Part Three:

She’d hated them.

Only three months before, she’d hated them, and she’d had a good reason to do so. They were Slytherins, after all. And not just any snakes, either, but the infamous dungeon duo, the prince and princess of the vilest, most despicable House that Hogwarts could boast. And now, they were her friends.

Not that anyone knew that, of course. No, as far as the rest of the student body was concerned, Pansy had been ordered – by Snape himself – to give the youngest Weasley some much-needed help preparing for her upcoming O.W.L.s and Ginny was grudgingly accepting the dark-haired Slytherin’s assistance.

The redhead had never thought that she would be grateful for the difficult exams she’d have to take at the end of the year, but she was, considering they provided a perfect excuse to meet with her new friend on a regular basis. And they did it in a way that kept The Trio off her back about her weekly excursions. All she had to do if Ron or Harry started giving her grief about meeting with Pansy was mention they were studying and Hermione automatically jumped in on her behalf, telling the boys how responsible Ginny was being by starting her studying so early (though not quite as early as the brunette herself had done her fifth year) and by accepting help offered to raise her score, even if the help was from Parkinson.

Ginny smothered a rather wicked smirk that, if seen, would remind far too many people of a certain blond prat, whom she had discovered over the past three months wasn’t quite as big of a prat as everyone thought. Not to say he wasn’t a prat, he was, oh how he was. But he wasn’t nearly the black-hearted, Azkaban-bound, spawn of evil that she’d always seen him as.

He seemed close at times, she had to admit, but only if he was really angry, and only for a moment. He couldn’t help it, bastard was bred into him, according to Pansy, a legacy from his father, which, of course, the older girl had been spared since Mr. Parkinson was a much better specimen of male snake than Lucius had been. The redhead couldn’t help the slight chuckle that broke free as she thought about the different opinions the older girl held in regards to her brother, opinions the dark-haired Slytherin voiced frequently, much to Draco’s irritation.

The chuckle grew, bursting forth from the youngest Weasley as she entered the small dungeon room to find her two friends engaged in a less than dignified tug-of-war over a package of chocolate frogs. Two pairs of icy orbs, one the chilly blue of their mother, one the steel grey of his father, fixed her with matching glares at the sound of her laughter. Ginny shook her head and laughed harder.

“Tsk, tsk,” she stated, shaking her finger at the two squabbling siblings. “What would your snakey subjects say if they were to see their prince and princess fighting over chocolates?”

Draco’s glare turned colder even as he looked away from the fifth-year’s brown eyes and straightened his robes. Pansy caught the first frog as it jumped from its package and popped it into her mouth with a grin, blue pools darting back and forth between her brother and friend. The youngest Weasley mistook the expression for one of smug victory and rolled her eyes at the Slytherin, not noticing that the other girl’s grin widened when her coffee-colored orbs darted back over to the blond as he situated himself on the edge of the room’s small table.

They’d been meeting in this room twice a week since the new term had started almost three months before, taking advantage of its location in the seldom-used back halls of the dungeons. Not only was it out of the way, it was also strategically located only a brisk dash from the Potion master’s private rooms where even the most daring of Slytherins were unlikely to venture.

Ginny found it funny that she was in part relying on the professor she’d once feared to protect herself and her new friends. She’d been more than a little surprised when the greasy-haired Head of Slytherin had given them an excuse to meet by assigning Pansy as her Potions tutor, even if it had given the other students the impression that her Potions grade was lower than it really was, a side effect the professor had probably enjoyed.

In retrospect, however, it was quite logical for Snape to have helped them, given his role as spy and his relationship to the Malfoy family, a relationship she had been able to infer that fateful night when Draco had sought him out in his time of distress. The symbolism of that night and their choice of meeting-places was not lost on any of them either. It felt right for them to meet one another in the same room that had seen the conversation that had first started all this.

The redhead was pulled from those musings and thrust into others as she and Pansy took seats around the table the blond had chosen to use as his chair that evening, the three of them pulling parchment and quills from their bags. It was a familiar act, doing her homework with the two snakes, Ginny having decided early on that their tutoring ruse would work much better if she returned from her ‘sessions’ with her homework completed. Yet how many times since the end of her fourth year, had she sat at a table in her bedroom at the Burrow, or her common room in the Tower, to write a note or letter to the dark-haired girl beside her?

The first time she’d sent an owl to Pansy, she’d been almost fearful of the response she would receive, afraid she was falling into a trap or becoming the butt of a serpentine joke since, surely, the princess of the dungeons would not have sent her an owl simply out of a desire to correspond or form a friendship. Right? Wrong, as had been proved over the course of their owl-exchange. The Parkinson heir had truly wanted to talk, and talk they had, back and forth for months, until even that hadn’t been enough and the new friends had set a date for tea so as to finally talk face-to-face.

She could still remember that first time they’d seen one another since the end of the previous school year. They’d talked for hours, discussing so many topics one wouldn’t have thought they’d been owling regularly all summer. Pansy had given the youngest Weasley a tour of her ancestral estate and introduced her to both Mrs. Malfoy and Parkinson, the women who were both mother to the older girl in different ways.

Ginny had learned a lot about her friends that day, and the days that had followed during which they’d often found time to augment their written communication with face-to-face meetings. Well, she’d learned a lot about Pansy at any rate, anything she’d learned about Draco during those meetings had been due entirely to either the other girl, or pure luck. The blond had always been less than talkative when she’d seen him that summer, always wearing what Pansy called his dungeon mask.

It had bothered her at first, to know her new friend was hiding things from her when he covered his real emotions with bored eyes and his patent smirk. Eventually, however, as she grew more practiced at recognizing his expressions and could tell when he was wearing the mask and when he wasn’t, she became less bothered, and more curious. What exactly was he trying to cover up when he donned the mask? What was he thinking or feeling that he didn’t want anyone, even his two best – and only – friends to know?

And why the hell did he wear it around her so much?

That was really the thing that bothered her most, if she was honest. She didn’t like the fact that he felt the need to hide things when he was around her. In the months that she and Pansy had grown so close – close enough for the two girls to refer to one another as their best friend when no one who wasn’t supposed to might hear – Ginny had thought that she and Draco had grown close as well.

She considered him a friend, a close friend, and there were times she thought he felt the same, but if that were the case, why did he close himself off so often when he was around her? She didn’t understand, and Pansy had been little help in the area, having done little more than smirk and tell her to ask Draco. Ask Draco. As if it was that simple. Perhaps it would be easy for his sister, who had known him since they were infants, but not for the littlest Weasley with whom he had shared a mutual hatred until just recently.

But if she couldn’t ask him about it, then what could she do? Chocolate orbs regarded the blond still sitting on the table a few feet away, his body coiled around his parchment like the snake he was. What would he do in such a situation? If the girl he… if his friend, that is, were putting up a mask around him, how would he react? He’d put up his own of course. The Gryffindor’s lips curled in a rather Slytherin smirk. Of course. It was only fair, after all. If she couldn’t tell what the hell he was thinking, why should he be able to tell what she was thinking?

Yes, that was perfect. Every time he hardened his expression and deadened his eyes around her, she’d do the same. It might be somewhat of a challenge, as she was only passable at blanking her expression – something she’d had to learn over the months of her correspondence with Pansy so as to keep her family and The Trio from becoming suspicious of her activities. But with enough effort, and maybe a few lessons with a certain dark-haired princess of snakes that she knew so well to further cultivate her masking abilities, she was sure she could do it.

Yes, she could do it, whispered her inner snake, and the lion smirked as she bent over her parchment and set to work finishing her essay, so she could spend a while chatting with her friends before she would be expected back in the tower. She could do it, and she would. The only question left was, how would Draco react when she did?

End Part Three
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