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Chapter 7: In which Ginny receives an invite and Draco is sweaty

Ginny knocked on the looming wooden door before her for the second time in the past two days, shrugged her cloak a little farther up her shoulders, and waited for the door to open. It was an imposing thing, really, Ginny considered, as she stared into the eyes of the brass snake that served as a doorknocker. Dark mahogany towered above her to a height of at least three meters and its only windows, two small, side-by-side, stained-glass panes stationed above the knocker, gave the impression that a enormous being watched her stand on the silver doormat.

Suddenly the mouth of the being opened and a house elf appeared. For a second Ginny stared at the regurgitated house elf in surprise, until it squeaked, “Right this way, Mistress Weasley,” and Ginny stepped through the waiting jaws and into Malfoy Manor.

“Master Malfoy is waiting for Mistress Weasley in the library,” the elf chirped as Ginny followed it out of the main entrance hall and down a winding corridor to the left. Finding it harder than one would expect to keep up with the elf, Ginny caught only glimpses of the splendors waiting in the rooms that lay off the corridor. She had passed this way yesterday as well, and had found the peeks of plush furniture, silky cloth, and glittering windows though the half-open doors to be almost more allure than she could bear.

Fighting the urge to slip into one room that emitted a warm, pink glow – and fighting the urge to contemplate why the Malfoys had a room that glowed pink – she asked her guide, “Has Draco been waiting long?” She had stopped at work that morning to request the day off and had gotten caught up for longer than she had expected.

“Master entered the library about an hour ago, Mistress,” came the shrill reply.

Ginny internally winced; Draco was sure to be unbearable after this. Not, she reminded herself quickly, that he was ever bearable. Halting behind the elf in front of the library door, Ginny thanked it and, watching it disappear around a corner, entered the library. She headed immediately for the S row, secretly hoping Draco might have finished without her. When she peered down the row of shelves, however, the blond-haired bane of her existence was nowhere to be found.

“Draco?” Ginny called tentatively. She walked down to the end of the row of shelves and looked about. When no response came she called a little louder, “Draco?” Still no answer. Enough of this, Ginny decided. She cleared her throat and yelled, “Draco Malfoy, where the blood hell are you?!”

“Language, Weasley,” came the familiar, drawling voice from another row a little farther on. Ginny walked swiftly down the aisle and emerged into one of the several reading areas of the library. Three dark green leather chairs sat clustered around a wooden table in a clearing among the shelves. Draco sat in one of the chairs. No, Ginny corrected herself, the proper term would be draped. He was draped casually over one of the chairs, right hand holding an open book, left arm hanging off the side of the chair, looking for all the world like someone had tossed him there and he hadn’t found the energy to get up again. Like a cloth doll, Ginny thought. The best looking cloth doll I’ve ever seen. More like a store mannequin that decided it was too tired to stand anymore and collapsed here.

He looked up as she emerged from the shelves, shutting his book with a finger to hold his place and adding, “Such anger is hardly necessary, at least on your part. It seems to me that I’m the one that’s been waiting over an hour. I do have other things to be doing with my time, although I’m sure that’s a difficult concept for your brain to grasp.”

Ginny bit back an apology for being late and retorted, “You didn’t have to wait. I’m sure a house elf would have gotten you when I arrived.” She sank, as gracefully as possible, into a chair across the table from him – although there being only three chairs unfortunately resulted in being next to him as well. Even with her caution, the chair made a recognizably-embarrassing sound against her clothes.

A blush crept unbidden into her cheeks and Draco made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a snort of laughter, but Ginny forged on, “And I can hardly believe you’re bothered by my language.” She smirked and continued in a mock baby voice, “Were the bad words too much for ‘ittle Draco’s sensitive ears? I’ll have to be more careful what I say around the baby.”

Draco glared at her. “Shut the hell up.”

“Temper, temper,” Ginny teased. “I was considering just yelling out ‘Free money!’ But I was afraid you might attack me when you discovered there really wasn’t any.”

His glare dissolved into a superior sneer. “As if I need it. Look around, Weasley,” he waved a hand at their surroundings. “Does it look like I’m lacking?”

“I suppose not,” Ginny was forced to admit grudgingly. After a second she added, “Speaking of your ridiculous amount of things, I thought you were going to show me your Cannons stuff.”

She had expected him to laugh and claim he had agreed to no such thing, or at the very least try to get out of it, but to Ginny’s surprise Draco consented, “After we find the book, or whatever information we’re looking for. I want to get that out of the way.”

Perhaps her brain had been in shock from his lack of hostility, Ginny considered later, but for whatever reason she added, “A tour might be nice, too.”

“Sure, whatever.” Draco had reopened his book and waved a hand dismissively. “Tomorrow.”

Ginny eyes widened with surprise. What has gotten into him? After a moment she mentally added, What has gotten into me? I should want to spend as little time around him as possible and here I am asking to spend more. Suddenly Ginny remembered with a jolt that she had to work the next day; she wouldn’t be there to have a tour. An inexplicable emotion washed over her, one that felt very similar to regret. Ginny told herself it was a mixture of regret about going back to work and not having found a solution to her ring problem yet. It had nothing to do with the thought that she wouldn’t see Draco tomorrow. “I won’t be here tomorrow.”

“What?” Draco looked up from his book and met her gaze. He looked confused. “Of course you will; we haven’t found a way to get the ring off yet.”

Ginny shook her head. “I have to work tomorrow. The rest of the week, actually. I moved my day off to today.”

Draco frowned, “So I won’t see you again until Saturday?” He added quickly, smirk appearing on his face, “It’s like Christmas has come early.”

“No such luck,” smiled Ginny. “You’ve forgotten about our dinner Wednesday night. You know…our pie competition? Unless,” she said lightly, “you’ve decided to forfeit.”

“‘No such luck.’” Draco mimicked her tone. “I’m not going to miss my winning moment.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Ginny with confidence. Noticing Draco had once again returned to his book she asked, “What are you reading that’s so absorbing?”

Without looking up he replied, “It’s a dissertation by the Durmstrang potions master. It’s addressing a new theory about mind-altering potions, their use in combination with un-tradable goods to enhance their potency, and its legality. It’s rather interesting.”

Ginny raised her eyebrows. “I wouldn’t have taken you for someone interested in the intricate theories of anything.” When he didn’t respond she remarked, “But if you want to know what I think –”

“Oh, I’m just dieing to,” Draco broke in, flipping a page.

“No need for sarcasm,” said Ginny tartly. “Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I think un-tradable goods are un-tradable for a reason. They have dangerous effects that can’t always be predicted or controlled and when you start using them in conjunction with mind-altering potions you put the person taking the potion at too high a risk.

Draco looked up, a slight frown creasing his face. “But what about cases where the potion isn’t going to be strong enough on its own? If an additive can enhance the effect and potentially get the desired result, what does it’s classification matter?”

Later Ginny couldn’t remember how long they had discussed potions – and eventually other topics – but she was surprised to realize it had been just that: a discussion, not an argument. They probably would have gone on even longer, though, had Narcissa not arrived.

“There’s no way the –” Ginny broke off mid-sentence as she caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. Looking to her left, she saw Narcissa emerge from among the shelves. A light smile adorned the woman’s face. Her pale blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders and down her back, flowing as effortlessly as the emerald green robes she wore, which barely brushed the floor. Once again Ginny marveled at the grace and sophistication Narcissa exuded. Ginny suppressed a sigh; she couldn’t be that graceful even if she took lessons.

“Don’t let me interrupt you,” Narcissa smiled, voice light. “I’ll be gone in a moment.” From a pocket of her robes she withdrew a cream-colored envelope. Gliding across the sitting area, she held it out to Ginny. At her puzzled expression Narcissa elaborated, “It’s an invitation to a little gathering I’m having Friday evening. I would love you to attend. Also, I would appreciate if you would extend the invitation to your parents.”

Ginny stared from the envelope to Narcissa and back again. “You want me to come?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mother,” Draco broke in. “Ginny doesn’t want to go to one of your stuffy parties. She won’t even know anyone!”

Narcissa smiled – a smile that made Ginny wonder what she was missing – and replied, “You have a good point, Draco dear.” After the briefest of pauses she clapped her hands together and exclaimed, “I know! You can escort her.” Narcissa’s eyes twinkled with delight. “That way she will have someone with whom she can talk if she doesn’t find anyone else interesting. And you’ve missed my last two parties,” she reminded her son. “You told me you’d come to my next.”

Draco sighed and whispered under his breath, “That’s because they’re dull enough to put flobberworms to sleep.” Ginny bit her tongue to hold back her laughter. Louder he told his mother, “I’ll escort her if she wants to go.”

Ginny was stuck. She didn’t know if she really wanted to go to a party filled with people she didn’t know, most of whom probably wouldn’t like her on principle if they did know who she was. On the other hand, Narcissa was being very kind and Ginny couldn’t very well refuse the invitation now. Besides, she added silently, being forced to escort me will annoy Draco no end. Ignoring the fact that this would result in her spending more time with him, and she wasn’t entirely dreading it, Ginny turned to Draco and responded, “I would be honored. Thank you.”

It didn’t sound as sincere as it could have, but it was enough to satisfy Narcissa. Her pleased smile and the twinkle in her eyes grew, and she clapped her hands again. “Excellent! Well, I won’t keep you from your…hard work any longer.” With the slightest incline of her head in farewell, Narcissa turned and glided out of the sitting area, disappearing among the bookshelves.

* * * * * * *

Draco stood before the Weasley’s front door, shifting from foot to foot in agitation. He could almost hear his mother’s voice echoing inside his head: “Don’t fidget, Draco. It’s not dignified.” Forget being dignified, he would be lucky if he got out of this evening alive. Raising the hand that wasn’t holding his pie, he knocked firmly on the door, the noise sounding more confident than he felt.

Waiting for someone to answer his knock, Draco studied the plain, wooden door before him. It was splintered a little in spots, causing Draco to inspect his fist for any transferred slivers. Finding none, he returned to peering into the four-paned window that sat about his eyelevel in the door. The glass, however, was poor quality and its rippled texture made detection of any inner activity impossible.

Long seconds later a shadow crossed the window and the tarnished brass doorknob turned. Ginny Weasley’s head popped through the crack in the opening door. “Right on time,” it said with a smile. The door opened all the way and the rest of Ginny appeared, wearing what looked like a hand-knitted jumper. Either that or the jumper factory threw up, Draco added with an internal smirk. He was grateful he had decided to wear a jumper, too, not his good robes.

“Come on in,” Ginny beckoned. She stepped aside so Draco could enter. Through the doorway was a tiny entrance hall, not much bigger than a closet. To the left was a swinging wooden door that Draco could tell must lead to the kitchen. Numerous delicious and inviting smells wafted through the wide crack under the door. In front of him was a staircase that twisted upward out of sight and to the right was an open doorframe leading to a living room.

Draco could see a fireplace on the far wall and in front of it a ragged-looking couch facing away from him. On the couch, thankfully facing the fireplace, sat four red-headed men. Draco’s stomach dropped and hit something that he suspected might be his liver.

Ginny had stuck her head through the swinging door to the kitchen and was now calling, “He’s here, Mum!”

“Oh, good. Drop him with the others and come finish setting the table.” Molly’s reply was muffled, but Draco could here it well enough for his anxiety to increase tenfold. He was to be left alone with them?! This would not end well…this would not end well at all.

Ginny shut the kitchen door and gave Draco an encouraging smile. Holding an arm toward the designated room she instructed, “This way, please.” On afterthought she added, “And I’ll take that.” She took the apple pie he held and entered the living room. Draco, feeling like a soldier entering enemy territory unarmed, wearing a large target, followed Ginny through the open doorway.

“Be polite and greet our guest, boys,” Ginny said teasingly. All four heads turned to face Draco. One head wore a very familiar glare that spoke of its burning desire to see Draco’s dead, mutilated corpse. Two wore identical, disturbing grins that made Draco think they were imagining turning him into some flowers for the dinner table, or something equally unpleasant. The fourth wore only a polite smile of mild interest.

It was the owner of this head who rose from the couch and, as Draco took several, cautious steps farther into the room, walked around the edge of the couch to offer Draco his hand. He was shorter than Draco had expected; shorter than most of the Weasley men Draco had met. He was stockier, too, with broad shoulders and a muscular build. Not someone I’d like to fight, Draco decided.

“Charlie Weasley,” the man said with a nod.

“Draco Malfoy,” replied Draco, shaking the offered hand. It was callused with several scars running along the palm at various angles.

Releasing Draco’s hand, Charlie smiled, “Welcome to our home…well, my old home, anyway. Have a seat.” He motioned to an armchair to the right of the couch, on an angle with the fireplace. Turning to his sister he reminded her, “Better get back to the kitchen before Mum comes looking for you.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Yeah, you’re right.”

As she turned to go back to the kitchen, Charlie asked, “When did you start rolling your eyes?”

“Blame him,” she called as she pushed open the kitchen door. No one had to ask to which “him” she was referring.

Charlie looked at Draco and raised his eyebrows but said nothing. He returned to sit on the couch with his brothers and motioned to the chair he had offered previously. Although Draco felt he would be much safer standing – a quicker escape – he had no choice but to sit where he was directed.

As he settled into the worn, violently plaid armchair, something sharp poked him in the behind. Resisting the urge to jump up screaming some sort of war cry and brandish his wand at the chair, Draco shifted quickly to the right and realized his attacker was an errant spring from the chair cushion. Glancing over at the enemy lines, he noted three expressions of practiced innocence and one of mild confusion at his strange, jumpy behavior.

Pressing himself as far to the right as possible in the chair, Draco studied his opposition. All four Weasleys wore handmade jumpers, much like Ginny’s. All four were of the same, hideous burgundy color, but the twins’ bore large, white letters on the fronts. The twin on the right had an F; the twin on the left had a G. Although Draco knew who they were – they had been several years ahead of him at Hogwarts – he couldn’t remember their names. The twins, clearly the tallest of the four Weasleys on the couch, had changed a lot in the years since he had last seen them.

Charlie cleared his throat. “Er, in case you haven’t met before, these are Fred and George.” He indicated the twins sitting to his left with a wave of his hand. Draco assumed the letter on the jumper indicated the name of the twin, as Charlie hadn’t specified which was which.

The twins gave no indication they had noticed their introduction. Their intimidating smiles had been replaced by equally intimidating stares, as though they had never seen anything like Draco and weren’t so sure they were glad for the new experience. Weasley – Draco simply couldn’t bring himself to think of the man as Ron – sat on the far right of the couch. He stared, too, but his expression held no uncertainty, only blatant dislike.

Tension hung in the air, like bad-smelling smoke off a potion gone awry. Four pairs of eyes were boring into Draco’s head. He felt like he was on trial.

The twin with the G on his jumper spoke first. “So what’s up with you and our sister?”

His jumper was suddenly too tight. When had that happened? Draco pulled at the collar a little as he felt perspiration begin to form on the back of his neck. He swallowed.

“Yeah,” broke in the other twin (Fred, if Draco’s assumption was correct). “Mum said something about you giving Ginny a ring but now you want it back.”

“What are you up to, you slimy little scumball?”

Draco would have known this speaker’s voice with his eyes closed. He could feel the sweat begin to trickle down his neck and into his jumper. He cleared his throat. “First of all I didn’t give her the ring. She found it. Secondly she wants to give it back; it’s just stuck on her finger. It’s been in my family forever and there’s some kind of spell on it, but we don’t know what it is. We’ve been looking for a book that will tell how to remove it, but we haven’t found anything yet.” Draco shut his mouth and waited to see the result of his explanation.

George’s eyes widened. “What kind of freaky spell is on that ring?” He turned to his twin. “At least that explains Gin’s behavior.”

Fred’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Draco. “Whatever it is, you better get it off soon because we’re all getting pretty sick of hearing about you.”

Draco stared at them in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t try to lie,” spat Weasley. “We know the ring makes the person talk about you all the time. It’s just something your self-centered family would come up with.”

“What?” Draco stammered. “No…” He trailed off, trying to make sense of what they were saying. “The only spell on the ring is the one that’s making it stick to Ginny’s finger. That’s it!”

Charlie, who had been watching the proceedings with a reserved expression, turned to his brothers and gave a shrug. “I tried to tell you guys. Nothing’s making Ginny do or say anything she doesn’t want to.”

Draco gave in to curiosity and asked cautiously, “What’s wrong with Ginny?”

Weasley scowled at him. “You, that’s what. You’ve been all she can talk about for the past two days! It’s ‘Draco this’ and ‘Draco that.’” His nose scrunched up each time he said Draco’s name, like he was smelling something vile. He raised his voice in what was clearly an imitation of Ginny: “‘Draco’s so funny when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’”

Against Draco’s desire to be insulted by the particular way in which Ginny had been discussing him, he couldn’t help but smile (internally, of course.) So Ginny couldn’t stop talking about him, huh? He did have that effect on people.

Charlie shrugged again, “I didn’t think there was anything wrong with her, but I guess that’s a matter of opinion.”

Fred shook his head. “We swear –”

George continued, “If you do anything to hurt our sister –”

“We’ll cut you up –”

“And hide the pieces –”

“So well they’ll find little bits of you –”

“For the next century.”

Draco had long forgotten about the sweat running down his back and was now more concerned about the drops making their way down his forehead. When did it get so hot in here? he thought desperately. There isn’t even a fire in the fireplace! Maybe the heat from the kitchen has made it in here. Or maybe they’ve set me on fire and I just haven’t noticed yet. Draco checked the plaid armchair as inconspicuously as possible, but he couldn’t detect any flames.

“Draco, what in the world are you doing?” The object of their discussion had entered the room and was staring at Draco with a puzzled look on her freckled face. She was holding a red dishcloth and was wearing a white apron with several, colored patches.

Draco’s face reddened under its layer of sweat and he fought for a logical explanation. Anything more logical than “I was checking to see if I was on fire.” Unfortunately the only thing that came out was a small “Erm…” I guess I wasn’t as inconspicuous as I thought.

“Anyway, you boys can stop pretending like you’re enjoying each other’s company now and come eat. Dinner’s on the table.”

Draco was sure he had never heard anything more wonderful in his entire life. He rose from the armchair, careful not to snag his pants on the loose spring. That would just make the evening complete. The Weasley brothers filed past him, three of the four making sure to throw him dirty looks while Ginny straightened some flowers on the table by the door.

As Fred and George attempted to pass Ginny on their way to the kitchen she threw out an arm to stop them. The one in front – Draco couldn’t tell which one it was as they had their backs to him and he couldn’t see their jumpers – ran into his sister’s outstretched arm.

Ginny glared at the twins in unrestrained disapproval. When she spoke her voice was low and dangerous. “Fred, George, trade jumpers. Right now.” After a few seconds of softly muttered protests, the men quailed under their sister’s glare. The offending jumpers were removed and switched, and the newly-christened George and Fred were allowed to pass.

Draco tried to follow Charlie out of the room. He, too, was stopped by Ginny as she stepped in front of him and planted her hands on her hips. Studying Draco for a second, she called over her shoulder to her brothers’ retreating backs, “What have you been saying to him? He’s all sweaty.” Before he could stop her, Ginny had taken her red dishrag and wiped his forehead. “Come on,” she smiled up at him. “Dinner will be better.”

Draco’s face got, if possible – and he was no longer sure it was – even redder, but at least it wasn’t shiny anymore. He tried to swat away the cloth that wasn’t there anymore, gave up, and followed Ginny out of the living room and across the entry hall. As Ginny held open the kitchen door, Draco was sure he could hear, in the distance, strands of the funeral march begin to play.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*blows noisemaker in everyone’s faces* HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Here’s your New Year’s/Christmas present! Yay for me for the (relatively) quick update! It’s been only a little over a month, I do believe. And with the longest chapter yet! *pats self on back* My New Year’s resolution is to get this story finished! Yours could be to review…just a suggestion :P

I’m sure you’re all wondering, “Lane, what about the pie competition? You said it would be in this chapter. Did you lie to us?” (Or if you weren’t wondering that, you sure are now.) Honestly I thought it would be. However, due to my extreme wordiness, this chapter got much longer than I had anticipated and, as a result, I didn’t have room for the promised contest (or even dinner)! NEXT TIME! I swear it! I swear it on…Draco’s head! If I lie I will give you all my address you can come egg my house.

As for the contest, I am still counting any votes I receive in reviews for chapter six. So if you haven’t reviewed chapter six and wish to cast your vote there is still time!

Anyway, happy new year to everyone!


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