Part Four:

He was not handling things well at all, Pansy noted with a hidden smirk. Of course, she hadn’t really expected him to when she’d realized exactly why her redheaded friend had asked for those masking lessons a few days before. It had been pretty amusing, if she did say so herself, to watch Ginny pointedly close herself off every time Draco started to put up his legendary dungeon mask around her. Each time it happened the blond would lose even the smirk that had been a part of his mask for so long. His jaw would clench in irritation noticeable only to someone as familiar with him as she was. Then he’d cross his arms and store up all the anger and annoyance until the youngest Weasley had left, at which point he would brood. Miserably.

It was great.

The princess of Slytherin could barely hold back the laugh bubbling up inside of her as icy blue eyes darted back and forth between the room’s two other occupants. Ginny was doing a rather brilliant job of covering every thought and feeling she had as she and Draco discussed a shielding spell she’d learned in DADA that week. And it was driving dear mister Malfoy bloody nutters. Damn but this was fun, the brunette snake thought with a silent cackle.

For all that the noise was purely within her head, the blond seemed to somehow get a hint of his housemate’s amusement and spun suddenly in his chair to fix the girl with a hard glare. Pansy simply smiled with chilly enjoyment.

“Something the matter, little brother?”

“No,” Draco responded tersely. “And I’m not little.”

This time she truly couldn’t hold back the smirk. “Compared to me you are. I am, after all, the elder sibling here.”

Steel eyes narrowed. “Please, you aren’t even a year older than me.”

Pansy grinned. Their comparative ages never failed to get under her brother’s skin. Which of course was why she saw fit to bring them up routinely. “I’m ten months your senior.”

“That’s still less than a year,” he pointed out, just as she knew he would.

“Yes, of course it is,” the dungeon princess agreed almost mockingly.

Draco glared again, grumbling under his breath as he turned back to the textbook before him and Pansy laughed, shutting her own book with a flourish. “Fine, if you’re going to be such an ill-tempered bore, I’m heading back to the common room.”

Ginny’s head snapped up at her announcement and for a few seconds, her newly forged mask slipped, revealing a mingling of fear and anticipation as she watched her friend gather her things to leave. “You’re going?”

The brunette nodded. “I’ve got all my homework done and just feel like relaxing, away from mister good-mood over there. But don’t worry, I’ll stay in Slytherin so no one will see me and have a chance to wonder why you aren’t done being tutored,” she reassured with a wave before giving her brother an almost encouraging one-finger salute and leaving the small dungeon room.

Grey eyes rolled in annoyance. That annoyance, however, quickly escalated when he returned his attention to the freckled face in front of him, only to have it return to its stony mask as soon as his gaze landed on it. Bloody hell but that was getting irritating, he thought as they went back to discussing the variable intricacies of Protego. So irritating did it get as he watched the lack of expression on his friend’s face that he could no longer contain himself.

He slammed the text shut between them, finding some small amount of pleasure in the way the littlest Weasley jumped in her seat. “Stop it,” he demanded as the tome sat closed on the table.

Ginny fixed him with a look equal parts confusion and irritation. Good, let her feel a little of what he’d had to deal with these past few days, he thought, secretly delighted to see some little bit of emotion on her face at last.

“Stop what?”

He made an imperious gesture at her face with a sneer. “That. That stone-face shite you’ve been pulling lately.”

She cocked a single eyebrow in response and a little snakey voice in the back of his head cheered the entirely un-Gryffindoric expression. “It’s not shite, one would think that you of all people would see that, you being the king snake of the dungeon mask and all.”

He took a second to silently absorb the fully deserved praise. Then he crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s complete shite here.”

“Oh, is it really?” He rankled at the condescending tone she used.

“Damn right. And it gets damned annoying with you using it all the time.”

“I don’t use it all the time,” she contradicted, “just when the wonder triplets ask about tutoring.” Her tone was just this side of innocent and had he been a little less pissed off, he would have applauded her for it. But he was pissed off, quite pissed off as a matter of fact, and he let it show.

“The bloody hell you don't. You’ve been using it constantly the last few days. You were using it just now.” Draco’s voice rose so that he was almost shouting by the time he was done, all traces of his usual calm, self-assured dignity gone as he locked glares with the red-haired witch.

“Oh yes, so I was. Must be awful taxing to have someone completely close themselves off whenever you’re around.” Again with the infuriating condescension. It made the blond want to spit fire.

“What the bloody fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Ginny just stared back at him, but he could see emotions warring underneath the slipping mask. Anger, frustration… hurt? He threw both arms into the air with a curse.

“An explanation would be really helpful about now, you know.”

“Would it really? Then how about you give me one?”

“Me?” Draco yelled, one hand held indignantly to his chest.

“Yes, you!” Her chair tumbled to the floor as she suddenly stood, leaning forward slightly to point a finger into his chest as she yelled back. “You and that stupid smirk and those damn dead eyes when we talk. What the hell is it you always have to hide from me, huh? What can’t you show me?”

The anger seemed to drain out of her as suddenly wet pools of chocolate locked with his. “I thought we were friends, Draco. I thought we might…”

He struggled to retain the frustration that had burned through him only seconds before, but the quiet, almost forlorn sound of her voice ripped it from him and the Prince of Slytherin found himself standing before her with only confusion and something he had yet to name, running through him.

“We are friends, Ginny.” She nearly flinched at his use of her given name and he clenched his fists at his side. Ah, now there was that frustration again. “Damn it all! I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“The truth,” she muttered at her feet as she stared down at the stone floor. “Why do you put on the mask around me so much? Why do you hide from me if we’re really friends?”

Draco ran a hand roughly through his white-blond hair. “I don’t- I wasn’t- I can’t-” He cut himself off with a sound of angry confusion, somewhere between a huff and a growl.

“What, Draco?”

He half expected there to be tears on her face as she looked back up at him demandingly, but apparently she was a bit tougher than that as the only thing apparent on her pale, freckled cheeks was the red blush of her anger. “What? Tell me, damn it. I want to know.”

She wanted to know, did she? She wanted to know what it was he always felt such a need to not let her see? Did she really? Well, of course she did. She’d spent the past five days needling him with her own mask to apparently give him a taste of her own frustration, to torture him with his confusion and irritation. In the back of his mind, he admired the rather Slytherin tactic, but the rest of him was too busy boiling over. If she really wanted to know, he’d tell her. No. Better yet, he’d show her. Yes, he decided, he’d show her.

And so with two swift, livid steps, he reached her, then pulled her even closer and crushed his mouth to hers. The pose was only held for a few short seconds before they both stepped back, almost as one, staring at each other in wide-eyed, red-cheeked shock.

“That,” Draco gasped. “That’s why. That’s what I was hiding.” His tone grew clipped with his mounting panic as he realized exactly what he’d just done. “Are you happy now?”

Before he could become any more upset at himself, however, the lion answered him with a widening smirk that looked entirely too snake-like for his faltering self-control. “Yes. I rather think I am.”

The words hung in the tense air for a mere moment as full realization seeped into the two minds. Then, before further thought or examination could occur, they were both moving forward, colliding almost violently as their lips joined for a second time. This kiss lasted much longer than the previous one had, and after a while, it turned into a third kiss, and then a fourth.

Eventually, however, as with all good things, reality slowly reasserted itself and the two teenagers became aware of the time, and the fact that they would soon be missed if they did not leave the sanctuary of this small room. Even as this knowledge became apparent to them both, they remained where they were, grey freezing brown as chocolate burned into steel. But even that came to an end and short words were exchanged by swollen mouths as they gathered their things and went their separate ways with intense gazes tossed over retreating backs.

For his part, Draco made his way to the Slytherin common room in a kind of daze and settled into his favorite armchair by the crackling fire, his mind so wrapped up in what had just happened that he barely registered the fact that Pansy flashed him a wickedly satisfied grin on her way to her dorm. What had he done? What had Ginny done? What had he and Ginny done… together? It was almost too much to digest. Not that he was in any way unhappy about it. No, he was exactly the opposite, and that was the problem.

He wasn’t use to this feeling, this… happiness. It threw him off balance and a part of him liked it, liked the fact that she could do that to him. For all that she was a Gryffindor, and a Weasley to boot, Ginny was just the sort of Slytherin he’d always admired. She was smart and sneaky, and not afraid to show it when warranted. She knew how to keep him on his toes, and while he knew he could do the same to her, she never let it get to her, or throw her off. At least not too much, he thought with a smirk as he recalled the look of shock that had frozen itself on her face when he’d kissed her.

She gave as good as she got, but the lion in her made her pleasant to be around, fun in a way that most snakes weren’t, if only because he didn’t feel the need to watch his back when he was with her like he did with the members of his own house – Pansy excluded of course… well, most of the time.

The blond prince settled deeper into his chair with a well-concealed smile as he thought about his fellow students and friends. Friends. Who would have thought that Draco Malfoy would have real, honest friends? And maybe more? Certainly not him, the sixth-year concluded as he absently removed the scrap of parchment from the large owl that had just arrived for him. Absent interest turned to intense concentration as he read the hastily scribbled words however, and the air of relaxation and contentment that had surrounded him dissolved so swiftly no one would know it had been there to start with.

Of course, his carefully wrought mask having been firmly in place the whole time, no one in the dark common room noticed anything out of the ordinary as the Malfoy heir shoved the scrap in his robe pocket and searched the crowded common room for his sister. She had obviously not come back out of her dorm during the course of his musings however, leaving him with no way to get to her. Sending another snake for her was out of the question as it would draw too much attention, so he did the only other thing he could do; strode determinedly to the portrait hole and into the chilly hallways beyond.

The calm exterior began to crack as he hurried through the dungeons, fear freezing through him as his mind turned over and over the message he’d just received from his mother. It got to the point that he could hardly feel his fingers by the time he’d made it to the first set of stairs. He didn’t notice it however, the only thing really registering just then being the knowledge that he had to find her, he had to find Ginny. Fast.

End Part Four
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