Part Eight:

Ginny let out a sigh as she heard the door close behind her, feeling the tension begin to finally drain out of her shoulders, if only temporarily. The past two weeks had been among the worst since her first year. She'd known that her brother and his friends would react badly if they were to discover the friendships she'd formed, but when it had all come out, she still hadn't quite been prepared for the vehemence of their reaction. She'd tried to speak with them at first, but emotions had been running too high on both sides and it had quickly degenerated into a shouting match as The Trio had thrown accusations and she had leapt to the defense of not only herself, but that of her new friends as well.

She still felt she'd been more than justified in her actions, before and after the discovery of her ties to the green and silver royalty. It was no business of her brother or his friends who she associated with, be they lion or snake. It was her prerogative to share, or not share, the details of her personal life with whomever she so chose, and she'd be damned back to that dank Chamber if she let anyone else try to control any aspect of her life, including what portions of it she shared. She'd had more than enough of being controlled when Tom Riddle had been running about in her head.

She suppressed a shudder at the thought but didn't quite hide the grimace that accompanied it, causing grey eyes to narrow at her as the expression flashed across her face. "Trio giving you trouble?"

The question pulled her from her thoughts, focusing her attention on the tall blond standing in the middle of the small sitting room. He looked the slightest bit ruffled, probably from the aggravated pacing she was sure he'd been doing before she arrived. He was forever pacing lately, she noted, having grown ever more restless over the last two weeks. Restless and annoyed.

It wasn't so much that he was upset about being moved out of the Slytherin dorms, though he did resent the implication that he couldn't take care of himself in the veritable snake pit his House has become for him after Caralyna Parkinson's death; nor was it that he disliked the suite of rooms he now shared with his mother and sister. It wasn't even that he was now living with the two she-vipers, although he was strongly independent. He just didn't appreciate being cooped up. Especially when he considered it unnecessary.

While the Slytherins had indeed shown themselves to be more than a little put out with the three rogue snakes, they had done little about it. That, of course, wasn't for lack of their wanting to. Snape, as Draco had predicted, had known exactly how his House would react to the news. He had also known the best way to prevent the students from causing too much damage in response.

The Potions Master had waited for his own letter to arrive informing him of the wards' discovery and then stormed into the dungeon dorms. Using his guise of loyalty, he'd quickly cautioned the students not to react outright to the betrayal. As a Slytherin he could not tell them not to seek revenge, of course, but he did reminded them that getting caught would only be detrimental to the cause and bring too much attention to the loyal followers residing so conveniently within the school.

Snape's manipulation had preserved his own cover, and effectively prevented the snakes from going after their former prince and princess in too damaging a fashion. There were still problems, hissed threats and the occasion attempt at an anonymous round of hexes from afar, but it wasn't anything the siblings couldn't handle. Not that that fact prevented the blond from insisting that his mother and sister still needed to spend as much time as possible in their new rooms, should any snake disregard their Head of House's advice.

Such reasoning had only led to the two women stating that if it was too dangerous for them to wander the castle it was equally dangerous for him to do so. The resulting argument had been long, and presented in high volume, but had, in the end, yielded to numbers, giving Pansy and Narcissa the victory.

Draco had been less than pleased, though she had caught him eyeing the dark-haired witch with a somewhat approving expression afterwards. At the time, the argument had been the most life Pansy had shown since Caralyna's death and they had all been relieved to see it. She had since appeared to recover even more, but that didn't stop them from worrying about her, or from continuing the daily get-togethers the three had been holding in the aftermath. They had forgone the ruse of tutoring sessions, but they still did their homework together every night. They even still met occasionally in their room, though it was easier to meet in the Slytherins' suite instead.

It was so easy, in fact, that Ginny had found herself there more often than not, especially once their holiday break had started six days before. Not only was it a safe and convenient place to spend time with her friends, it was also infinitely more comfortable than her common room in the tower had been lately.

"A bit of trouble, I suppose," she responded as she sank into one of the two chair situated in front of the room's fireplace.

"What are they doing now?"

The redhead shrugged in an attempt to play down the fact that her three fellow lions were still giving her problems. "Harry just tried to corner me again, probably wanting to show me the 'error of my ways'."

Brown eyes rolled at the hero complex the older boy had been showing since he'd learned of her involvement with Draco and Pansy. He seemed entirely convinced that she was in desperate need of saving, and that he was the one to save her. "I wish he'd just leave well enough alone."

The blond frowned, eyes narrowing at the mention of his scarred nemesis, but Ginny couldn't tell if it was just a product of the Slytherin's general animosity towards the Boy-Who-Lived, or if it was something more than that. It seemed to her that the former prince of the dungeons had reacted a little more strongly than one might expect whenever she'd related The Trio's latest attempt at pulling her away from him and Pansy. There was always the possibility that she was reading too much into things, but she thought perhaps she'd seen the slightest hint of what could be jealousy.

It wasn't anything the stoically distant Draco Malfoy would willingly show, however, let alone admit. And even if it was, she wouldn't dare ask him about it now. Neither of them had made any mention of what had happened between them, and she wasn't sure what that meant. The nagging question hadn't bothered her as much at first, being too busy helping Pansy and dealing with The Trio. Now, however, while Harry, Ron, and Hermione were still a problem, the former snake princess was doing much better, leaving her with a lot of time to think about what had happened the night of the fateful owl, and what hadn't happened since.

They'd kissed, more than once, several times in fact, before Narcissa's missive had arrived, and again after Draco had told her and Pansy what had prompted the letter. Yet neither of them had said so much as a word about it, or hinted in any other fashion as to their feelings about the situation, or each other. There had been times when she thought her grey-eyed friend looked at her with something more than casual, or friendly, interest, but not being able to interpret the signs clearly, she had been too afraid of risking her friendship with the dethroned snake, and his sister, to make her own signs too clear.

Such ambiguity was safer, but did nothing to help resolve the questions, or the barely perceptible uncertainty that now underlay her and Draco's interactions. If they were to settle things, they would have to get them all out in the open. It was a daunting proposition, but she wasn't a Gryffindor for nothing. After all, they had to do something while they were waiting for Pansy to show up, they might as well get this dealt with.

Ginny swallowed hard as she shifted slightly in her chair to face the blond more fully. She took the deep breath needed to gather her nerves, and her tongue.

"So, do you want to go to Hogsmeade this weekend?"

His words burst into the silence with ever so much more speed than was characteristic of the sneaky dungeon cobra. The young wizard was leaning against the chair opposite her, looking almost as casual as he always did. She fought the urge to choke on the breath she had just taken, her stomach rising into her chest, only to plummet back into her gut as he quickly went on.

"I'm sure you've got Christmas shopping to do too, and I could certainly stand to be outside after being stuck down here so damn long."

Shopping and an escape from his relative captivity. The redhead pushed aside the rising disappointment, donning a cheerful facsimile of the dungeon mask she had perfected during their friendship. "Yeah, sure." She swallowed again, doing her best to imbue her voice with some enthusiasm. "I bet Pansy is getting just as antsy as you are by now."

The normally cool and confident Slytherin opened his mouth, pausing the barest second as if unsure before a look of irritation covered his face. "Pansy wouldn't be coming."

Now it was her turn to pause as brown flew from the fire to meet suddenly shuttered silver orbs. "You mean it'd just be us?"

"That's what I said, isn't it?" he snapped almost defensively.

The youngest Weasley regarded him for a moment, her brain rushing to interpret the implications and her voice speeding to her rescue with a response that sounded almost properly joking. "What, like a date?"

The words, though delivered with seeming casualness, caused him to still, then turn to her with an almost hostile challenge in his eyes. "Yeah, is that okay with you?"

The statement was made with the same type of acidity as so many of his words to her had before they'd become friends, and she narrowed her eyes at the realization that he had pulled on his patent dungeon mask. Anger and frustration started to bubble up only to freeze inside her as she spotted something that was definitely not a part of his mask.

Draco Malfoy was fidgeting.

Oh, it wasn't anything extreme, of course, in fact, it was barely noticeable unless you knew the wizard in question, and she liked to think she did. She knew, at least, that he was not one to clench and unclench his jaw as he was currently doing, nor was he the type to shift almost nervously against the chair he was still leaning on. The observations, his words, and the possible implications of each had the griffin within her soaring up into her throat as she struggled to keep her voice and expression calm.

"Actually, that is okay with me."

Her words hung in the thick silence for several seconds in which brown and grey met and held, all the questions that had built up over the last fourteen days spilling over without a sound. Their doubts and discomfort splashed on the floor at their feet before being swept away by the smiles that slowly crept across their lips.

The expressions, bright and full for the first time since news of Caralyna's death, only lasted a scant few moments though, as Draco and Ginny both found a more satisfying use for their mouths.

Another face retained its smile much longer, however, Narcissa Malfoy unable to prevent the grin from overtaking her as she walked quietly back into her room. Neither blond nor redhead had noticed her approach minutes before, and they didn't notice her leave. They also didn't notice when Pansy never showed up.

End Part Eight
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