for him, a routine so long established between them that it went almost entirely unnoticed. Draco only noticed it now because it was still, somehow, slightly satisfying. After all, he didn't notice anybody getting things for Potter.

Potter was deep in conversation with Weasley and the two of them seemed to be discussing something quite intently. Draco had been watching them for years; he recognized the difference between their general chatter and matters of importance. He saw their expressions sober, saw the Mudblood lean in to contribute some quiet piece of information. They were probably plotting something against school rules. Again. And whatever it was, Draco thought sullenly, they wouldn't be getting in trouble for it. They never did.

It was incredibly unfair.

"Did you hear, Draco?"

It was Pansy's voice, high pitched and almost breathless with excitement. She sat down quite suddenly in the chair on the opposite side of Goyle, giving him a very brief frown, her pug nose wrinkling slightly, her look saying very clearly that she thought he should move and allow her the seat next to Draco. But Goyle didn't move. Probably because he was too dense to even notice her glance, and for once Draco was silently grateful for his stupidity. He really didn't want to deal with Pansy right now.

When she got no immediate response from him, Pansy pressed on, "Did you hear about the Ball?"

"Of course I heard." Draco snapped, stabbing irritably at his jacket potato, his eyes straying back to the Gryffindor table, where Potter and his two idiot friends were now bent so close together in conversation that it was difficult to make out their expressions. Like some horrid three-headed beast, Draco thought sourly, and then with some pleasure, as he imagined Potter and Weasley drooling at the mouth.

"It's only a few weeks away." Pansy was still talking. Didn't she ever shut up?

"I know that."

"You have to plan ahead for a Ball, of course," she went on, leaning forward on the table so that she could see clearly around Goyle to stare Draco in the face. She was smiling at him in that way she always did, her eyes wide and limpid, and there was a slight simper to her voice.

He had no doubts about what she was implying with all of this, but he wasn't going to pay any attention to it. Not this time. He had no intention of going to the Ball this year. He'd gone in the past, of course, because he'd been taught all his life that social functions were important – to see and to be seen. It was important that he attend them with a person of proper wizarding family on his arm, and the Parkinsons had always fallen under his family's definition of "proper." And Pansy was always there. But not this time.

"Why don't you go and start planning, then." Draco snapped, his potato mauled into a veritable mush by the inattentive stabbings of his fork.

Pansy continued talking, saying something about the latest fashion in quality robes, but Draco didn't spare her any attention. He was too preoccupied with throwing frequent and increasingly irritated glances toward the Gryffindor table. Potter and his friends had hardly touched their plates for minutes now. Granger was gesturing energetically with her hands, and Weasley was nodding in agreement with whatever she was saying.

And that was when he noticed Ginny. Ginny Weasley, the youngest of that whole pathetic family.

She had come into the Great Hall late for dinner, apparently, and now she was making her way to where Potter and the others were seated, aiming for the empty seat beside Granger. She approached slowly, almost hesitantly. He always saw her like this, tagging along in Potter's shadow, moving with care as though she were afraid to disrupt something.

It sickened him. It was so like a Weasley, to embrace that kind of debasement. And it was so like Potter, to not even notice that he was, once again, getting special treatment. Not that it could really be considered special, having a plain, empty-headed little girl running after him all the time. And she did run after Potter. All the time.

Ginny settled herself in the chair beside Granger, her face all the time turned slightly in Potter's direction. She opened her mouth as if to add to the conversation, but at that exact moment, Potter, Weasley, and Granger rose together, as they usually did, and headed toward the door of the Great Hall, still deeply involved in their own conversation to the exclusion of all else. Ginny watched them go, her mouth still slightly open. She shut it again, after a moment, then turned to face her plate and gave an almost imperceptible sigh. But Draco saw it.

It was obnoxious.

Potter proved with every action that he didn't deserve the special treatment that he got from everybody. And yet everyone persisted in lavishing it on him. Especially the little Weasley brat. Didn't she have anything better to do than to spend her time chasing incessantly after Potter?

"Draco, are you listening to me?"

"No," he said flatly, unwilling to cater to Pansy's relentless attempts to capture his attention. He pushed back from the Slytherin table and stood, not bothering to excuse himself. In his peripheral vision he noticed Crabbe and Goyle stuffing their faces quickly with as much food as their mouths could carry, before rising alongside him and following him out of the hall. He glanced one last time at the Gryffindor table as they passed it. Ginny was in the same position she had been before, her mouth now shut, picking morosely at her food.

Good. At least he wasn't the only one who'd had a lousy dinner.

 

The Lawn

"Hurry up," Draco snapped, pausing halfway up the lawn to jerk his head toward the castle. It was an unseasonably hot day, and his school robes were heavy and stifling. He wanted to get inside and down into the dungeon, where the stone kept everything cool. He hated sweating over those ridiculous plants in Herbology, as if the Malfoy heir should be cutting and gathering his own Potions ingredients. Draco snorted quietly to himself. When he was out of Hogwarts, he'd never have to wrestle another Python Blossom as long as he lived.

But at least he could do it, if he had to. He threw a dark look over his shoulder, toward Crabbe and Goyle. They stood together, still at the very bottom of the lawn, clapping a mess of pollen from their robes with their oversized hands. They never could do anything right.

"Hurry up," he repeated, turning fully around to glare at them. But either they were deaf, or their paddle-hands were making too much noise, because they only continued to smack at themselves and each other. Clouds of violet pollen rose around them, and Draco sighed in disgust. He wasn't going to stand here, hot and irritated, and wait for them much longer.

A breeze picked up suddenly, which should have been a relief, in the heat. Instead, it drove the pollen clouds uphill toward Draco, who whirled toward the castle to avoid a face full of it. But he couldn't avoid it entirely; he felt it settling in his hair and reached up his hands in disgust to shake it out before the sticky, violet substance could work his hair into messy clumps. Unlike Potter, he wasn't going to walk around the school with his hair sticking up in all directions like a street urchin. He brushed his hair back into order, flattening it with his palms and making sure to consider the part.

Thoroughly fed up with Crabbe and Goyle, he finally continued striding up the lawn - without them. If they didn't catch up in five seconds, he was going to pull his wand and make them. He marched toward the oak entrance doors and had almost reached them when they swung open, and he was greeted with the unwelcome sight of the Gryffindor fourth years emerging.

At their head was Ginny Weasley. Some girl was whispering to her and Ginny leaned in close, listening. A moment later she threw back her head and laughed, freely and loudly.

It was a startling sound, and Draco stared at her for a second before sweeping his eyes over the fourth years' heads for a glimpse of Potter - but he was nowhere to be seen. Draco glanced back toward Ginny, who was still in the center of her friends, laughing and poking playfully at them as she headed toward the Care of Magical Creatures paddock. Draco couldn't remember ever hearing her make so much noise, and he'd certainly never seen her so animated. But then, she was usually within earshot of Potter. Apparently she only acted like a normal human being when her big hero wasn't around for her to trail after. Out of Potter's shadow, Draco reflected, Ginny was almost noticeable in her own right.

Not that anybody could miss that awful hair. Especially with the sun glinting on it. She tossed it off her shoulder.

Draco tore his eyes away and pulled his wand, pointing it at Crabbe and Goyle, feeling immensely angry for no reason at all.

"Now!" he barked down the lawn at them. As if they shared a brain - or half of one - they raised their heads, left off paddling themselves and lumbered up the lawn toward him. Draco turned to the door and waited. A moment later, Goyle opened it, and he went in.

 

The Entrance Steps

Draco was rarely happy to be out of bed and active early in the morning on Sunday. Back at the Manor on Sundays he was often served breakfast in his room, at whatever hour he chose to wake. But today he had risen early, the sun was already bright and high in the clear sky, he hadn't even had breakfast, and yet he felt oddly satisfied. The Slytherin team had booked the Quidditch pitch for early morning practice, and for once Draco hadn't complained about it.

This year, he swore to himself. This year he would defeat Potter. He would. He had no intention of facing the rest of his housemates, not to mention his family, knowing that Slytherin had lost the Cup because of Harry Potter. Not again.

Draco propped his broom carefully on his shoulder and walked off the pitch at the end of practice, heading back toward the castle. Crabbe and Goyle descended from the stands quickly and fell into step on either side of him. They supplied a few grunting comments of admiration for his performance in the practice, as they always did, and Draco accepted it with almost indifferent silence, as he always did.

He wasn't particularly in the mood to talk. Not that conversation with Crabbe or Goyle was ever very rewarding. But right now he was too involved with his own thoughts to dredge up the effort. He was still running over the practice in his mind, their new strategies, the flying techniques he'd been practicing all summer. Unfortunately, he wasn’t pleased with the practice, or his own performance in it. In spite of his willingness to be awake in the morning and high above the pitch, he had still found it difficult to truly concentrate. He'd been feeling very .... preoccupied... for the last few days. He couldn't quite put his finger on the reason, but it was really starting to bug him.

Crabbe reached the entrance doors first, and pulled one open. Draco walked through it, not really noting where he was going. He wanted to get clean, get to the Great Hall for breakfast, and get rid of the unsettled feeling he had. He began to climb the stairs.

Potter, Weasley and Granger were walking together down the other side of the wide marble steps toward the Great Hall doors, clearly on their way in for breakfast. They were talking - Weasley was laughing his raucous, ill-bred laugh and the Mudblood looked highly annoyed. Potter just smiled.

Draco swept by them without acknowledgment, too focused on his own agenda to bother insulting them. And why bother, really, when he would beat Potter in the next Quidditch match? He'd wipe the smug smile off his scarred face for good. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Weasley shoot a dirty look his way, but that hardly mattered. Weasley was a nothing. A nobody.

Like his sister. She was four steps behind the three of them, her eyes trained, as usual, on the back of Potter's head. And she'd apparently lost the freedom of expression that Draco had seen in her the other day. She was practically mute.

He felt himself turn toward her - he tossed his head sharply - he opened his mouth.

"Does he have you on a leash, or do you just like following him around?"

Ginny froze. She blinked, then turned her head toward him, her face pale, her eyes wide. She looked truly shocked. More than that, she looked wounded. And that look was so completely mesmerizing for some reason, that he hardly even noticed Potter, Weasley and Granger turning around to face him, all of them looking vaguely surprised that he wasn't actually addressing them, and all of them looking absolutely furious.

"You....you...." Ron was stammering, apparently speechless with fury.

Draco tore his gaze away from Ginny, who was now flushing as red as her hair, and still staring fixedly at him in something very like horror.

Potter and Weasley both had their wands out, and were leveling them at him with furious looks. Even Granger, who, as always, had placed a restraining hand on Weasley's arm, was looking angry and on the verge of pulling a wand herself. She tossed her bushy hair back with a furious shake, and said, "How dare you?"

Draco didn't even need to gesture or speak; Crabbe and Goyle stepped in front of him, their massive hands already in fists. Weasley shook off Granger's arm and took a step forward, his wand still aimed past Crabbe and Goyle and directly at Draco. His mouth opened, and Draco knew that an angry insult was forthcoming. He knew the look by now. He'd deliberately provoked it more times than he could count. But right now, it brought him no pleasure. He didn't want to hear it, and the entrance hall at breakfast time was not the place to pick a fight to his advantage. This wasn't a fight he'd intended to pick at all. And there was little satisfaction to be gained from the look on Ginny's face – especially since he wasn't certain why he'd bothered stopping to insult her in the first place, and he didn’t know how to continue with it now that he had.

Before Ron could speak the angry words clearly boiling over in his expression, Draco turned his back on the lot of them with a disdainful little shrug. He wasn't worried about being hit in the back by curses; Crabbe and Goyle were there as living shields, and in the end he knew that Potter considered himself too ridiculously noble to hit an enemy in the back. Potter had so many exploitable weaknesses. But Draco wasn't going to bother with them today.

Broom still carefully gripped and perfectly propped on his shoulder, he continued on down the hall, and down the stairs toward the dungeons. Behind him, as he went, he could hear Weasley swearing fiercely, Granger speaking soothingly to Ginny. Potter was completely silent. And then there was only the sound of Crabbe and Goyle's shuffling footsteps, and Goyle grunted a thick laugh. They knew he always wanted them to laugh at his attacks on Potter and his cohorts.

But at the moment, Draco didn't feel much like laughing.

He made his way down to the Slytherin common room, and thought that maybe he'd skip breakfast entirely today. He didn't particularly want to look across the Hall and see Ginny Weasley's face.

The Stands

By the end of the afternoon, Draco had almost managed to block out his earlier encounter on the stairs. Shortly after lunch, an idea had struck him which made all his remaining discomfort disappear. He sat in the common room, idly drawing stick figures on his homework, most of which ended up with scars on their foreheads and stakes through their hearts. It was an image he never tired of doodling. He stabbed his quill to the paper with contempt and satisfaction. He was going to get them back. Today.

The match against Gryffindor would take place the following weekend, which was why the Slytherin team had been up so early every morning practicing. It was why they'd worked so hard on the pitch this morning. It was why the Gryffindor team was going to be out doing the same thing this afternoon. And it was why the Gryffindors would be drilling all their most effective, and often secret, strategies. They were down to the wire. Now was the day to spy them out.

In about five minutes they'd be up in the air - they wouldn't notice him if he came around from the far side of the pitch and stayed close to the lockers. It occurred to Draco briefly that he wouldn't be able to bring Crabbe and Goyle, but he waved that concern off in seconds. They'd be much too cumbersome; they spoiled anything that required the slightest finesse. And no one would see him anyway.

Tossing his homework to the table, he rose and left the common room, climbing up the dungeon stairs, going quickly down the corridors and out into the late afternoon sunlight. Upon reaching the pitch, he cut left around the stands and entered the field from behind the locker room building, keeping in its shadow so as not to be noticed. He stood against the wall and squinted up, just as Potter dove.

For one moment, it seemed Potter's Firebolt would hit the grass - no, it was definite, he was going to plow directly into the ground - Draco watched, holding his breath, hoping for it. Half a second too soon, Potter pulled up his handle and soared upward again. Draco wanted nothing more than to stop watching this display, but he had to watch the continuation of the move - it was the sort of thing he was supposed to be stealing, after all. His eyes followed the sweep of Potter's rise, arcing up from the grass, past the lower stands, hurtling to the top of the risers, where Draco's eyes stopped.

Potter's broom continued upward and into the sky, but Draco wasn't watching. A flash of color at the top of the distant stands caught his attention and held it, something golden and red, and it took him a moment to realize that it was the rays of fading sunlight on Ginny Weasley's hair. Draco squinted into the light to see her more clearly.

She was sitting alone, hunched down on the bench as though trying to make herself smaller, less noticeable. A futile attempt, Draco thought, so long as she had that hair. But he had no doubt why she was trying; in spite of the way she always tagged along at Potter's heels, Draco felt certain that she was somehow ashamed of the very fact. That just made it all the more disgusting.

And here she was, no doubt sneaking out to watch her precious Potter at practice. Even though she had three brothers on the team as well, Draco somehow doubted she'd be hunched out here all alone if it weren't for Potter. And that thought filled him with the usual hatred that came always with thoughts of Potter - only this time it had a different edge, and he was suddenly feeling almost nauseous.

He was walking around the pitch and toward the stands before consciously making the decision to do so. But once he'd started, it seemed too late to turn back.

There was really no reason for him to be talking to Ginny Weasley. What could she possibly say to interest him? What could he possibly get out of the exchange?

I just want to know, he thought to himself, scowling. I just want to know WHY she bothers with bloody Potter in the first place. He was up the steps and in the stands before he'd even considered what he would say when he got to her, and, upon reaching the end of the row where she sat, he hesitated. She hadn't even heard him approaching; her gaze was fixed on the sky, her eyes following the plays. Following Potter. It was disgusting that she even found ways to follow him when she was sitting still and though Draco still had no idea what he wanted to say, he knew he wanted her to quit watching Potter. He took a step closer to her, letting his shadow fall across her seat.

She turned. Her eyes widened. Her entire posture changed. She had been curled and unnoticeable a moment before. Now she straightened, throwing her shoulders back and tossing her hair out of her face.

"What are you doing here? This is a Gryffindor practice." She spoke with surprising venom. Considering her obvious weakness where Potter was concerned, Draco hadn't expected her voice to have that kind of fire in it. Of course, he'd rarely ever heard her speak.

She continued to glare at him, her expression demanding an explanation for his arrival, and Draco realized he hadn't answered her. Why was he there? His mind raced for a moment and no answer came to him. He felt the same pang of nausea he'd had earlier, watching Ginny's face as she looked from himself to the Gryffindor team in the sky and back again, obviously putting two and two together.

He was there to spy. Of course. Draco was relieved to have stumbled across the explanation in his mind, though he was hardly about to say it out loud. And anyway, he didn't have to.

"Get out of here, you're not allowed to watch them!" Ginny was suddenly on her feet. "It's obvious why you're here!"

And just as suddenly, Draco found his voice. "Not really a mystery why you're here, either, is it, Weasley?" he shot, narrowing his eyes at her, enjoying the fact that this comment caused the anger in her face to falter slightly. He pressed on. "Watching the fabulous Potter fly? Thinking how amazing he is?" His own voice dripped with sarcasm, and Ginny flinched, her eyes flitting back out toward the players in the sky, confirming his suspicion. She was so stupidly transparent - didn't she know it? "Or maybe..." he continued in a malicious drawl, bringing her eyes back toward him, "...maybe you're just waiting for him to fall off his broom so you can run down there and kiss it better."

Ginny's jaw dropped and for a second, Draco felt the satisfaction of a direct hit. But it didn't last. With speed and dexterity he hadn't anticipated, Ginny had drawn her wand and pointed it straight at his chest. On a self-preserving instinct, he drew his own wand and aimed back at her, feeling an unexpected tingle of excitement. It wasn't the same as when he pulled his wand on Potter. The air between himself and Ginny seemed to be charged, somehow. It was an almost heady feeling.

She spoke first, and though her voice shook, Draco had a feeling that she wasn't afraid. She was simply furious.

"You have no right," she managed. "No right! I'm so sick of you, Malfoy! You think you're so important just because your dad has money - well, you're not - and the things I do are none of your business." Her breath was short, her eyes were flashing, her wand was trembling in her hand. "Get away from this practice and get away from me!"

Draco stared. That she had stood up for herself so plainly was a shock, and the fact that she had dared mention his father... He knew what his response ought to be. Family pride required him to hex her to the ground without a second thought. She was a Weasley, and none of her worthless family deserved to say a word about his. But to his chagrin, he found that her final jab was the one that truly made him want to hex her, and he opened his mouth on a spell.

Unfortunately, every curse he knew seemed suddenly to have vacated his brain. Taking advantage of his pause, Ginny tensed slightly and raised her wand. Draco experienced a brief shock; was she really going to curse him?

He never found out. From below on the pitch there was a shrill, piercing sound that he recognized at once as the referee’s whistle. He spun toward it, seeing Ginny do the same, and saw that Madam Hooch was speeding up the stands toward them on her broom. Her yellow, hawk-like eyes blazed even from a distance, and she had never looked so like a bird of prey as now, swooping upon them.

"PUT DOWN THOSE WANDS!" she shouted, coming to a hover beside them.

Draco dropped his wand arm to his side as Madam Hooch glared from himself to Ginny. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ginny lower her wand also, her face flushing guiltily.

"What are your wands doing out on my field?" Madam Hooch asked sharply, looking to Ginny first.

Ginny opened her mouth and stammered. "I was only – I just –"

Draco turned fully toward her, incredulous. She was going to try and pull the Gryffindor innocent act – to pawn this off on him. Suddenly he didn’t care how guilty she was feeling for being caught. He wasn’t going to be blamed for this.

He cut across her with practiced ease and addressed Madam Hooch coolly.

"She pulled her wand first. This was self-defense."

Madam Hooch turned her hawk eyes on him, looking anything but convinced. Of course. As usual. The prejudice – the unfailing prejudice of so many of these teachers against Slytherin House – was just unbelievable. And to make matters worse, coming up behind Hooch at high speed were Potter and Weasley and those hideously duplicated twins.

For the first time since arriving at the pitch, Draco became suddenly, acutely aware that he had left Crabbe and Goyle behind in the dungeon.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MALFOY?" Weasley was barreling toward him ahead of the rest, leaning forward on his broom as though he had every intention of spearing Draco on the end of it.

Madam Hooch shot them a warning look, which made all of them pull to a halt beside her. But they hovered together, all four of them, glaring at Draco as though they’d be happy to dismember him if they could only get their hands on him.

"That will do," Madam Hooch said curtly.

Ignoring her entirely, one of the twins advanced a few inches on his broom. "If you were trying to curse our sister, Malfoy..." he threatened, leaving his sentence ominously unfinished. The other one filled in the blank with a grim nod of agreement. They didn’t look to be joking now, yet Draco had to smirk. The mere fact that there were two of them was their worst joke of all.

"Enough." Madam Hooch’s tone was final. She turned back to Draco. "You say she pulled her wand on you first?"

At these words there was an explosion.

"As IF!" Weasley hollered.

"She was provoked!" yelled Potter at the same time.

Ginny drew herself up slightly at these last words. Draco saw it out of the corner of his eye, and it infuriated him.

"Shut up, Potter!" he snapped.

"Quiet." Madam Hooch looked around at them all, her gaze coming back to Draco and Ginny. "I saw two wands drawn," she said evenly. "I’m giving two detentions."

There was a noise of outrage from the three Weasleys and Potter. Ginny made no protest, but threw Draco a look of such open contempt and frustration that he recoiled slightly. He was once again momentarily surprised by the fierceness of her reaction. This was not the spineless little wisp he’d grown accustomed to seeing in Potter’s wake.

And this time, he couldn’t help noticing, she wasn’t toning it down in front of Potter, either. Draco was satisfied to think that he had managed to force her out of her usual timidity. It was like being one up on Potter, in a way.

"Be here at four-thirty tomorrow," Madam Hooch instructed them. "You’ll be serving your detention in the broom shed."

Weasley muttered profanely under his breath. Madam Hooch ignored him.

"Is that clear?" she pressed.

"Yes, Madam Hooch," Ginny answered, her tone resigned.

Draco gave a nod of bare acknowledgment. Madam Hooch returned it, regarding him with a gaze so pointed that Draco knew she could guess why he’d been on the pitch in the first place. Then, satisfied, she turned away and returned to the rest of the Gryffindor team, where they were waiting by the goal posts, watching curiously.

Ginny turned as well and stalked past Draco, going down and out of the stands without so much as a look at him. Her brothers and Potter immediately pivoted their brooms to follow her, but all of them made certain to shoot him one last dirty look before they went. Draco sneered at their retreating backs and left the stands in the other direction.

He headed toward the castle, seething inwardly. What had he been thinking? He hadn’t gotten a single Gryffindor strategy. He had only gotten a detention, and Potter had seen him get it. Why had Madam Hooch been on the pitch anyway? She never watched over the Slytherin practices.

It was a moment before the answer dawned on Draco. She’d been out there for Potter’s protection. That idiot Dumbledore had probably set her out there to look out for Potter’s safety. Everybody was always shielding Potter this year, vigilantly, as if his life was ten times more important than anybody else’s.

Of course, Potter was in danger. Draco permitted himself a smile, thinking for a moment of his father, and of the things he’d overheard at home last summer. Oh, Potter was definitely in danger.

His anger now somewhat abated, he turned his thoughts back to other matters, musing about the detention he’d have to serve. He was going to have to fabricate some kind of story about where he’d be going tomorrow afternoon. He certainly wasn’t going to admit that he was serving a detention in the broom shed with Ginny Weasley.

And he certainly wasn’t going to admit that something about the idea was almost appealing.

 

The Broom Shed

Draco was making himself walk slowly down the lawn. He wasn’t going to rush toward the stupid broom shed and work himself into a sweat, not even if Potter and the Weasleys knew the time and place of his detention. Draco looked both ways, however, assuring himself that none of them were nearby to intercept him. He didn’t have Crabbe or Goyle with him after all. He’d had to put them off with an excuse – not that it had been difficult. They would have believed him had he said he was off to have tea with the giant squid. He’d actually toyed with telling them that, and in fact had only decided against it because he didn’t want them spreading such a rumor around the common room as if it were the truth.

By the time he arrived at the broom shed, his lingering amusement and disgust had faded, leaving him with an unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach. He attributed this to the fact that Madam Hooch stood waiting for him, her arms crossed. When she spoke, her tone was clipped.

"You’re late, Mr. Malfoy."

"I was kept after class," Draco lied smoothly. "Professor Trelawney needed to speak with me about my star chart." Draco assumed that no teacher in her right mind would seek out Trelawney to verify this information, and after a moment, Hooch nodded. She pushed open the broom shed door and gestured him inside. Draco went, swallowing for no reason as he did so and finding that his throat was suddenly dry.

Ginny was in the shed already, seated with a broom across her lap. She kept her eyes fixed on its tail, though there was no way she could have been unaware of his entrance.

Without ceremony, Madam Hooch took a pair of clippers from the wall and handed them to Draco.

"I want every broomtail in this shed clipped into shape by the end of two hours, and no magic. Miss Weasley has assured me she knows how to do this. Do you, or do you need a demonstration?"

Draco was instantly affronted. "I’ve been maintaining brooms of better quality than this my whole life," he informed her coldly.

"Then I’ll expect yours to look twice as professional," she returned, with equal frost. Draco heard a sound from Ginny that sounded suspiciously like a snicker, though he couldn’t be sure. She still hadn’t lifted her head.

With that, Madam Hooch left them alone, shutting the door behind her and leaving the shed in a dead, uncomfortable silence. Draco glanced at Ginny, then quickly turned and snatched a broom from the wall. He looked around for a chair, realizing at once that there was only one bench in the room. Ginny was sitting on it. There was room enough for him to sit beside her, but everything in him balked at the idea. He wasn’t sharing space with her.

Fastidiously, he cleared a space for himself on the shed floor and sat down, wrinkling his nose in distaste. His robes were going to be filthy after this.

For a long time, the only sound in the shed was of twigs being clipped. Draco didn’t look up. If she wasn’t going to look at him, then he wasn’t going to look at her.

It must have been half an hour before he heard a particularly violent snip, followed immediately by a stinging sensation in the middle of his forehead. A second later, a small bit of twig fell from his head into his lap. He stared at it a moment, then raised his head to find Ginny’s eyes already on him.

She was obviously trying not to laugh. There was something very smug about her face... she was smirking at him. Draco felt himself flush with irritation and embarrassment. He wasn’t going to sit here and be a target of amusement for a Weasley.

"Do you think this is funny, Weasley?"

She raised an eyebrow slightly, shrugged almost imperceptibly, and returned her gaze to the broom she now held, continuing to clip it. But Draco couldn’t simply allow this to pass. She still looked far too satisfied with herself. More infuriating was the fact that she seemed able to dismiss him with so little effort. It was insufferable; he wasn’t going to have it.

"Are you deaf?" He paused, waiting for a reply. Nothing. "Have you no breeding?" he drawled. "You answer a person when they ask you a question."

But the only sound from Ginny was the ongoing, deliberate clipping of broomtail twigs as she steadfastly ignored him.

It was too much. Feeling a need to break through her resistance, Draco raised the level of his taunts, aiming for the place where he knew her to be especially weak. He spoke with casual venom.

"Or does Potter like you mute?" he continued softly. "Is this required? Are you practicing for when he finally gives you the time of day?"

Ginny stopped clipping, but her head remained bowed. Her hand relaxed on the broom and as she took a shallow breath, Draco could just see her brow wrinkling slightly. A flash of triumph shot through him. He had done it. He had broken her resolve.

But when Ginny raised her head a moment later, he knew at once that he’d been wrong. She didn’t seem wounded at all this time. Rather, she was clear-eyed and calm, regarding him with something between amusement and... perhaps concern. Or was it pity? Indignant at the very idea of such a thing, Draco opened his mouth, ready to tell her to wipe the look off her face. But Ginny spoke before he could get a word out.

"Do you ever stop being nasty for five seconds?" she asked simply, still looking at him.

Draco felt himself freeze slightly. What kind of a question was that? He held Ginny’s gaze for a moment purely out of surprise, and searched for a reply that wouldn’t come. Could he stop being nasty? What was she aiming at? At first his mind was almost flustered, and then it flooded with serious irritation. He’d thrown his best at her and yet she sat unfazed, while he was left feeling disconcerted.

She was still looking at him, waiting for his answer. Well, she wasn’t going to get one. There was no way he was getting into a personal discussion with Ginny Weasley – no way. How dare she even ask a question of him? He wouldn’t condescend to reply to her. Not that he could have, if he had wanted to. He still didn’t know the answer to her question himself.

Forcing his eyes away from hers, Draco returned his attention to the broom he held and gave the tail a violent clip. After a moment, he saw Ginny drop her head again, and heard the sound of her resuming her task. Draco continued to clip twigs angrily, snipping them one by one with new, unnecessary force, hoping one would fly across the shed and smack the Weasley brat right on her freckled face.

 

The Dormitory

When Madam Hooch returned to the broom shed at the end of two hours, not another word had been spoken. She inspected the brooms – taking up one of Draco’s and inspecting it with what he knew to be exaggerated criticism. He watched her, irked. These teachers were truly full of themselves and Draco felt it was time for another letter to his father about it. When Madam Hooch finally opened the door and announced that their work was good and their detention complete, Draco stood, brushed at his robes and swept past her, out onto the pitch.

A moment later, he felt the air move next to him and saw Ginny pass him by, striding off the pitch and up the lawn. Her pace said clearly that she had no desire to be near him, or to have another encounter with him. It was offensive, and Draco’s first instinct was to follow her and plague her just for that. But instead he slowed, and watched her continue toward the castle. The sun was very nearly down. Hogwarts was bathed in burnt orange light, and Ginny’s hair absorbed and reflected it as she walked.

She’d hit him in the head, Draco reminded himself quickly. She’d laughed at him. She’d been the reason they’d had a detention in the first place, and Draco knew there was no reason at all for him to hang back watching her like this. He put two fingers to his forehead where the twig had stung him and rubbed the spot, scowling. He continued to rub it as he traveled back inside and down into the Slytherin common room, though it certainly no longer hurt, and he only dropped his hand when he entered the fifth year boys’ dormitory and caught sight of himself in the mirror.

The center of his forehead looked red and irritated. Even from across the room, Draco was arrested by this strange addition to his reflection. He couldn’t help but think what it reminded him of. And even though he certainly didn’t want one – it was revolting to see a scar in the middle of someone’s forehead – Draco couldn’t help but reflect that if he had one, life would be a little different.

Feeling sullen and wronged, Draco shoved back the hangings on his four-poster and fell back onto his bed to sulk. If he had Potter’s little past, he wouldn’t have gotten that detention. Of course, if he had Potter’s past, Ginny Weasley wouldn’t have pulled her wand on him in the first place. And she would never have dismissed him. Draco could still see the look she’d had on her face when she’d so easily brushed him off, and he was enraged. He should be the one brushing her off. But he wasn’t. It seemed he couldn’t. And in a rare moment of honesty with himself, Draco realized that the problem was he didn’t even want to.

Sickened by the thought, Draco sat up abruptly. He couldn’t lie here entertaining any more abhorrent ideas – this was unthinkable. Absurd. He had homework to do before tomorrow, and he’d be damned if he was going to show up in Potions tomorrow without it perfected and make a mess of his elixir with Potter and his convoys looking on. He got up from his bed and strode into the common room, determined to maintain his usual command.

"Goyle," he barked, upon seeing him making a mess of his potion ingredients across the room. "Get over here and bring your dandelion roots." Goyle got to his feet unthinkingly and made a lunge past Crabbe, tripping and knocking both his own and Crabbe’s ingredients to the floor. Goyle grunted at the mess and bent over awkwardly to try and clean it from Crabbe’s boat-like shoes. Crabbe leaned forward to assist in this, and in doing so he smacked his head against Goyle’s.

Draco made a noise of utter impatience, appalled by their futile attempts at something so simple. The two of them were useless apart and even worse together – one day they would be trained. He settled himself in the best chair by the fire and crossed his arms, waiting for them to recover themselves and bring him what he wanted.

"Here, Draco –" a familiar, breathy, tittering sort of voice cut across his thoughts. "I’ve cut twice as many as we need for tomorrow while you were gone." Pansy alit in the chair nearest his by the fire and gave him her usual syrupy smile, holding out a handful of perfectly clipped dandelion roots. Draco snorted softly at this not at all unusual offer and gestured to the table, where Pansy dutifully deposited the roots in a pile for him. He watched, detesting her for being so absolutely servile. Hadn’t she learned anything, growing up in her house? The Parkinsons were in his own circle, but Pansy was practically a disgrace.

"The Ball was officially announced this afternoon, you know. For Christmas day," she continued, pausing to allow Draco to volunteer an invitation. When he refused to reply, however, her smile did not falter. She simply scooted closer to him and found another topic.

"Where did you go after class?" she asked, making her eyes wide and expectant.

Draco looked at her briefly. Her pug nose, half-lit by the fire, was very unattractive. Even less attractive was the way she leaned forward, raptly attentive to him, hanging on his every word.

"Were you outside practicing something new for Quidditch?" she guessed, giving him a silly little smirk that Draco supposed was meant to be flirtatious.

No, Draco imagined replying casually. I was down in the broom shed with Ginny Weasley.

He snickered aloud at Pansy’s imagined reaction. She frowned in confusion at the inappropriate sound, and Draco shifted his eyes to the roots she’d cut for him. They looked about the same size as the twigs he’d been clipping earlier and he wondered what Pansy would do if he threw one at her head.

"I was busy," he said shortly, shaking his head at her when she opened her mouth to pry further. That was all she was getting out of him. And it was true that he’d been busy – he’d been held in detention with a Weasley, who, considering her family’s position, ought to be acting toward him the way that Pansy was acting now.

Ought to. But she wouldn’t.

 

The Library

Draco didn’t know why he was bothering with the library tonight and yet he headed toward it distractedly, at high speed, hardly listening to the labored breathing of Crabbe and Goyle as they worked to keep up with this unusual pace. They were used to his lazy stride, but that wasn’t good enough tonight. He couldn’t concentrate on anything, least of all the piles of homework he had waiting for him this weekend. His mind was wholly occupied with tomorrow and with knocking Potter out of the sky. The match against Gryffindor was to take place in the morning and Draco was ready to strike. He had never been so filled with the desire to destroy. And since the afternoon in the broom shed he’d been on pins and needles, watching the crowds in the corridors around him, making perfectly sure to avoid her.

It wasn’t difficult, really, seeing as she was a year his junior and rarely in the same areas of Hogwarts that he was, during the school day. He didn’t have to try to avoid her. But more than once he’d seen her approaching and instinctively detoured on the way to his own classes. Just yesterday, he’d ducked behind an unfamiliar tapestry and ended up in a room he’d never before seen. Crabbe and Goyle hadn’t really seemed to notice that anything was wrong with him. They hadn’t even noticed that he was leading them in the wrong direction. And sometimes, he reflected, it was lucky that they were so entirely dim. He wouldn’t have taken well to questions and he wasn’t about to offer explanations.

He really didn’t know if he could explain it anyway. He only knew it wasn’t natural. It wasn’t right. It was just a restless feeling that made his stomach writhe whenever she came around corners, but that was all. That was all. She was, regardless of her bloodline, only one step up from a Mudblood. She wasn’t even pretty. Her freckles were totally lopsided – there were more scattered on one half of her face than there were on the other. Not to mention that outlandish hair. What was she trying to prove, with that hair? She was just a weak little nothing who looked like somebody had set her head on fire.

That thought was untrue, but it gave him a certain crude satisfaction and he reveled in it, pushing aside another tapestry and marching onward toward the library, his fine hair falling in his eyes. Yes. She was a stupid, arrogant, poor, pathetic, Potter-loving little girl with too many miserable brothers stationed around her all the time.

Draco pushed back his hair contemptuously, turned another corner without breaking his stride and shoved open the library doors without consideration for who or what might be on the other side.

There was a loud smack as he collided with a student in his path, followed by several dull thumps and the sound of pages fluttering as a schoolbag and a stack of books toppled to the floor. Draco came to an abrupt halt, feeling Crabbe and Goyle pull up close behind him, still breathing hard.

Ginny Weasley faced him. Her things were all over the floor.

He’d just knocked entirely against her, and it was with incredible effort that Draco managed to ignore this fact and fix her with a hostile stare. For a moment they did nothing but stare, but it was only a moment, and then her eyes were gone. She had dropped down to gather her books from the floor.

Draco made no move to help her. He stood and watched her, bent at his feet, quickly retrieving her belongings. It was a gratifying position to see her in, really. He welcomed the sense of power and excitement that it brought. He could almost pretend that she was groveling.

Until she stood again, with everything in her arms, and caught his eyes.

Draco caught his breath, loudly enough that he heard it and worried that she had, too. Her hair was disheveled, her face pink from being bent over, and she kept steady eye-contact, clearly not afraid of him at all. Draco found himself unwillingly captivated by the disorder of her appearance. He’d never seen her flushed except in embarrassment, and she had to throw back her hair to get it out of her eyes. It was amazing that she could stand here, an absolute mess, and still manage to be somehow enthralling. That simply wasn’t the way things should be. It irritated him greatly, yet another thing to add to the list where she was concerned.

It wasn’t until Crabbe made a grunting sound behind him that Draco realized he was still staring, unmoving, at Ginny. He became aware again of Crabbe and Goyle at his back, and knew that they were awaiting some sign from him to tell them what to do. Ginny, too, was staring at him in silence, clearly awaiting some sign from him as well. But her expression now was full of suspicion, and also some confusion in the slight furrow between her brows. Even her eyebrows, Draco noticed, had a slight hint of gold in them, like her hair. He noticed - and immediately realized that he had better say something quick to end this dangerous silence.

He drew a deep breath, thinking to say something scathing about her keeping out of the path of her betters, when he suddenly remembered the sound of her voice in his head.

Do you ever stop being nasty for five seconds?

His breath caught again, but this time it was with indignation, not surprise. He hadn’t had an answer for her back in the broom shed, and the truth was that she didn’t deserve one. It was an impudent, stupid question, and he wasn’t about to dignify it with a response, even though he’d had quite a few days to think on one. But right now, with her wary gaze on him, he felt the indignation of it filling him so that it was a struggle not to burst.

Of course he could stop. She had some gall to even suggest that there was anything he couldn’t do. He could do whatever he set his mind to. Just as he was going to beat Potter in the match tomorrow, so could he prove her wrong. Stop being nasty? Of course he could. And wouldn’t she be shocked, stupid, presumptuous little girl.

He said the first thing that came to his mind, and he said it slowly and clearly, just so that she’d be certain to catch every word. "Nice hair, Weasley."

But her eyes didn’t widen with shock, much to his disappointment and frustration. Instead, she actually rolled them, and the openly wary and perplexed expression she had worn a moment before now turned to one of disgust. She made a sound half-way between a guffaw and a sigh, then tossed her head again to fling her mussed hair out of her face.

Was she taunting him with that move? Draco scowled, but before he could say anything more she clutched her books more closely to her chest and stepped around him, head held high. She spared no glance for Crabbe or Goyle, just stepped around them as well and reached out with a steady hand to open the Library door. She swept out in silence, and the door swung shut behind her with a dull thud.

Draco stared at it, stared after her, stunned. Unbelievable. She had just walked out. It was beyond galling, and it was utterly confusing. It made no sense, how Potter could treat her with such indifference yet still have her complete devotion, while a comment from him earned nothing but her apathy. She should be grateful for any kind of attention, Draco thought angrily. She wasn’t likely to get it anywhere else. Especially not with that graceless attitude. But then again, what had he expected? She was a Weasley.

"What’s wrong?" Goyle grunted suddenly.

Draco frowned and looked to him. He and Crabbe were both watching him with deeply confused expressions, which was not at all a new sight. But even they could sometimes notice that something was amiss if it was standing right in front of them – and Draco realized he’d been standing here staring at the door through which Ginny had gone for rather a long time.

"Shut up." He snapped, flushing with anger. Just anger. He deliberately turned his back on the door. "How many times have I told you not to ask questions? Just go sit down or something before you hurt yourselves. I’ll find the books I need myself."

 

The Pitch

The score was twenty to ninety. It was going to come down to the Snitch. And by God, he was going to beat Potter.

Wind tore through Draco’s hair and he could feel the total destruction of his careful coiffure, but for once he hardly paid attention. Today he was going to do it – to catch it – to plow into the ground if that was really absolutely necessary. If only he could find it.

Draco swept his eyes over the grass and through the players, straining for a glimmer of fluttering silver wings and watching Potter for the first hint of a dive. He had to watch Potter. Spying the Snitch was Potter’s real ability. It wasn’t his flashy speed, or his tedious, show-off feinting. It was just that Potter always seemed to be the first person to notice the flash of gold they both were waiting for.

Even in storms, Draco thought irritably, jerking his broom to the side to avoid one of his own Chasers and returning to his distracted thoughts. He knew he ought to focus if he intended to win this, but found his mind wandering even as his eyes searched the field. Blasted Potter. It was as if Potter knew ahead of time where it was going to be, and Draco had wondered more than once if, somehow, Potter was cheating. Yes, that must be it. The Granger Mudblood had probably put some Snitch Spotting charm on Potter’s glasses.

His glasses.

Draco felt a rush of inspiration. Of course. Why had he never thought of it before? All he had to do was knock off those hateful glasses at the last second, and Potter’d never have a chance. It could easily be made to look like an accident. It was truly a brilliant idea. Draco glanced down the pitch toward the person most likely to interfere with this new strategy, but as Keeper, Weasley was trapped near the posts. He wouldn’t be able to get near enough to stop it. And when he, Draco, held up the Snitch at the end of the game, it would be clear who the better man was. Clear to everyone.

Feeling quite as if he’d already won, Draco pulled up close behind his enemy’s Firebolt, making the space between their brooms uncomfortably tight. Potter shot a glare over his shoulder and Draco was so involved in smirking back at him that he was nearly pummeled by a Bludger. He ducked, dropping meters in the air, away from Potter’s tail, and felt a wind rush by his face – another Bludger. Draco spun in midair to see the faces of those cheap imitation twins hanging on either side of him, leering. And when Draco shot up after Potter once more, the twins followed suit, gripping their brooms with their knees in order to smack their bats menacingly against their open palms. Barbarians. It was astonishing that they were even related to their sister.

Draco jumped inwardly at this unexpected thought, jerking his head to get rid of it. No. She had nothing to do with this. He commanded himself to focus, shooting forward on his broom to evade the ugly distraction of the Gryffindor Beaters and continue to pursue his own target. This was entirely between himself and Potter.

Potter, who was already diving.

Panicking, Draco launched into a steep dive he could hardly control, hurtling with all the speed he could muster – accelerating – gaining – near enough now to seize the Firebolt’s tail – close enough now to pull his nemesis back by his garish, scarlet robes. They were neck and neck, screaming through the air, nearly to the Snitch. Finally Draco had his opportunity. He was perfectly positioned to knock Potter. Hard.

Potter stretched out his fingers toward their goal. Draco took aim. Summoning all the force he possessed, he shunted inches to his right, slamming Potter’s left shoulder with his own. The Firebolt spun dizzily sideways. Potter’s glasses were sent flying from his face.

But to Draco’s horror, at the very same moment, Potter’s already outstretched fingers groped outward, closing blindly around the Snitch. And though the Firebolt hit the ground with a satisfying thud moments later and Potter tumbled painfully onto the grass, his fingers stayed tightly shut. Draco could make out one silver wing, beating uselessly against Potter’s palm. He had done it again. It was over. Again.

Behind him, Draco heard the stands erupt into cheers, foot-stomping and wild applause. Three-quarters of Hogwarts was screaming itself hoarse with happiness. He watched Potter for another moment, dully, suddenly too weary even to be revolted by the fact that the entire Gryffindor team had swarmed around Potter, shouting joyfully and throwing their fists into the air. Weasley was picking up his glasses and handing them back; Potter sat up in a daze and fixed them on his face, grinning with the full measure of his pretentious modesty.

Draco turned away. Unthinkingly his eyes found the Gryffindor section and traveled up its stands, fixing on the unmistakable flash of red and gold that was Ginny Weasley’s hair. She was hugging Granger, and the two of them were clearly overcome with excitement; they were bouncing up and down childishly and making a terrible noise. After a moment, Ginny pulled herself away, threw both her arms into the air and hollered something unintelligible. Her face was alight with happiness – she shone at Potter. Her focus was entirely his. And Draco knew, with a nauseating thump of his gut, that the scene would not have been reversed had he himself caught the Snitch. Ginny wouldn’t be yelling for him – shining at him. She’d be cursing him for knocking Potter to the ground.

Draco made a rocky landing and smacked his Nimbus Two Thousand and One back over his shoulder. He hated Potter. He hated Quidditch. He hated the fact that the members of his own team, far from offering brotherly support to him for the loss, were taking turns shooting him sour looks of disapproval and scorn. He hated that his father would want to know exactly what had happened, and that there would be nothing but censure and derision when he found out. He hated the Slytherin stands and the incessant, impotent snarls they were sending toward Gryffindor.

He hated that Pansy was already hovering in wait for him on the edge of the pitch, having squeezed between Crabbe and Goyle where he couldn’t fail to miss her, a look of affected concern pasted across her face. He knew what she would say. She’d said it before, after every match he’d ever lost. She’d say that Potter had definitely cheated, that Draco had played wonderfully, that it was all so very unfair.

Not interested in her lying flattery, Draco cut by her without a word and left her with her mouth hanging open. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Potter and Weasley coming off the field. Granger joined them, still bouncing stupidly on the balls of her feet, her bushy head bobbing.

And with her was Ginny, for once apparently too thrilled to keep silent, reaching out to touch Weasley’s arm as she smiled openly at Potter. "Brilliant catch," he heard her declare.

Draco slammed open the locker room door, wondering how difficult it would be to drown himself in the shower.

 

The Common Room

Almost as soon as he sat down at the table, Draco regretted having come up to the Great Hall for dinner at all. He should have gone with his instincts. He should have stayed down in the dormitory and brooded in peace.

The Hall was filled with the echoes of cheerful conversation. The Gryffindor table was practically riotous, and even across the distance of the Hall Draco could make out snippets of the conversation; Quidditch talk, all of it. Praise for Potter. As always. The Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables were only marginally less cheerful.

The Slytherin table was a bit more subdued, but he took no comfort in that. Nobody was really talking to him, as it was pretty obvious that no member of the Slytherin Quidditch team was much in the mood for conversation. Draco was pleased to be left mostly alone, but irritated nonetheless at the subtle current of excitement that still shot down the Slytherin table. This wasn’t excitement about the match. He knew what it was about, and it did nothing to improve his mood.

Directly opposite him on the other side of the table was Pansy, and she was talking to Crabbe, of all people, on Draco’s left side. Her words were directed at Crabbe, but Draco could feel her eyes straying toward him as she spoke. He refused to look up from his plate, scowling at his stew.

"You know, Vincent," Pansy was saying in a sympathetic sort of voice, "You could always ask Millicent to go the Ball with you. I rather thought you would have done so by now. You’re perfect for each other."

Crabbe made an unintelligible grunting sound, translatable by those who unfortunately knew him as an expression of anxiety.

Draco scowled more fiercely and began to stir his stew with his spoon, forcing himself to watch the clumps of meat and potato push their way through the thick sauce. It was better than watching other things. Better than lifting his head and being forced to face the Gryffindor table, where he knew exactly what he would see.

No, he shouldn’t have come down to dinner. He should just leave, go to the Owlery, and send off the letter to his father explaining about the Quidditch match so that he could put it all behind him. He’d send the letter, his father would send a reply tomorrow telling him how severely disappointed he was in his son, speak harshly of his incompetence, and then it would be over. Until the next time.

Down at the far end of the table, he could just make out the sound of Blaise Zabini talking to a pretty fourth year, inviting her to the Ball. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Millicent Bulstrode approaching, making a threatening sort of advance on Crabbe. He could feel Pansy’s eyes on him. Expectant. He stirred his stew more viciously.

"Well, I think I’m all full." Pansy said momentarily, with an air of forced casualness. "Maybe I’ll just head down to the common room and work on that report on Love Potions." She paused, then said suggestively, "Should I wait for you, Draco?"

"No." Draco snapped quickly, without lifting his gaze.

Pansy gave an almost inaudible sigh, and stared at him in silence for a moment before finally leaving. Draco clenched his jaw against a relieved sigh of his own, and gripped his spoon tightly in a fist, churning with even more vigor at the stew.

But almost instantly, he regretted having driven Pansy away. Because now the seat across from him was vacant, and he had a clear line of sight to the Gryffindor table. It was as though his hearing suddenly became ten times more acute. He could make out the sounds of individual conversations from those bloody Gryffindors. He heard one of those despicable twins talking loudly to a girl he was clearly inviting to the Ball. Draco wondered how any girl could be desperate enough to accept an invitation from one of those identical idiots, unless she did so out of sheer pity, because they really were pitiable. If he had a face like that and had to see it reflected every day on some awful twin, he’d curse himself.

More pitiful was the sight of Weasley, fumbling to talk to that awful-haired nag he was always sniping at. He wasn’t sniping now, however. On the contrary, he seemed to be attempting to set up some kind of crude invitation of his own. Draco raised his goblet disdainfully and swallowed. Weasley clearly didn’t have the slightest clue what he was doing, yet that idiot Granger was looking at him as if he were spouting poetry. Her standards were obviously nonexistent. Of course, what more could one expect, from a Mudblood?

Draco regarded the distasteful scene, realizing slowly that he didn’t have to watch it. He could always decide to look over one seat to Granger’s right. But he had an idea that what he would find there would be difficult to face and so he kept his eyes fixed on a spot just over Granger’s head, willing himself not to move them. Unable to resist for very long, however, he shifted his eyes the necessary fraction.

She was there. Watching Potter. Predictably. Her brown eyes flitted from her plate to his face and back again and her face was pink beneath her freckles. Draco wondered if she was hoping to be asked to the Ball herself, and if so, was she expecting her invitation to come from her hero? Draco glanced at Potter’s face and scowled to see him as oblivious as usual. He felt a sudden, cruel urge to inform Ginny it was never going to happen – to walk by and hiss at her for being so senselessly persistent – when Potter got abruptly to his feet and strode around the table with decision.

Ginny’s eyes followed him. Her face paled as he came deliberately around toward her and Draco saw her swallow, hard. But Potter didn’t stop at her seat. He didn’t even seem to notice her. Instead, he walked behind her and came to a halt at the Ravenclaw table, where he went about quietly addressing Cho Chang. A moment later, Cho nodded briefly and Draco reflected with high satisfaction that it was fitting to see Potter running after Diggory’s leftovers. It was an appropriate situation for him. For a moment, Draco felt much better about his Quidditch loss.

However, when he returned his gaze to Ginny’s crestfallen face, Draco felt his breath do something odd. Either she was allowing her hurt to show in public, or she simply couldn’t help it. She had thrown her head back slightly and was looking at the ceiling of the Great Hall in what could only be an attempt to stop tears. The ceiling’s moon shone on her face and for a moment she seemed to have forgotten she was in a room full of dinner plates and raucous noise and people.

So had Draco forgotten. When Ginny pushed up from her table a moment later, heading with some speed toward the doors of the Hall, Draco rose and followed, waving a hand behind him at Crabbe and Goyle, who were prepared to trudge along after him as usual.

"Stay there."

He didn’t want them now. He wanted out of the Hall. He just wasn’t hungry, he told himself, moving quickly to the doors and going through them. He was full and there was no good reason to linger in a roomful of noise. Instinct propelled him directly toward the corridor that led to the Slytherin stairway, but the moment he realized where he was going he wheeled around to face the Hall doors once more. He wasn’t even fully conscious of his reasoning, until he saw it standing in front of him.

Outside the doors stood Ginny. Draco couldn’t see her face and yet he was arrested by what was happening. The curtain of her hair hid her expression as she endured an invitation to the Ball from a Gryffindor boy in her year. Draco only recognized him because he was so fantastically annoying. It was that miserable Potter enthusiast, Creevey, and he was actually asking Ginny as his dance partner.

Ginny listened, but did not reply at first. Draco watched as her head turned almost imperceptibly toward the Great Hall and she looked inside a moment before seeming to make a decision. Her spine visibly straightened and she turned back toward Creevey, tucking her hair behind one ear as she did so and revealing her profile. She was smiling kindly.

"Yes, of course, Colin. I’d love to."

Creevey beamed. Draco felt ill. That imbecile was going to take her, and she was going to spend the entire night wishing it had been Potter. Oh, she was chatting brightly enough now, but Draco had seen her face in the Hall when Potter had asked Cho Chang, and he knew the truth. And he wasn’t going to stand here idly, listening to her laugh with Creevey and watching her maintain composure over Potter, and cursing himself for not following her out here five seconds sooner and...

And...

Feeling he might actually retch at what he’d been about to do, Draco turned violently on his heel and rushed toward the entrance to the Slytherin stairs, forcing his mind around a few truths. She was one of them. She was a Weasley and a Gryffindor. Filth just like her brothers. He, however, was at the top of his House and his father was at the top of the world. He was the Malfoy heir and even if he wanted – even if he really, really wanted

Draco slowed his pace slightly, and forced his breath to be regular. He was halfway down into the dungeon and the light was dim. The stones were cold. He reached up to be sure of his hair. No Gryffindor was going to cause him an undignified entrance into his own common room, least of all some stupid girl who had the indecency to attach herself to Potter. He didn’t want her. How could he? She was thoroughly contaminated by Potter; she had been his, first. And Draco would have nothing – nothing – that had once belonged to Potter. Potter, who had won another match. Potter, everyone’s brave, endangered golden boy. Potter, who had gotten himself a date to the Ball and tossed blind devotion aside in the process.

Well, Potter was a simpleton. Devotion had its definite advantages.

He knew exactly what he’d see when he entered the Slytherin common room, and as he stepped into the greenish glow of the hanging lamps, his expectations were fulfilled. There, sitting at a small table near the elaborately carved fireplace, was Pansy. She was slumped over the table in a very dejected manner, staring down at the book in front of her with a morose expression that looked more like a pout than anything else on her pug-nosed face.

Before the dungeon door even closed behind Draco, she lifted her head and turned to face him, as though she could just sense his presence. She was always anticipating his every move, and usually Draco found it severely annoying. But at the moment, it was only gratifying. Here was devotion. Unlike Potter, he knew what it looked like. And it did indeed have its advantages. Even after he had shunned her at dinner, here she was, smiling a bit tentatively, and waiting for him. Because she had been waiting for him, there was no doubt about that.

Draco narrowed his eyes, inspecting her face by the light of the fire. She wasn’t pretty, she never would be. Her hair was limp and dull, possessing no inner life, no fire. Her face was hard-angled and pasty, no expressive smile, no spatters of color. And of course, there was very little pleasing about Pansy’s personality. She wasn’t insolent or brave or captivating like….some people. But what did it matter? In the end, Pansy was one thing – she was ambitious. And her one real ambition was him.

He wasn’t Potter. He wasn’t going to walk around like a moron, oblivious to someone like Ginny Weasley and the utter devotion she offered him. He wasn’t Potter. And there was no Ginny here. But there was devotion, and that, he told himself fiercely, was something he deserved. Far more than Potter. At least he could see it. And he knew how to use it.

Pansy’s weak smile had faltered under his long, cold inspection. But when he strode across the common room directly toward her, she straightened in her chair and replaced the smile, looking up at him with wide, expectant eyes.

He didn’t even give her time to speak. He stopped directly in front of her table and looked down at her. "My dress robes have silver this year." He said flatly. "Be sure you don’t clash."

Her face lit up instantly. Her smile widened, a flush touched her cheeks. She beamed up at him. She positively shone. Just as Ginny - no, Weasley. Just as Weasley had for Potter.

So be it.

"Of course!" Pansy said breathlessly, the happiness evident in her suddenly high voice. "I already picked them out to match!"

Draco gave a curt nod of approval and then turned his face away. He didn’t want to talk to her. He didn’t want to look at her right now. But neither did he want to go upstairs alone, where he’d lie awake on his bed and think of another face, another voice…

So he sat down, in a seat facing the fire, the table between himself and Pansy. He kept his profile to her, and tried to ignore the sound of her continued, cheerful chattering. She could carry on a conversation quite well without his help.

He watched the fire. He stared into the heart of it, the purple ripples of color that streaked along the wood, trying not to think about how the surrounding orange flames brought other things to mind. No. Fire burned. One did not reach out for fire, no matter how mesmerizing. But he watched.

Draco sat in silence, and watched the fire burn for a very long time.

 

Rom: Is she a Capulet?

O Dear account! my life is my foes' debt.

Ben: Away, be gone, the sport is at the best.

Rom: Ay, so I fear, the more is my unrest.

~Romeo & Juliet, Act I, Sc. V

 

 

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